Digital marketing in China is constantly evolving, and keeping up with the latest trends is essential for success. What is important to understand is the fact that China’s digital market is different than all the other markets in the world. Chinese social media platforms are entirely different than ours, Chinese consumers have different shopping habits, online advertising is not the same and you need separate search engine optimization for your website in China, as Google is banned for all Internet users there.
If you’re doing business in China, it’s important to adapt your digital marketing strategy to the latest trends in the Chinese market, so that Chinese consumers get attracted to your offer. In this article, we present 10 trends you need to know about. From WeChat marketing to live streaming, these are the top ways to reach Chinese consumers online.
Overview of China’s digital ecosystem
Millions of people in China go online every day, and the country has one of the most active digital ecosystems in the world. Chinese consumers are avid users of mobile payments, social media, and e-commerce, and businesses are increasingly looking to tap into this market.
But this is where the struggle begins. Chinese Internet users have access to completely different websites, social media platforms, online marketplaces, and search engine options than ‘the rest of the world’. Most of the foreign companies entering the market don’t even realize, how different the digital sphere in China is.
Let’s look at the graphics below. Do you recognize any of those logos? We don’t use any of them. The most popular search engine in China is Baidu, accounting for more than 70% of the market share. Baidu is a whole ecosystem itself, offering many forums, video platforms, encyclopedias, libraries, and more.
When it comes to social media, the most popular social media platform is definitely WeChat, gathering more than 1.26 billion monthly active users. Other popular applications are; Weibo, Xiaohongshu, Douyin, and Kuaishou.
When it comes to e-commerce platforms, Alibaba Group is the definite leader of the market, being an owner of the biggest B2C platform – Taobao, and the biggest B2B platform – Tmall. But there are also many other platforms, like JD.com, Kaola, Vipshop, and Pinduoduo, to name a few.
What is most important to understand is that the Chinese market lowes ‘super-apps‘, so all the apps and platforms, from social media to e-commerce, have multiple different functions and features. Chinese Internet users are used to extreme convenience and simplicity, having access to almost everything they need, inside one application. This is why, when working on digital marketing strategies for the Chinese market, it’s crucial to have an overall approach, to leverage those applications in the best possible way.
Best digital marketing strategies in China
As you got an overall understanding of how the digital world works in the Chinese market, let’s take a look at the trends shaping digital marketing in China in 2022.
Storytelling and good branding are the key
Nowadays, branding and content are the most important factors when optimizing your marketing strategy. Chinese customers are not patient and are really selective, if they don’t like it, they will just pass on it.
Young Chinese consumers are more aware of the environment and global changes and they start being more selective when choosing brands they want to buy from. They want to be more sustainable and invest in products that don’t harm animals, the environment, or the economy, so it’s important to be transparent and tell the story of your brand and its values instead of just promoting the products.
If you have attractive, well-designed content, you will not only attract your customers but you will encourage them to buy and even make them become loyal to your brand (this is harder as Chinese customers are not really typically loyal if they find something better they will often change). Branding is very important for consumers in China, and no one will buy from unknown brands with unclear values.
So-called KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) and KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers) are Chinese influencers that have huge power over the shopping decisions of Chinese consumers. They became popular a few years ago and today the use of Chinese influencers in your digital marketing strategy is almost essential, especially in sectors like fashion, beauty, baby products, new technologies, etc.
KOLs are internet celebrities and most of them are specialists in their fields of interest, attracting many brands, that want to collaborate with them. A good influencer campaign can bring millions in sales, as word-of-mouth marketing in China is far more effective, due to many scandals and counterfeiting products on the market. Chinese consumers trust recommendations from their friends, family, and favorite influencers more than official brand announcements.
Today we see a shift in the strategy, and many brands, also the biggest ones, decide to work with KOCs instead of KOLs. KOLs are big internet personas, gathering millions of followers. But recently China has seen many scandals with KOLs being involved and the audience is slowly losing trust in all those stars. Instead, they move on to KOCs, which are ordinary users of products they promote to a smaller audience, gathering more engaged followers and gaining trust among their fans.
