This is one of the hot business topics of our time as the China Market becomes (in many sectors) the most lucrative of its kind in the world. With over 350 million middle-class consumers, a GDP growth of 7% year on year & a powerful online eco-system for marketing & 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.
How to Enter into the China Market
Here is our guide with the best strategies (from our experience) to consider when entering the China Market:
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1. China Market: Communication in China is Digital
Out of a population of 1.4 billion people, over 904 million 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 & it is perfect for online marketing, sales & branding. All marketing campaigns are almost completely online now, simply because this offers the best exposure, reach, influence & Return On Investment.
In the unique digital eco-system 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 for 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 30.8 hours browsing the web per week (Statista), 11% than in 2018. 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.
We can also note a slight augmentation of the number of apps used from 2018 to 2019. In 2018 the average number of apps used by Chinese netizens was 21.3 in 2018 and went up to 23.6 in 2019. The use of smart home and connected devices apps have grown consequently, with a +16% jump from November 2018 to November 2019.
Another source of growth for app usage is Live streaming. As of June 2019, China -according to CNNIC data- recorded 433 million live streaming users. This does not come as a surprise as apps & platforms such as Douyin, Taobao, Weibo, etc all integrated 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, 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, in a sort of redemption from poverty that has torn the country apart in past centuries.
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 months, 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 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 for the China Market
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 & Keyword Searches as well as tailoring your message to the specific target audience.
6. Content Needs to Be Tailored & Adapted for the China 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.
We call this ‘localizing your business concept’.
7. Search Engine Ranking on Baidu (Seo)
Baidu is China’s Google & the largest search engine with over 70% of all online research conducted via this portal. It is incredibly powerful to rank highly in the 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.
Read more about Baidu SEO
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 & 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.
Read more about Baidu Paid Advertising
9. Lead generation marketing
Leads 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 researches 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, a 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 1,08 billion active users every month, more than 1,5 million active brands, more than 17 million official accounts, and it is used for 86% by people 18-40 years old.
The app enables companies to create an “official account” 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.
Read more: Wechat Marketing Guide
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, to access company websites, to play games, to experience augmented reality, to 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. That’s why from August 27th, companies that have a WeChat Official Account and a mini-program can do it directly on the platform. 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 & the lifestyle they choose.
This is why ‘International Branding’ is so effective with a far greater cosmopolitan & 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 merge between Twitter and Facebook in terms of its functionality. With 143 of the 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.
Weibo is a very relevant platform for brands and businesses. The statistics speak for themselves with over 224,000 verified company users. The platform is an ‘open network’, this 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.
Read more about Weibo
Recently, Weibo had released its cooperation relationship strategy, with an e-commerce platform in Beijing. Weibo announced that they will build consumer interests oriented mobile social e-commerce system with some third-party partners such as Alibaba (Taobao), Micro sell, and so on. Since then, over 2 million professional talents in different vertical domains can recommend products through Weibo, which can realize efficient relations between goods and consumers.
14. Key Opinion Leaders are important for your market strategy
Key Opinion Leaders (KOL’s) are also a popular conversation topic currently. These are online celebrities with large, impressionable followings in a range of different sectors. KOL’s or Influencers have large active followings that can be tapped into by recruiting them to advertise your business or brand.
KOL’s 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 incorporate post-analysis.
Read our Guide to Chinese Kols
From Kol to Koc, the 2020 trend
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 2020. The position of consumer opinion in marketing has become higher, making KOC more and more important and the epidemic situation at the beginning of the year accelerated to this trend. 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
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 the 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, the 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 Byte dance and works in pairs with Toutiao (Chinese buzz feed). Douyin is basically a short video app with 500 000 daily users. The app is the perfect platform for Kols and Influencers and has recently open to companies. The app has announced a 020 Feature: Online to offline that will connect physical business to online users. Douyin app can be used to display ads ad as well as doing buzz marketing. A content App with a lot of potentials 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.
Read our Introduction to Douyin Marketing
17. The new live-streaming trend is really important for a good strategy in 2020
Many businesses have taken up the challenge posed by the ongoing global pandemic to accelerate their digitization. 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.
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 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’ & ‘Jd.com’, the two largest platforms. 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 & 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, WeChat stores, Pinduoduo are 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. Cosmetic brands especially should consider integrating Little red Book into their China Marketing efforts.
Read our eCommerce in China Guide
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.
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