All companies dream of conquering international markets. This is the reason why companies are present on a global scale and more and more distribute their products on a global scale. We know that English is considered the language of international communication, yet only 20% of the world’s population speak it. So how do you communicate effectively to the whole world about your product with the multitude of languages and cultural contexts? This is where location marketing content comes in. This type of strategic content is a powerful tool for internationalizing your brand. It can be 86% ahead of advertising campaigns in English. It is certain that a company cannot let such an opportunity pass by. But in order for content localization to be a smooth process for your business, it is necessary to establish a well-defined strategy. In China, this process is based on a deep understanding of Chinese consumers, as well as the entire ecosystem and digital market. In addition, this process is not unique throughout China, but it varies depending on the platforms used, the formatting, specific media strategies, the target audience, and the product or service offered for sale.
I. What is localizing & how does it translate in China?
the process of organizing a business or industry so that its main activities happen in local areas rather than nationally or internationally.Cambridge Dictionnary
1. How does a good marketing content localization strategy works in China (&the world)
An effective content strategy is nowadays an essential factor for having growth within the company. Defining your content localization strategy means determining the markets you want to enter, the goals you want to achieve, and the corresponding tactics. It’s important to keep in mind that localization is different from just translating words in English, in Mandarin, or other languages. Indeed, it is a much more in-depth process of adapting the content of a website or application to local and regional expectations and realities. It is, therefore, necessary to decide on a specific plan that describes the steps necessary to translate the content in order to make it understandable and clear to the final audience.
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Studies show that approximately 52% of online shoppers prefer to shop on websites accessible in their native language. This type of site automatically appears more reliable in the eyes of users and allows them to offer a better customer experience.
Examples of companies that use the localizing content:
- ASOS: The Asos company uses localized content marketing by translating all the content on its platform, but also by offering various payment methods and accepting dozens of currencies depending on the user’s location.
- Nike: The company translated the content of their site. They also did some in-depth research and adjusted their post based on favorite sports in a particular region or country. The Argentinian site of Nike highlights football, for example, while the American side is more focused on basketball.
- McDonald’s: They translated the menu, but also adapted it to the realities of a culture where a Big Mac, or a beef burger, cannot become a bestseller. That’s why they introduced new dishes to the menu, like Mac Maharajah and other dishes inspired by Indian street food. These novelties encouraged the inhabitants to frequent the restaurant.
2. The importance of localized content in the success of a company in China
The Chinese population continues to diversify day by day. As a result, competition is fiercer in the country. Companies must therefore segment the market differently and offer increasingly localized products. If the population is segmented correctly, 80 percent of your business’s sales come from 20 percent of your customers.
If the millennials were the most important source of growth and the main target of companies in the 2010s, in recent years the tone has changed and the main target now reaches Generation Z. This generation in China qualifies as free, independent, curious, globally aware, and lucky to evolve in a privileged and comfortable environment. For this type of audience, localized content marketing is omnipresent and especially through digital marketing and social networks which are the preferred tool of modern consumers.
Not only you got to localize your content for China, but the Chinese market being so big and diverse that you’ll have to adopt different strategies depending on which region of the country you are targetting.
II. How to break through the Chinese market with a Localization Strategy
To break through the Chinese market, you’ll absolutely need to be ok with flexibility and scrapping your 3 years business plan. If you are not ready to adapt to the fast change of the market and its trends or to quickly adopt the new mega platform to efficiently reach out to consumers, don’t waste your time with China.
1. The choice of the right (social media) platforms
Localizing your content strategy starts with an intelligent selection of local platforms that fits your sector, audience demographic, KPI’s & end goals. Is your aim to drive sales? Or are you primarily focusing on branding? Are you looking for a prospect/lead generation strategy? Project needs dictate the platforms best suited in each case & at each specific stage.
Selecting local channels will dictate the type of content and strategy you engage in, for Weibo for example you have a “buzz” platform, an open network where users can see posts from anyone. WeChat however is a more close-knit community based as a branding tool or portal for information for prospects.
2. The understanding of the different Chinese ecosystems
Smart Channel Selection begins with understanding the different Chinese eco-systems, broadly there are two when we consider E-Commerce for example. Alibaba’s platforms including Tmall & Taobao are connected with Weibo as the E-Commerce giant has a stake in this platform. Inversely WeChat & Jing Dong are outside of this and have an alternative e-com infrastructure with WeChat stores & JD being leveraged by a WeChat strategy.
This is why it’s vital to consult on the market before entering in order to understand how to drive qualified traffic and increase sales conversion.
Consider also factors such as Chinese Business Licencing, certain platforms allow for set up without this whilst others require a CBL. Official protocol for platform set-up should be followed to avoid policy & regulatory issues for each specific channel.
