Digital Budget Allocation for China

What budget do Brands need to allocate in China? we will reply to this question in this article.

Spending money on digital marketing isn’t really optional when trying to grow your business in China. However, there is a debate about where that investment should go.

Chinese digital landscape is very unique and Chinese consumers’ buying habits are also different from those of their Western counterparts. Applying the same budget allocation strategy from your home country doesn’t mean you would get the same results or better.

This article shares with you tips for how to spread your budget to get the greatest ROI.

Overall trends in marketing spending

Digital spend is dominant and increasing 

There are now more than 800 million Internet users in China, more than the population size of Europe. Chinese Internet users are very digitally savvy and comfortable with the use of social media, e-commerce, mobile payment, QR codes and so on. This makes digital marketing a not-only-important-but-dominant part of the overall marketing strategy for brands in China.

According to the ‘China Digital Marketing Trends 2019’ report by AdMaster which surveyed 110 advertisers and 130 digital marketing industry practitioners in China, 79% of advertisers polled plan to increase their digital marketing spend in 2019. Nearly one third of those polled will increase their spending by 30%, but the average increase in spend will be 20%.

Accordingly, digital ad spend in China also exceeds traditional media channels and account for up to 78.9% of total media ad spending in china in the next 5 years, a higher share than any other country.

Digital now means Mobile

Residents in China will spend 3 hours, and 53 minutes per day — or 58.6% of daily media time — on digital devices. Mobile will account for 77.0% of daily digital time spent, compared with desktop/laptop’s 23.0%.

AdMaster reported that 81% of marketing professionals polled planned to increase their marketing budget on mobile in 2019, compared with 4% who planned to reduce mobile spending. Only 11% planned to increase spending on desktop/laptop, and 40% said they would spend less.

In a nation obsessed with doing everything on smartphones, the importance of mobile to marketers cannot be overstated.

Social marketing and content marketing continue to grow

  • Social marketing is becoming an increasing focus for Chinese advertisers.
  • Social marketing spending will grow by 21% on average, continuing the past year’s trend. KOLs, short-form videos, live streams, and WeChat official accounts are particularly favorable social marketing formats for advertisers.

Additionally, 39% of advertisers are willing to increase content marketing spend on web variety shows. Meanwhile, short-form videos have pulled ahead of both web series and TV series and will become the second-most preferred content marketing format.

Marketing automation and marketing cloud to be the most followed technologies

60% of digital marketers are interested in automated, big-data driven marketing/marketing cloud in 2019, making them the most followed marketing technologies.

AI and DMP also remain relevant as more and more businesses begin digital transformation processes.

Here’s how to allocate your digital marketing budget in China

What should your marketing budget be?

Many brands entering China have great expectations, incorrectly believing that costs will be low, and rewards will be high. But for many times costs are on par or even more expensive than markets such as Europe or the US.

China has radically changed over the past five to ten years, becoming very competitive with all brands from multinational to start-up attempting to grab a piece of the market share. Furthermore, Chinese consumers are increasingly sophisticated, requiring from brands more creative and elaborate marketing approaches.

In China, yearly budgets are typically around 100,000 USD on the low end and over 1,000,000 USD on the high end which can cover full digital scopes including SEM, PR, Website, Social, and Media.

For a campaign or specific promotion, the budget will be dependent on which channels are used for promotion and what kind of audiences the brand is trying to reach.

In general, an average yearly marketing budget for brands of different sizes would look something like this:

• Very small: 25,000 USD – 100,000 USD

• Small: 100,000 – 300,000 USD

• Medium: 300, 000 – 1,000,000 USD

• Large: 1,000,000 USD or above

In terms of launching a social media campaign, even a very small brand has to spend at least 15,000 USD.

For a holiday promotion, it depends on the product category and the platform chosen, but the budget would be around 10,000 – 40,000 USD.

Read also solution for advanced Brands in China

How to allocate your marketing budget

Budget allocation is dependent on a number of factors such as your nature of business, goal, target audience, brand recognition or maturity in the Chinese market. However, there are some tips when deciding where to spend your digital marketing budget for China.

