This is one of the hot business topics of our time as the Chinese market becomes (in many sectors) the most lucrative of its kind in the world. With over 400 million middle-class consumers, a GDP growth of 7% year on year & a powerful online eco-system for marketing and sales, China certainly offers a big potential for savvy business.
There is often a lot of conflicting advice when it comes to the China market. Strategy always needs to be tailored on a case-by-case basis so always have that in-depth conversation with several different sources. Today, let’s go through the basics of how to successfully enter the Chinese market.
How to Enter the China Market
Here is our guide with the best strategies (from our experience) to consider when entering the Chinese market:
1. Communication in China is Digital
Out of a population of 1.4 billion people, over one billion Chinese are now connected online.
China boasts the largest online community in the world. On top of this, the web has developed a unique set of conditions. It has been built for the ultra-consumerist society of modern China and it is perfect for online marketing, sales, and branding. All marketing campaigns are almost completely online now, simply because this offers the best exposure, reach, influence, and return on investment.
In the unique digital ecosystem of modern China, you have a lot of Chinese platforms that have been developed to communicate with Chinese users in a very effective way. No Facebook, rather WeChat, No Twitter, Rather Weibo, No Google, Instead Baidu & forget YouTube, time to embrace Youku.
These platforms all have unique characteristics and are very effective in reaching their large and active audiences.
2. Chinese Consumers Research Extensively Online
This is a unique feature of China, the scale of online research. The average user spends more than 30 hours browsing the web per week. The best strategy is to understand where users are searching for information and ensure you are highly visible and reputable in front of your target.
Below you can see some data regarding Chinese social media users. Although apart from social media, Chinese people also go through Baidu, other search engines, and e-commerce platforms, social media is the place where they spend the most time.
The majority of them (99%) use social media for instant messaging and videos (94%), as well as live streams (62%). Other popular activities include payments (86%), shopping (79%), and ordering food (42%).
Another source of growth for app usage is live streaming. As of 2023, China -according to CNNIC data- recorded more than 660 million live-streaming users. This does not come as a surprise as apps and platforms such as Douyin, Taobao, Weibo, etc all integrate live-streaming.
The discerning Chinese consumer will research a lot in the marketplace in order to avoid counterfeit products, fake, and lower quality local products.
3. International Brands Are Really Appreciated by Chinese People
It is well known that the China market has issues with counterfeit products, and fake, and lower-quality domestic goods. One vital part of your project is to tap into the positive association the Chinese have when it comes to ‘international’ products. This status helps a foreign brand to stand out from local competitors in terms of quality and reputation.
Chinese consumers, especially younger consumers, the so-called Generation Z, feel attracted to the Western world and love to buy international brands’ products. This is to demonstrate a high social status, a sort of redemption from poverty that has torn the country apart in past centuries.
Below you can see an example from the food sector:
The Chinese luxury goods market is forecast to see strong growth over 2019-2024. The expansion of the market will be driven by growing demand from Millennial and Gen Z consumers and by the growing focus of luxury brands in tailoring their innovation, marketing, and product distribution strategies to these consumer groups.
Traditionally, a significant amount of Chinese luxury purchases were made outside of China, while traveling abroad. However, many Chinese consumers have started shopping domestically in recent years, through offline stores, online stores, and e-commerce platforms.
4. Being Highly Visible On Chinese Keywords
Chinese Keyword Searches are very important in any digital marketing campaign, starting from branding to sales to lead generation. The best approach is to understand deeply the best set of keywords the Chinese are searching for online on search engines such as Baidu, Sogou & 360. Appearing in these platforms will drive qualified traffic to your content that is already searching for relevant information and this will improve sales conversion rates.
5. Create a Quality Chinese Website
Creating a high-quality website is essential. It won’t often be enough just to translate your existing site. This is because Chinese site formats are different and it is best to host it on a Chinese server if possible. If you do so content will be charged more easily and the user experience on your website will be better.
It’s important to develop quality material for your website, optimize the site for the right set of Mandarin Characters and keyword searches, and tailor your message to the specific target audience.
6. Content Needs to Be Tailored and Adapted for the Chinese Market
Communicating with the Chinese implies several considerations. One of these is a cultural distance, which forces brands to rethink their content by aligning it with local ways of thinking.
