This article is probably the best article available to explain client acquisition in B2B in China, using top digital Marketing strategies.
When you initially think about B2B marketing, your mind might go straight to those direct and in-person methods such as connections made at trade shows, tried-and-true sales team relationships, and channel partner agreements that have been in place for decades.
These kinds of techniques certainly have a place in your marketing toolbox. However, for China – the world’s most digitalized country, digital elements in B2B marketing should be significantly higher.
Over the past 5-10 years, social media has changed Chinese society significantly, altering both the way people live and how business is done.
If you want to be successful in this country, you have to understand your Chinese audience’s unique buying behaviors across various platforms as well as the complex online media landscape here; on top of their different business culture, norms, and values.
To put it simply, you need a customized B2B marketing strategy with digital channels in focus for China market.
CHINA – THE WORLD’S SECOND LARGEST ECONOMIC POWER
China is the world’s second-largest economy, but that seems to change within the next few years as China competes to take over the US which is currently the world’s largest economy. It is sure to continue on its path as a global growth machine, and thus understanding how to enter this enormous market has become critical to those in the B2B sector.
China: the growth rate of real gross domestic product (GDP) from 2011 to 2023
- The country’s middle class is projected to boom by more than 360% from 109.1 million in 2015 to more than 500 million by 2025, according to recent estimates from Credit Suisse and China-based e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
- As China’s middle class grows, the more money Chinese entrepreneurs will have to either invest in or start their own businesses and, in turn, buy products from local and overseas suppliers.
- The opportunity to sell to this large, growing class of Chinese business buyers with an increasing income and investment is greatly pushing foreign companies to involve in China market
- Additionally, many Chinese business buyers want to buy Western brands because they don’t trust the quality of Chinese brands
- The question of how to attract the attention of Chinese business buyers is really a significant one that we would help you answer.
DIGITAL SHOULD BE THE CORNERSTONE OF YOUR B2B MARKETING – WHY?
Chinese people are super connected
The digital landscape in China looks very different from the West, so understanding the market environment is the first step any company needs to take before entering the market.
China has about 855M Internet users in 2019, more than India and the US combined
More than 90% of Internet users in China are Mobile phone, Internet users
Chinese Internet users spend close to 4 hours daily Online (second only to the US)
They spend more time online than any other type of media.
Slightly more than half of the Chinese population are digital buyers
Characteristics of Chinese modern B2B buyers
The majority of B2B purchase decisions are made online.
The number of Chinese B2B buyers who make more than 25% of their purchases online is likely to double in three years’ time.
B2B buyers do their own research, frequently online. The buying decisions are often made prior to ever engaging with the suppliers’ company or sales representative.
Chinese B2B purchasers, including both small businesses and enterprise customers, have only limited interaction with salespeople. Instead, these buyers rely on digital resources—such as suppliers’ and third-party websites, videos, buyer reviews, blogs, and social media. And they increasingly use mobile phones to get that information, particularly through search and social media.
In fact, according to a report, 68% of B2B customers prefer to research independently online, identify the companies they would like to engage with, and ultimately control the process.
According to a 2014 Accenture study, only 12.4% of buyers want to meet with a sales representative in person or even over the phone. A significant majority (71%) prefer to perform online research, with or without the help of a salesperson.
It means that the battleground for B2B marketers is clearly online.
B2B buyers expect a B2C-like shopping experience
New Chinese B2B buyers look for the same online and mobile experiences and features that they encounter as consumers. They want, for example, enhanced search functionality, ratings and reviews, personalized product and service recommendations, and a consistent experience across online and offline touchpoints.
Personalization and omnichannel capability are the new requirements of business-to-business (B2B) sellers in China, according to the latest research from Forrester and SAP Hybris.
- More than two-thirds (68%) of B2B buyers say it is important to be able to look up product information across each channel.
- Other service options cited by B2B buyers include returning or exchanging products across channels (58%), being able to share unified account and order history (37%), and viewing personal activities across channels (31%).
The survey also showed that buyers prefer sellers that can provide differentiated customer experiences.
- 75% of buyers want flexible price lists and product catalogs for different users
- 72% think that differentiated customer experience is required to support personalized purchase workflows of customers
As Chinese B2B buyers are very digital savvy and spend more time learning — and buying — online, B2B marketers must dramatically advance their digital competencies to deliver a more personalized shopping experience and meet challenges from buyers with evolving demands and expectations.