For small and new brands

For lesser-known brands in China, it may be better to allocate more budget into search and social to gauge consumer insights before investing in other more expensive media channels like KOLs, media buys, or more expensive social ads.

Other types of big, well-known brands would have more budget to spend across all areas of digital marketing.

For instance, a midsize lifestyle brand would be suggested to divide their budget like this: 30 percent on social (including content creation), 20- 30 percent on ads, 20-30 percent on influencers, 10 percent on search, and 10 percent on experiential.

Influencer marketing needs the right strategy

Influencer marketing aka KOL is big investment in China.

Large (Chinese) companies spend 15-40 percent of their marketing budgets on KOLs, while small companies allocate much more, at about 50-80 percent.

However, KOLs can be costly and not effective as expected if brands don’t have the right strategy.

“[Chinese consumers] have been through all sorts of scams, fake companies, fake products, fake services, etc. They have reached a point where they don’t trust what a brand says about itself,” said Hamza Ouarit, marketing director at Shanghai-based Gentleman Marketing Agency. source

Brands often focus on a blogger’s follower numbers and aim for as much potential reach as possible. Yet big bloggers are not always the best choice for marketing because their fan base is relatively broad.

If brands want to target more niche markets, they should collaborate with micro-influencers whose followers would find their products most relevant. And as their follower base is not that huge, the engagement rate with the audience is usually higher and thus the audience is more loyal.

O2O activities are under-invested

It is also very important for brands to drive online traffic to offline stores where customers can physically interact with the brand and enjoy entertaining shopping experiences, so brands should invest in events connecting online and offline, such as livestreaming at brick-and-mortars, or bringing fans to stores for gifts or free consultation.

Even many of the technology e-commerce players such as Alibaba,, and Amazon are investing in real-world brand and shopping experiences that complement the online experience.

Website is becoming less relevant

As user behavior is evolving, websites are increasingly becoming less and less relevant in China.

Meanwhile, WeChat mini-programs have been so much favoured and should be utilised more by brands.

Besides, Chinese consumers also tend to shop on prominent 3rd-party e-retailers than on individual websites.

This doesn’t say that you don’t need a website – it’s still your hub of information and for SEO purpose. However, the role of websites in this market is not that sophisticated like in the West.

Good content needs advertising to reach wider audience

Another key area where you should allocate your digital marketing budget is toward paid advertising.

The algorithms on social platforms in China are built in such a way that brands are forced to advertise because relying solely on organic reach simply will not generate enough exposure.

Even if a brand has high-quality, creative content, it will not translate into numbers if the reach isn’t there. Likewise, high reach volume doesn’t mean anything if it is not paired with solid content.

So, good content with some boost from advertisement will create effect.

Content is king, and advertisement is queen.

Wechat vs Weibo

These 2 are the most mentioned when it comes to social media marketing in China. However, misjudgement of them could lead to misallocation of your budget.

WeChat is still the most powerful social media in China with more than 1 billion monthly active users.

However, as the competition grows, so does the cost of marketing.

Average acquisition cost per follow on WeChat now currently hovers between 80-100RMB.

Meanwhile, Weibo can be a very effective way to gain a marketing presence at a fraction of the cost in both content creation and media spend.

Weibo is a true social media channel and its user numbers have been growing for over eight straight quarters, contrary to what most international clients believe.

Otherwise, consider niche social media platforms to have better targeting and higher engagement rate at a lower cost.


WeChat CRM programs

With saturation and rising follower acquisition costs on many of the top platforms, brands need to start budgeting more for CRM strategies and programs.

After many years focusing on customer acquisition, it’s now about customer retention and how brands can sell more to existing customers.

Wechat is a good choice for creative CRM programs instead of email marketing like in the West (Chinese consumers are not into emails).

Besides, re-targeting ads are also important to drive more returning traffic to your stores and up/cross-sell them.


“Throw everything into the wall and see what sticks” can be a costly approach for you because China is a huge market with multiple geographical areas and consumer profiles.

Apart from market research and competitors analysis, brands should consult experts who have worked with hundreds of similar brands to get the overall picture of how other brands are doing in terms of digital strategies as well as KPIs/ Costs benchmark for effective budget allocation.


GMA Chinese digital ecommerce Agency

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