Content marketing is also important when trying to attract Chinese partners, as by getting closer to Chinese culture and their tastes you can show the brand value and increase the interest of potential partners.
Simply translating existing marketing material is often ineffective. There are so many nuanced and localized ways of expressing information, values, and priorities. It’s best to use a quality team of copywriters to re-adapt and contextualize content, this can even depend on which regions of China you are targeting.
7. Search Engine Ranking on Baidu Seo
Baidu is China’s Google and the largest search engine with over 60% of all online research conducted via this portal. It is incredibly powerful to rank highly in search results. The most qualified traffic can be driven to your site by appearing on the first page and high up the results.
To achieve this you need to produce quality content on a frequent basis, be featured in external publications, have other sites backlink & reference you & work on achieving visibility on the best set of targeted Mandarin Chinese keywords.
Backlinks & PR are still some of the most cost-efficient solutions when it comes to building your e-reputation in China and at the same time boosting your website ranking on Baidu. Build Credibility and get more visibility, it is a win-win. PR effort last in time.
8. Pay Per Click Advertising on Baidu
Pay Per Click (PPC) is an effective solution in a market where the Chinese are less wary of ads, the online culture around paid advertising is a more receptive one. PPC is therefore a great strategy for market entry and a way to place your site link at the top of the paid results. On Baidu, ad links are listed according to relevancy, cost of keyword character price, and bidding value.
It is important to ensure both lines of text are optimized, the link is closely managed and traffic/click-through rates are monitored daily. Remember this is China, so traffic can be driven more than in much of the rest of the world.
9. Lead Generation Marketing
Lead generation marketing is a strategy to get potential customers to come to you. With the internet, and businesses looking for information directly online, lead generation has become a powerful tool. With a lead generation strategy, not only you do not have to do cold calls anymore, but you can build your reputation online, let the customers come to you, and do their research before they talk with you. You can educate them with blog posts, videos, etc…
Lead generation marketing works really well in the following sectors:
- Real Estate
10. WeChat, “THE” Powerful Platform
It is a super-app, similar to WhatsApp. WeChat was created by the Chinese giant, Tencent. At its core, it is a messaging app, but it has so much more to offer. No other app in the West is comparable to WeChat. It would rather be a mix of Facebook, Skype, Slack, Amazon, and PayPal. It has 1,3 billion active users every month, more than 1,5 million active brands, and more than 20 million official accounts, and it is used by more than 90% of people 18-40 years old.
The app enables companies to create official accounts to promote their company. Any serious brand needs a WeChat account to look credible. It’s an excellent tool to nurture your following and it’s a good alternative to email marketing that doesn’t work in China.
The key advice with WeChat is to set up an Official Service Account (either third-party hosted or directly with a Chinese business license) and use this to push content. WeChat is a powerful branding tool with a strong culture of following official accounts to remain informed. You, therefore, need to ensure your content is of the utmost quality.
Official accounts can be used to actively drive traffic to external links as well as WeChat stores.
11. WeChat Mini Programs
WeChat mini-programs are hugely successful among Chinese users and continue to have new features. But what is it about? They are nothing more than one of the latest innovations launched by WeChat to increase and make the online experience of its users ever more complete.
They appear as mini-apps within the platform that offer additional services to the user. The peculiarity of mini-programs is that they are not just a new source of entertainment for users. In fact, they also constitute new opportunities for companies to interact with their customers and to sell their products directly.
By linking the mini-programs to the WeChat corporate account, it is possible to engage users for longer and reach them through multiple entry points. This is because the mini-programs are accessible both from the “Search” section and from a drop-down menu above the “Chat” section of the application. Ease of access is a very useful element for those brands that want to stimulate lead generation or site engagement through WeChat.
The mini-programs can be used in various ways: to shop online, access company websites, play games, experience augmented reality, pay for various subscription services, and much more.
A very important feature to expand WeChat’s range of action is that of live streaming. In fact, this is a format that is widespread in China, especially since the outbreak of the Coronavirus emergency. Users can interact with the host through likes and comments. In this way, consumers will receive answers or get information immediately.