B2B DIGITAL MARKETING FOR CHINA MARKET
Research and develop an overall strategy
In this first stage, we need to determine various elements of our marketing plan. To do that, plenty of research must come first:
- Competitive analysis
- Keyword research
- B2B brand strategy (unique value proposition, differentiators)
- What content marketing works for your audience
- Which channels are most effective to reach your audience.
This is where the digital strategy plan takes shape. It answers the who, what, when, where, how, and why of your B2B digital marketing plan, like:
- Who you’re talking to
- What you’re saying
- When you should publish messages
- Where are you posting these messages
- How often you’re communicating
- Why audiences should care
- How to measure KPIs and how these KPIs contribute to the bottom-line goal
Personally, I think B2B digital marketing, in China or elsewhere would be similar in nature: activities used to generate leads and convert them into sales. The most significant difference would lie in the platforms we use and the tactics to maximize these platforms. Therefore, in this article, we would focus on analyzing the characteristics of China’s very unique digital channels suitable for B2B and the strategies to crack them.
Build an engaging and informative Website adapted for Chinese clients – your Window
Your website is inarguably your most valuable marketing asset. It plays such a huge role in every single stage of the buyer’s journey – half of all B2B customers today expect a supplier’s website to be a helpful channel and more than a third expect the site to be their most helpful channel.
That number will get bigger as more Baby Boomers leave the workforce and more millennials (and soon, Gen-Z) take on buyer roles.
For your marketing strategy in China in B2B markets to succeed, companies must focus on delivering Chinese websites that:
- Use a local domain name extension: give your website a “.cn” domain name – one that is authorized by China’s Ministry of Information Industry – to ensure that your website is accessible to everyone in the country.
Hosting your website in mainland China can help to improve the speed and stability of your website to reach Chinese customers. You can also host your website in Hong Kong to enjoy the benefits of geographical proximity to mainland China, which will increase the accessibility of your website to Chinese customers.
- Optimize for Chinese Search Engines: Baidu is to China what Google is to the rest of the world. Like Google, Baidu has its own unique search algorithms that influence the ranking of a website. However, SEO for Google is different from that of Baidu. Thus, for your website to have a high ranking in China, it must be specifically optimized for Chinese search engines such as Baidu (more about this later).
- Match the language to your target market: local language is important in China to make it easy for customers to understand and trust your messages. It also shows your respect and commitment to this market.
- Localize your content and style: Create content specifically with Chinese B2B target audiences in mind and with the appropriate Chinese language. Adapting your content to suit your customers is one of the most effective ways of winning new customers and being connected with current consumers.
- Responsive and Mobile-friendly: With 98% of Chinese Internet users accessing the Internet by mobile devices, building a website that is responsive to various devices would give your brand more visibility and consequently, more customers.
- Operate rapidly, with fast-loading pages that maximize the user experience and minimize bounce rates.
- Make it actionable – Your website is not a brochure, it’s a 24-hour sales rep. Your website needs clear calls-to-action, engaging contact forms, and authority builders like testimonials, awards, and affiliations.
The most quality traffic comes from SEO
As of June 2017, 81.1% of Chinese Internet users were search engine users.
Users are not only conducting personal searches but search engines are also being used in business settings.
As of December 2015, 33.8% of enterprises had launched Internet-based marketing activities and about half (47.4 percent) had invested in search engine marketing.
As one of the most important digital marketing practices, search engine optimization is essential to a B2B company’s success in China.
With nearly 80% of the market share in 2018 on search engines in China, Baidu is undeniably the top Chinese search engine. That is the reason why every company that wants to involve in the Chinese market must constantly improve its Baidu SEO strategy. Some techniques for B2B’s Baidu SEO
Creating relevant and unique ContentContent is the core of Baidu SEO
Baidu prefers indexing sites in simplified Chinese, so if you want to target mainland China, it’s best to have your content designed and written in the Chinese language with Chinese culture in mind. Keyword research should guide your SEO and content marketing efforts. In addition to understanding the China market and your potential audience, SEO tools can help with this task. You can start with any one of the keyword research tools such as Baidu Keyword Planner, Baidu Index, Baidu Search Term Report Tool, or Zhanzhang Competitor Analysis Tool…2. Use META DataBaidu’s algorithm gives more weight to the meta-tags compared to Google. Important metadata includes:
- Title Tag: you should incorporate the most important keywords into the title tags, but make it natural. A good title is around 30 Chinese characters.