Live streaming is one of the biggest revelations of recent years and it became especially profitable and popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. As people were locked at home, they started watching streaming videos, to see the quality and usage of products they were interested to buy. Live streaming is a huge industry in China, attracting more and more consumers and streamers every day.
One of the main reasons for its popularity is the fact, that due to many scandals with fake products and bad quality of services, most consumers don’t trust the official promotion of brands. They prefer to rely on friends’ and influencers’ opinions and recommendations. Live-streaming is another step, as they can see products live, in real use.
There are many streaming platforms, like Taobao Live, Douyin, and Wiya, where there are long live streams, showing how to prepare meals, or do perfect make-up. There are also streams of people picking vegetables, showing the exact quality of products that are available to purchase. Live-streaming is one of the leading tools in digital marketing in China in 2022 and it’s worth investing money and time in leveraging this function for your brand.
Video is the future
The number of Chinese video users is constantly increasing year after year, this number is also due to the booming of smartphone users and the booming of the digital era. It is not only about watching movies, short films, or music video clips. You can deliver a message, target a customer, engage your customer, display a video ad, and make consumers buy.
A video is an all-in-one tool; utilizing visuals, text, and audio, which is the reason why it is a really efficient tool. Apart from longer videos, the digital marketing landscape in the Chinese market is being flooded by applications and features offering short videos.
The most popular one, Douyin, known as Tik Tok outside of China, is one of the most successful mobile apps worldwide. In China, Douyin offers much more functions, with integrated live-streaming and e-commerce features, offering consumers an all-in-one experience.
Apart from Douyin, there are other apps, some are dedicated to short videos and live-streaming only (like Kuaishou), while others add the short-videos feature to their existing offer (like WeChat Channels in the WeChat app).
WeChat, the king of mobile
Wechat is one of the must-have apps if you want to succeed with your marketing campaign because it has the strongest position on mobiles. Wechat is on the way to becoming the most powerful app in the world.
WeChat, which started as a simple messaging social media app, nowadays is a whole ecosystem itself, offering multiple functions. Examples include; messaging, video calls, official accounts, short-videos sub-platforms, WeChat payment method, e-commerce stores within the app, access to other services, like taxis, bikes, medical help, and much more.
However it is not an easy social media to enter, Wechat is not based on exposure or influence but more on a one-to-one, personalized and dedicated communications with users.
Wechat is perfectly understanding the huge success and booming of mobile and is taking advantage of it by offering brands the opportunity to combine social aspects and commercial ones. The app tends to be what we can call a “social e-commerce platform” enhancing social media and e-commerce activities in conjunction with one another (more on that below).
The app has perfectly understood the benefits of embracing mobile technology in China. As you can see in the graphic above, WeChat offers WeChat Stores, and most of the brands in China and foreign companies use this function to offer their products inside the platform.
Apart from that, WeChat also has a great online consumer management system, you can be integrated with consumers by sending them newsletters, special discount coupons, or even private messages. There are also functions like WeChat H5 brochures, where you can present your brand in a short, interactive mini-app. And of course, all your products can be purchased with the use of WeChat Pay, without the need of leaving the app.
Ecommerce is becoming more social
M-Commerce (short for Mobile Commerce) is clearly booming because the Chinese are spending a lot of their time on their mobile devices. The place to reach your customer is on their mobile, it is more convenient and they are more willing to receive advertisements. Customers spend most of their time on Chinese social media platforms, therefore this is where e-commerce is heading in China.
Social eCommerce is just beginning to know a bright future in China. Especially Wechat which is on the way to becoming the future e-commerce platform in China with brands able to launch micro-stores within the application itself. In fact, most Gen Z is purchasing through WeChat Stores, believing it’s the most convenient way.
Most of the apps are integrating e-commerce within social media, which is becoming very useful for consumers. It’s partially due to the popularity of influencers and live-streaming, where it’s very convenient to put links directing consumers to the product page within the platform so that they can buy the item in just one or two clicks.