12. Branding in China is Everything
The Chinese really do buy brands, not products. To understand this you need to realize the importance of ‘面子(mianzi)’, which means face. That is how the Chinese display themselves to others. In a modern, ultra-consumerist society people now display this through the brands they buy and the lifestyle they choose.
This is why international branding is so effective with a far greater cosmopolitan and international focus in the large urban areas of the east coast.
13. Consider Weibo, ‘China’s Twitter’
Launched by Sina in 2009 it is really a merger between Twitter and Facebook in terms of its functionality. With 143 Fortune 500 companies now on Weibo, this platform is hard to ignore for the role it plays in a comprehensive Chinese marketing strategy. It is very common to use it for live-streaming events, like fashion shows, or viral marketing.
Weibo is a very relevant platform for brands and businesses. The statistics speak for themselves with over 580 million monthly active users. The platform is an ‘open network’, which means users can see posts from anyone else, they do not have to be connected first.
The best advice for Weibo is to keep posts short (within 140 characters) and feature relevant external links. Like Twitter, this is a Micro-Blogging platform and important for keeping your pulse on what’s currently going on in the Chinese digital ecosystem. With users able to see posts from anyone, content can more easily become viral. Buzz marketing is a good tool to build a following and create engagement, but it is also a good place for paid ads.
14. Key Opinion Leaders are Important for Your Market Strategy
Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) are also a popular conversation topic currently. These are online celebrities with large, impressionable followings in a range of different sectors. KOLs or Influencers have large active followings that can be tapped into by recruiting them to advertise your business or brand.
KOLs or celebrities with large followings come at a price and are not for lower-budget projects. Typically you want to select KOLs with over 100,000 followers but you can choose a variety to create an ‘echo chamber effect. You essentially pay for the post’s exposure.
It’s also important to monitor the comments closely in order to pinpoint user feedback and queries. The Influencer cannot be expected to act as a customer service rep so ensure you are active when it comes to responding and incorporating post-analysis.
KOL marketing has been a powerful marketing tool in China for quite a few years already, but recently a shift from KOL to KOC marketing has been noticed and it is supposed to be one of the marketing trends in the upcoming years.
The position of consumer opinion in marketing has become higher, making KOC more and more important. Why? They are more reliable. They are simple consumers who express their opinions and in a market like China where recommendations and reliability are everything, they have the greatest audience.
15. Don’t Neglect Chinese Forums for Your Market Strategy
A powerful strategy is to tap into the large and active user-to-user groups on Chinese forums. The forum in the West is largely outdated but in China, it’s still powerful due to the strong importance of word of mouth.
Large communities gather on Zhidao, Tieba (Baidu Owned), Zhihu & Tianya our Douban. There are a host of different threads where qualified and targeted conversations can be identified.
The other benefit is that forum posts rank highly on search engines like Baidu, thus contributing to your visibility. In addition, user-to-user feedback and posts are highly influential in a collectivist society. Consumers really care about the feedback from other consumers, this emphasizes the need to control and promote a positive reputation in forums.
16. A New Important Platform for Your Market Strategy is Douyin
TikTok or Douyin in China is one of the hottest apps in China right now. It belongs to the group Bytedance and works in pairs with Toutiao (Chinese buzz feed). Douyin is basically a short video app with more than 750 monthly active users.
The app is the perfect platform for KOLs and Influencers and has recently opened to companies. The app has announced a 020 Feature: Online to offline that will connect physical businesses to online users. Douyin app can be used to display ads ad as well as do buzz marketing. A content app with a lot of potential to advertise your company in many ways.
Douyin users are young. They are what we call Generation Z and are high consumers of short video content. They open the app up to 5 times a day and spend an average of 30 Minutes a day scrolling videos.
17. Live-streaming is Really Important for a Good Strategy in China
Many of the investments initially designed for offline have been moved online. All this with a view to reinventing their marketing strategies and consolidating the relationship with the distant customer (that was especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic).
To mention a few examples, hundreds of live streams of chefs cooking in their restaurants are now available on Taobao Live. Even if it is not possible to go out to eat, in fact, you can order food at home. It continues with real estate agents offering virtual tours of apartments. Then there are singers who hold online concerts and farmers who show themselves in the act of picking fresh vegetables ready for shipment. It all stems from the recent focus on health and the difficulty of many to find fresh products.