- Meta Description: Baidu ranks sites with meta descriptions higher than those that ignore it. A well-written meta description is around 70-80 Chinese characters.
- H Tags: Make sure you have at least one H1 tag on every page of your site, and use H2 and H3 tags to break down the pages with relevant keywords and content.
In China, many sites will not provide external links to you, especially well-known news and forum sites. The ways you use to acquire links from news sites in western countries are not applicable here.
Furthermore, B2B marketers cannot post any content with links in major forums either, even if they are relevant links. Forum managers are strict with advertisements and links since they think those would affect user experience.
Baidu products such as Baidu Baike and Zhidao no longer allow links to be posted.
Instead, you can try products from other search engines, such as Sogou Baike, 360 Baike, and HuDong Baike. These sites have high domain authority on Baidu and are less strict on posted content.
Another important tip is that Baidu accepts a link that cannot be clicked. Baidu Zhanzhang (Baidu’s webmaster tools) counts plain text links as inbound links, which can help with keyword ranking. For example, you can try to post text links even if clickable links are prohibited on a forum or commenting platform.
Finally, Baidu’s algorithm puts more weight on the number of links, rather than quality. Identifying relevant forums and blogging platforms is very helpful for marketers because they could build links there via content marketing efforts.
Utilize Baidu Webmaster tools
Utilize the Baidu webmaster tool to gather basic statistics, upload the most updated sitemap, identify and fix broken links or site problems, and audit site security or URL functionality.5. Be patient: China is not a small Market
Baidu indexes a new site very slowly.
The Baidu spider doesn’t crawl a new site very often, especially if there are only a few external links on that site.
While you are waiting for the site to be indexed, you need to proactively generate new content on the site and creatively build internal and external links.
Moreover, you can send messages to the Baidu Webmaster Feedback center to request feedback from Baidu staff regarding your site’s status.
Expand your reach and interact with your leads on Social media
Both in China and out, people will watch your social media – potential partners, clients, and employees – all of them will pay attention.
Here are some quick facts about social media and business in China:
?? WeChat is the main way people keep in touch with business contacts? Even business cards are going out of fashion.
?? There are over 1 billion active Chinese users on WeChat and over 300 million active users on Weibo, both popular with white-collar professionals.
?? Most of the major global social media platforms are blocked, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. LinkedIn isn’t blocked.
?? Only about 1/3 of Chinese Internet users use email. However, email is common on workplace desktop computers.
?? Identify the social communities that your target audiences are likely to be using and create branded Chinese content that resonates with users.
There are multiple social media in this country. However, we would only discuss the most relevant platforms for B2B business.
1. Zhihu – “Chinese Quora” for specialized content campaigns
What is Zhihu?
- Zhihu is a Chinese question-and-answer platform similar to Quora. Its motto is “Share your knowledge, experiences, and thoughts with the world.”
- As of June 2018, it had 180 million registered users and 35 million monthly active users.
- In addition to its basic question-and-answer feature, Zhihu has also developed other functions. Users can write articles, participate in discussions, read e-magazines, or give online presentations about specific topics while interacting with an audience in real-time.
- Zhihu users share three major characteristics: they’re better educated, have higher incomes, and have stronger purchasing power. Therefore, content published on Zhihu will see more user engagement than on WeChat or Weibo.
Other commonly-used functions on Zhihu (from left to right): Zhihu Column, Zhihu Roundtable, Zhihu Bookstore, and Zhihu Live
- Content on Zhihu is given more weight on Baidu – the most popular search engine in China, and ranks higher in its search results.
- Brands that can offer professional knowledge or information on specific fields, such as B2B brands, should best be present on Zhihu. The general public may find their kind of niche content boring or lack the base knowledge to understand it; so they usually don’t perform very well on top platforms like WeChat or Weibo. However, specialized content marketing on Zhihu will help B2B brands attract potential partners, business clients, and fellow professionals.