3. The creation of a new marketing strategy for an optimal cultural adaptation
With China’s separate and unique eco-system ring-fenced by the Great Firewall, all content not only has to be in Mandarin but also formatted and amended for Chinese platforms, searching algorithms & keyword sets in Characters & Pinyin.
The implication of this is that a China strategy does not have to rely on your existing marketing material. New keywords, banners, creatives, logos, visuals, etc can be created to tailor your offering to the local demographic. Outside of this ecosystem content will most often not be visible or be considered highly relevant.
Compartmentalising China for brands can help with tailoring messages and images whilst remaining true to your core values, key messages & aesthetic. This is why brands need to build China teams and utilize local agencies on the ground.
Your Chinese Website for example is important to consider. Having a Chinese translated version on a multi-lingual main site is actually not the solution.
Firstly this is a nightmare in terms of both SEO/SEM, ranking your website on Baidu(China’s largest search engine with a 75% market share) is an important component of any web development project.
Typically, a website will need to be audited & optimized for Mandarin Keyword Searches so building a dedicated Chinese Website is effective. This allows the site to be built as a vehicle for visibility in China’s unique ecosystem, especially for keyword searches on Baidu.
III. How can companies get the best localization marketing content?
1. A good Pre-Market Analysis
It is very important to do complete market research before defining your marketing content localization strategy. Indeed, you should have a good idea of how national companies and international competitors communicate in order to learn from them on certain points and to know how to differentiate themselves positively from them on other points. The competition from locals in China should not be underestimated, which has now become very competitive in many sectors.
The ideal way to prepare your strategy is to establish a persona. The idea is to collect as much information as possible to better understand the expectations and needs of your customers in order to successfully retain them. But also to succeed in targeting prospects who have similar profiles in order to convert them into new customers. Customer analysis is therefore the best way to target your prospects and understand what messages to send them, or through which channels to use.
Qualitative, quantitative studies, surveys, or even pre-marketing reports allow you to locate your product or service with one or more targets and in a specific sector.
2. Observation of the results
Impressions are of little worth without a strong, localized brand to achieve that exposure. Having said this marketing has to be grounded in both quantitative data and the more qualitative process of building a brand, something less tangible to measure.
Over time you will learn an intense amount about consumers’ behavior on platforms, analysis and feedback from both your China agency and the consumer can make or break a campaign.
This involves by definition a high degree of flexibility when it comes to strategy, what are your consumers responding to positively, what is driving the highest engagement and conversion rates and how can you develop that area. It’s an ongoing conversation based on figures in terms of impressions, click-through rates, and engagement levels (comment number, share rate, store conversion rates, etc).
Agencies can use systems such as KAWO for analyzing engagement rates on larger scale campaigns, it allows less for human error and focuses on what keywords and content types are actually driving the highest engagement rates. It’s super-smart.
Market reports with this data should be presented on a monthly or bi-monthly basis that provides transparent and meaningful analysis with suggestions on how to move forward.
When it comes to Media Buying, click-through rates on ad space have to be analyzed in relation to conversion rates on stores & websites. Sticking funds on DSP without a strategy for placement or the right banner design can simply waste budget.
3. Constant optimization of the mandarin searching algorithm on Baidu
It is essential to break into the Chinese market to be visible and well referenced. To do this, the company must use the language spoken in the region of the target audience and can, for example, integrate Baidu’s organic ranking which is based on keywords. The important thing is not to write on your site to automatically engage the consumer, but it is to optimize and update your site to have maximum visibility.
Using good keywords in Mandarin will allow you to increase your referencing and therefore your visibility to reach the largest possible audience. Indeed, these keywords will allow you to:
- Feed and optimize content: Defining a list of relevant keywords that you can decline will allow you to find a multitude of content ideas for your articles.
- Feeding the “Long Tail”: It is an economic principle to adapt to referencing which designates keywords that are little used, highly targeted, made up of synonyms, and not very competitive, which therefore generate little traffic but the accumulation of which can represent a relatively large part on your site.
- Create a tree structure: Thanks to this structure you will be able to define the important silos for the positioning of a site in the results of search engines. Thus, for each main keyword, it is necessary to determine a tree structure of pages that will include this main keyword and its variations.
If you do not have your own in-house localization team, it is possible to work with professional agencies specializing in translation and localization services. An agency can help you set up an ongoing localization process for frequent updates. Of course, you can also select freelance translators to translate the content in question.
Searching Algorithms are not just confined to Baidu of course, WeChat has a search function, albeit far less developed, whilst cross-border platforms of course have searching bars for both brand names and product types based on sector. Weibo has a surprisingly developed ‘discover’ section where trending news in specific categories is up-ranked. You can also ‘pay to play by spending to rank highly on Sina Weibo’s category-based news feed. Remember Sina Corp themselves are one of the major news sources in Mainland China.