Live streaming in this case is proving to be a real turning point for those producers who have decided to take the leap and try this digital solution.
Live streaming makes everything more interactive and it is linked to the KOL service. The growth of live e-commerce is largely due to its strong appeal to consumers in China’s lower-tier cities.
18. E-Commerce is Not Just About the Biggest Players
E-commerce in China is not just about Tmall and Jd.com, the two largest platforms anymore. For large brands and product launches with significant funding, these are great platforms in terms of the traffic they drive, however, they are not a magic bullet. Even with Tmall and JD exposure, you need to back your store up with a comprehensive marketing strategy on a range of platforms (such as those explored above).
For smaller to medium-sized product launches on smaller platforms such as Little Red Book, Taobao Global, and WeChat stores, Pinduoduo is more cost-effective in terms of the initial outlay required. Consider the most intelligent way to invest your budget when it comes to e-commerce exposure and establishing your sales infrastructure in China.
Little Red Book – Xiaohongshu is more than just an e-commerce platform where you can sell your products. It is a review app making it the perfect space for KOL to grow its communities. Consumers use Little Red Book when they are looking for genuine information about a brand or a product. Cosmetics brands especially should consider integrating Little Red Book into their China Marketing efforts.
19. Quality Reporting & Analysis
Feedback from a marketing campaign is vital in tailoring, adapting, and re-orientating the most effective strategies to pursue based on campaign data. All the platforms explored provide acceptable ‘back-end’ systems for data analysis and reporting.
Data is necessary for moving forward and focusing campaigns on the most effective areas in terms of profitability. ROI (Return On Investment) should always be at the forefront of your mind when expanding into China.
20. Focus on one market, China is gigantic
In the past, brands seeking to reach Chinese consumers have generally focused on cosmopolitan consumers in China’s first and sometimes second-tier cities.
However, in recent years, consumption growth in these cities has slowed as the market has become over-saturated. These mature consumers are overwhelmed with choices and it is costly for brands to break through the noise.
You have to focus on a market that fits your profile. If, for example, you want to launch an English school, it is highly recommended to choose a second or third-tier city because, in the first-tier cities, the English school market is already saturated.
Maximize Your Entry into the Chinese Market with Gentlemen Marketing Agency
Navigating the complex and ever-evolving Chinese market can be a formidable challenge for any business. That’s where we come in. Gentlemen Marketing Agency has carved out a unique niche in the market, providing unparalleled expertise and results-driven strategies to help global companies thrive in China.
Why Choose Us?
- Experience with Global Brands: We’ve successfully guided numerous multinational corporations through the intricacies of market entry and expansion in China. Our seasoned team understands the nuances of consumer behavior and regulatory frameworks across various sectors.
- Custom Strategies: We believe in a tailored approach. Your business is unique, and so should be your market entry strategy. Our bespoke solutions are designed to fit your brand’s specific needs and goals.
- Digital Mastery: In China’s digital-first landscape, our expertise in platforms like WeChat, Weibo, and Douyin is unmatched. We’ll ensure your brand not only enters the market but also captivates and engages the Chinese audience.
- Local Insight and Global Perspective: Our team is a blend of local experts and global thinkers, offering you the best of both worlds—deep local insights with an understanding of international brand values and standards.
Our Services Include:
- Market Research: In-depth analysis to identify your brand’s potential and the competitive landscape.
- Brand Localization: Tailoring your messaging and products to resonate with Chinese consumers.
- Digital Marketing: Harnessing the power of China’s digital ecosystem to maximize your brand’s visibility.
- E-commerce Solutions: From Tmall to JD.com, we navigate the platforms that matter.
- KOL Partnerships: Leveraging key opinion leaders to amplify your brand’s voice.
- Offline Events: Engaging with consumers through memorable brand experiences.
With Gentlemen Marketing Agency, your journey into the Chinese market will be strategic, informed, and innovative. Let’s turn the challenge of market entry into your opportunity for growth. Reach out to us, and let’s make your brand the next success story.