B2B Marketing on Zhihu
1. Q&A Campaigns
Start marketing on Zhihu using its basic question-and-answer function:
- look for and answer questions related to your industries, products, or services. Answering questions on Zhihu allows you to showcase your expertise and connect with both industry experts and general users.
- encourage users to ask questions or post questions themselves. This allows you to get high-quality user-generated content, improve user engagement and amplify your influence
- German automobile manufacturer Audi is a good example of how to use the site. In China, Audi was called “The Headlight Company (灯厂)” by Chinese consumers because it’s most famous for its headlights. So, soon after creating their organization account on Zhihu, Audi answered the question Why is Audi called “The Headlight Company”? (为什么说奥迪是灯厂?) The answer got more than 5,400 likes (“upvotes” in Quora) and nearly 600 comments.
2. Zhihu Live
- In May 2016, Zhihu released “Zhihu Live,” allowing eligible individuals, brands, and organizations to conduct online presentations on specific topics. Zhihu Live creates opportunities for you to provide in-depth knowledge, have a discussion, and communicate with users in a more direct way.An expert in AI gives a standard live presentation in a chat room
3. In-depth articles
- With Zhihu Column, individuals and brands can publish articles with in-depth, professional knowledge to offer more value and attract potential customers.
Siemens talked about how cool the manufacturing industry can be in its Zhihu Column, and the article got more than 1,400 likes and 775 comments.
2. Wechat – an important platform for communication and customer service
What is wechat?
WeChat is the most popular social network in China with 1.08 billion monthly active WeChat users (Q3 2018)
- Developed by Tencent in 2011, WeChat combines the best of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp into one mobile app. Users can share messages with their friends and post short updates, photos and videos for their fans. They can scan and pay at the convenience store, order movie tickets, and follow their favorite brands and celebrities.
- WeChat’s biggest group of users (more than 40%) work in the corporate sector, 25% are employed by the government, and nearly 11% are freelance workers.
- Your B2B customers, educated professionals with mobile phones, are using this platform to communicate.
B2B marketing on Wechat
1. A high-quality company official account
First of all, you need a WeChat official account. A WeChat official account is a formal channel for businesses to interact with customers and raise brand awareness.
There are 3 types of WeChat official accounts: Subscription, Service, and Corporate. Read more here:
2. QR codes
- QR codes are indispensable in China. Businesses should include QR codes in everything you do, especially in promotional materials such as brochures, websites, business cards, etc. That way, you can have more connections with your Chinese customers.
3. Provide rich industry and product insights
Emphasize your brand authority by sharing your knowledge through industry and product insights. The more professional and helpful your content, the more people will follow you.
Ideas for content to share on WeChat:
- Case studies
- Hot topics
- Company social events
4. A WeChat Mini Site Is The Plus
A WeChat mini-site is used to create interactions with customers, engage them in activities, and generate promotional campaigns, product vouchers, etc.
You can also have a live chat function for your customer service purposes within your WeChat mini-sites.
All of them help enhance your relationship with customers.
5. Be active on Wechat:
Users will unsubscribe from your account if it is not frequently updated, so make sure you have your account consistently posted.
You should experience some time slots to see which one works for your marketing strategy.
6. Customer service tool:
Wechat, in nature, is a one-on-one messaging tool. Therefore, customers can text you directly as friends and also the other way around. This level of communication is quite private and personal, so it’s a good way to make customers feel that you are constantly and instantly accessible to help when they need it.
7. Business networking groups
Business groups are becoming more important. They are groups of users (up to 500) included in separate chat windows to discuss specific topics. Be part of the communities where your prospects socialize to reach them and convert them gradually.
8. Be social and engage with your followers
Engage with your followers, talk with them, answer their comments, and cultivate a relationship with them as this will be the key to your success with B2B social media in China.
3. Weibo – self-publishing tool for broadcasting to the public
Understand Weibo users
- With 340 million monthly active users, Weibo is one of the top social platforms in China.
- There are more than 1.3 million enterprise accounts on the channel. The majority of enterprise account followers are Millennials.
- Additionally, the primary purposes users open Weibo are for reading news, follow interesting content, and learning useful information.
Identify Target Audience & Industry Leaders
- Weibo has a search feature that is very valuable for understanding target audiences and identifying industry leaders.