Another reason is the fact that, as we mentioned earlier, Chinese people prefer word-of-mouth marketing and they strongly value the social aspect of digital shopping. They want to see the reviews, engage with other users of products they want to buy, and so on. This is why platforms like Xiaohongshu or Douyin integrate e-commerce in their offers, and e-commerce platforms like Taobao or Pinduoduo add social features to their platforms.
Metaverse, phygital and virtual realities
You have probably heard many times about O2O, it is the new trend that you need to optimize if you want to succeed in your marketing campaign. The connection between online and offline seems to be closer than ever. Consumers are discovering products online, making a selection of the products that they like the most, they can then experience it offline by going directly to the showroom or to the stores, the whole process can still be linked digitally with interactive WeChat accounts and websites.
Another thing that really speeded up in 2022 is the metaverse, and the use of virtual reality in marketing and e-commerce. Something that is still rather unknown in the West, is a whole big thing, leveraged by most of the biggest brands in China.
Companies like Maybelline, Gucci, Coca-cola are opening their metaverse stores, collaborate with games to create engaging content for younger generations, that are very excited about the new trend and want more. There are virtual fashion shows on Xiaohongshu, or virtual collections of NFTs to purchase. We can say, that this is definitely the hottest trend of this year and it will definitely stay.
User experience and customization
Because of the huge number of marketing campaigns, you have to focus on your customers’ sensibilities, and experience and you have to understand your customer’s needs and create a real, meaningful experience. However, the point here is to be creative, you have to engage your customers not only by sending them advertising messages but also by encouraging their self-expression and individual participation.
More and more brands are turning their consumers into designers or brand representatives. Consumers are not loyal to brands and can easy switch to other foreign companies offering similar products, if they have more attractive branding or more engaging UX design.
Young consumers want their products to be unique and personalised, so that they can show off something different than all the rest. Many companies offer customized products or engaging experiences, to attract young consumers to their brands. Offering something unique is also very helpful in creating buzz and attracting Key Opinion Leaders, that might get interested and start to talk about your brand.
Social Media in China
We cannot really call social media a trend now, it is a must-have since many years, but their importance and influence on shopping decisions on Millennials and Gen Z is growing rapidly. Most brands are present on social media, what is actually the trend now is to know how to link the advertising campaigns effectively to the social aspect.
Apart from WeChat that we talked about before, there are many other platforms that are super popular in China. The most popular are; Weibo, Xiaohongshu and Douyin. All of them have different audiences and will be suitable for different brands, but it’s best to leverage all of them for your digital marketing in China.
Social media platforms in China are more complex and convenient than the Western ones and can really help you make your brand known in China. You can use them to promote your products, collaborate with influencers, sell your products directly in the app through social e-commerce or simply contact your consumers, as they don’t even open emails, so you can’t count on Newsletters like we do in the West.
Focus on Local
The last point but certainly not the least important is to focus on local marketing strategies. You may have probably heard this a million times, but focusing on local doesn’t mean that you will need to completely change your products, tastes, and preferences to local ones. The idea is actually to understand the customer’s needs and adapt your product whilst not forgetting one’s core product strategy.
For example, have you ever tried those colorful burgers at KFC, a pink spicy hamburger? This is roasted cheese spicy chicken with pink bread. The brighter colors proved to be a strong novelty in China and effectively generate sales for KFC, they kept a distinct brand whilst responding to consumer demand. Below you can see another of localized products in KFC – Chinese hot pot.
Another example is Starbucks, that, apart from coffee, offers a big variety of tea flavours in its cafes. The most famous and the biggest one, located in Shanghai, offers more than 20 different tea flavors.
Are you interested in implementing these digital marketing trends in your China strategy? Contact us!
Following trends in digital marketing in China is not an easy tasks. Many of them are new, as China is the trendsetter when it comes to digital world in general. Another thing is the fact that China’s online ecosystem is completely different than anything we are used to in the West. What is more, those trends change super fast, so it’s important to act now!
We are China marketing agency with more than 10 years of experience in digital marketing for the Chinese market. We worked with over 600 brands from different industries, helping them navigate through China’s online world and creating best-suitable marketing strategies for each brand.
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