4. Use content aggregators & news based strategy
Currently, APP’s such as Toutiao has been widely reported on, but also more serious news APP’s allow for powerful advertising options.
Key players include:
- Toutiao: Toutiao could well be the ‘Buzz Feed’ of China, although there are many fundamental differences in how they operate. Toutiao is a news app or more specifically a news aggregator that now boasts 270+ million monthly active users (MAUs) and has been valued at $20 billion (as of 2020). The company acts as an information provider with content receiving 4.2 billion views every day making it one of the top platforms for delivering content to its target audience.
- Sina Weibo News: With the recent explosion in digital success of trending platforms like Douyin, Toutiao, and WeChat mini-programs, it can be easy to forget the power and relevance of Weibo. However, don’t dismiss the influence of Weibo as it is arguably one of the most influential social networks in China. With its user base approaching the 500 million mark (2021), the marketing potential of this platform is quite vast.
- Tencent News: Tencent News ads are precisely targeted based on user attributes, browsing data, and interest preferences. This advertising platform works well for businesses that want to target more professional consumers, such as bankers or web designers. Ads are positioned to entice users to download or go to a designated page to further promote conversions. The app had 295 million monthly active users as of December 2020.
- Sohu News: Launched in February 1998, Sohu, which has the same product line as “Yahoo !”, is dominant in the advertising sector, with 60% of the Chinese market. Its audience rate is 700,000 page views per day.
Aggregation of news allows for users to select categories of interest, hence a more targeted ad-based strategy with users pre-selecting the news they want to engage within their feeds, also by extension paid promotions. News apps are a growing phenomenon with ‘advertorials’ (ad articles) allowing brands to increase exposure in a newsworthy context.
In addition lead generation via these APP’s is very effective, ads can directly link to HTML5, in-built contact forms to take prospects’ contact details and initial messages. A powerful solution for growing your email database, follower number, or for prospective customers to pass onto a sales team. A news-led approach lends itself to PR & article publication of content.
The content becomes highly localized when it is featured in local news-based sources, it’s not just coming from your official sources.
5. Chinese Social Media are great for content localization
- Wechat: Use the many features available on Wechat to reach out to your Chinese customers with content optimized to appeal to them. Publish weekly post feature text, videos, audio for instance. Join the WeChat channel and share short videos regularly. Design a mini-program to promote a new product/service; For your company to have a WeChat official account is not only a sign to locals that you are a legitimate company but also that you understand the market which is the purpose of localizing your marketing strategy.
- Weibo: We talked about Weibo news in the above paragraphe, but using Weibo as a communication tools for your brands in also a great ideas. Treat Weibo like a social media that has the virality of twitter but the aesthetic of Instagram. Just like Wechat, Weibo has many marketing tools that can be used to build a loyal followers base. In short, Weibo is a great app to share your content and so story telling and to collaborate with Kols.
- Little Red Book: Just like Weibo, Little Red Book aka RED is a social media that has a good potential for building a strong community and is asthetically pleasing. If you are a company operating in the beauty and life style sector, being present on RED would be a huge bonus. RED users are looking for life style inspiration and tips but also for products reviews which is the core content of the app. Working closely with RED Kols is something we would encourage beauty and life style brand to do. RED also offers a live-streaming features, which we would definitly recommend to make use of in China.
- Douyin is Tiktok’s sister app. Just like Toutiao it belongs to the bitedance group and has a very powerfull algorythm. If you are gonna use a short video strategy to promote your brand in China, definitly use Douyin instead of Tiktok. Note that there are many short video and live streaming app in China, one of the biggest being Kuaishou.
- Youku/Bilibili: Those are the biggest video hosting platform in China as youtube is not available.
6. Localizing in China: The example of Starbucks
Starbucks made the choice in China of the global strategy named “Digital flywheel” in 2016. The fierce competition between the big names of the Chinese Internet and the essential role of mobile devices in accessing the web has created for consumers a very high general expectation in terms of convenience of access and use of the net. This is why the famous coffee company has totally recreated new digital content adapted to the cultures of the Middle Empire.
Starbucks has therefore decided to go through several to reach its audience:
- Launch of a Tmall store
- Creation of the WeChat mini program “Say it with Starbucks”: Starbucks has given its users the option to send “Hongbao” (“red envelopes” containing money) on WeChat, a traditional gift during the New Year
- An augmented reality coffee in Shanghai
Read more about Starbuck Success in China
More Localization exemple:
To conclude on Localization in China
China is is a complex yet lucrative market, those who stand to gain the most have developed a smart communication strategy with the right long-term partner in Mainland. You have to remain flexible and open-minded based on a continual feedback loop, also remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you’re new to the market it can take time to build a brand & traction, step by step. If you’re looking for a long-term partner & have a serious project in mind don’t hesitate to get in touch for an initial consultation.
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