- By searching on Weibo, marketers can get relevant results for people, posts, interests, and images. Under the category of interests, one can also see subcategories covering books, topics (identified by hashtags), places, applications, and music.
Create engaging content
- Weibo has tagged accounts and topics categorized into various categories. B2B marketers can visit the page of topics and see the trending topics in each category.
- The categories are also helpful to identify thought leaders to follow and prospects to engage. Additionally, it offers valuable insights for creating engaging, helpful, and on-trend content that people want to learn and share.
- Sharing text with an image is the most typical way people use Weibo. Since the picture is attractive to viewers and can be searched on Weibo. Having an image in posts is important.
- Besides, when you create an infographic, a new report, or a white paper to publish, remember to include appropriate keywords in the post, along with the image, so people can easily search (and find) this content on Weibo.
- Hashtags are important for Weibo, only that hashtags on Weibo are signified by “# #” instead of one #.
- Topics can be found on Weibo since they are identified by hashtags. When using a trending or popular hashtag, the post will have a better chance of being seen since it belongs to a certain topic. This is a useful way to earn fresh views and new followers.
- Moreover, brands can apply to be the host of certain topics.
The topic of Social Media Marketing is hosted by the Cun Fu Zhangxiaolong
- Weibo has regular users, verified individual users (with an orange V icon), verified organizations and companies (with a blue V icon), and paid VIP members with extra features.
- For B2B companies, verifying the business has multiple benefits: enhance credibility and improve the trustworthiness of the pages; enjoy additional features in publishing posts, accessing data analytics and managing the account and finally, increase visibility since Weibo ranks verified users higher.
Use Professional KOLs in B2B to spread and amplify your voice
B2B KOLs are usually not celebrities but experts and professionals in certain industries. They have accumulated followers thanks to their deep knowledge and experiences. In return, people follow them to learn about things, hear their opinions, or ask for advice/ consultancy.
Think of B2B KOLs as referrals. In the B2B world, people are familiar with getting and giving referrals, using self’s own credibility to recommend a company or a service to their network.
Before embarking on KOL buying for B2B, here are a few things to consider:
- Is this a suitable KOL? Go back through their previous posts, and check the content being posted if it is on the subjects you want to talk about.
- Find out if the KOLs you’re considering are followed by and respected by your target customers.
- Numbers are not everything. Big numbers look impressive, but you need to know why their followers are engaged, what information their followers are interested in, or whether they follow the advice of these KOLs.
- Good KOLs don’t just copy and paste – they should discuss with you how to best present your service to their audience
- Look closely at specialized forums, news sites, and niche social media… to identify key influencers.
- For B2B, KOLs are industry thought leaders such as doctors, award recipients, well known public speakers – these are the KOLs that are going to bring value to your brand, and likely be less expensive.
PR is a powerful form of communication in B2B
Public Relations is one of the most cost-efficient forms of communication used to develop the image and reputation of a company, a product, or a brand in China.
However, you have to be conscious of a number of factors before you start engaging in PR activities in this country:
- The government strictly controls press agencies, newspapers, and news portals. The state’s censorship policy severely limits what can be reported and how it is reported.
- The majority of newspapers seek to make a profit. Therefore, they are highly interested in stories that can encourage sales.
- Chinese journalists do not have the same ethic as western journalists. They cannot be so straightforwardly critical. Seeking to report ‘the truth’ is a second priority compared to promoting the official state’s perspectives.
- Online news is the main source of information for the Chinese. The majority of people, including business people, read more news on the Internet rather than buying a newspaper.
Here are the most popular online newspapers in China :
- Sina: the most important web portal in China
- Sohu: the second most important
- 163 / Netease: news.163.com
- Jinri toutiao: the BuzzFeed of China
- QQ News is a mass market (like yahoo)
- Renmingwang (the People’s daily)
- Xinhua (New China) Press agency
- Fenghuang (lfeng)
Depending on your industry, you should choose online news portals which specialize in your field.
Finally, not having any initial contact with the PR world can make it a bit challenging for businesses to navigate through the Chinese press ecosystem. It is crucial to recognize the importance of PR in your B2B marketing in China. The next step should be to consult an expert for a more detailed strategy in this area.
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