5 things you must understand about digital marketing in China
Updated: Feb 27, 2022
Over the last 6 years I have helped many western companies market & sell their products in China. In some cases the companies were just starting out on the journey while in others the businesses were in market but things had not gone as they expected.
While most of the companies had great products or services, often the best in their sector many failed to achieve their business objectives. So before you go down this path please have a look at the top 5 things that you need to know to successfully market your products in this complex & unique market (not in order).
1. This is not a Google world - There is no facebook, Youtube, Twitter or instagram in fact nearly all of the western digital marketing platforms and services are banned in China. That includes most of the website builders & e-comm platforms like WIX, Amazon, Foursquare etc.
What this means is that you will need to learn about the Chinese digital ecosystem which used to primarily feature the big 4 - BATS = Baidu (search) Alibaba (Tmall, taobao, alibaba for e-comm) Tencent (Wechat, QQ) & Sina Weibo (Weibo) but now we need to add in Ocean engine which owns Tik Tok (or Douyin as it is known in China), Little Red Book (product awareness & social commerce) & many many others.
A word of warning, the big Chineses digital platforms do not allow for cross silo traffic or linking so you need to develop a strategy that creates and integrated multichannel model when building your China digital ecosystem.
2. There are limits to what you can do in China - Digital marketing and advertising is not a one size fits all and there are significant restrictions on what can be done. As an example if you are a western business selling vitamins you can use search marketing in Baidu but you cannot use any of the social channels like Wechat or Tik Tok. If you are i the finance sector you cannot advertise in anyway at all and if you are selling international real estate you can only run ads in specific realestate platforms.
Advertising rules and options also change if you are a domestic Chinese company so some brands look to set up Wholly Owned Foreign Enterprises (WOFE) in China to improve options but this is not possible for many businesses. Ultimately, make sure you know what you can and can't do to market your product before you look to enter this market.
3. You can't just cut and paste campaigns for China. Too many companies simply think that they can take creative and campaign tactics that work in the west and implement them in China. This simply just does not work nor is it worth the risk. If you get it wrong it will destroy your brand and there is no coming back after that happens.
China has a unique culture and language that is thousands of years old. The way they think and the cultural and social basis of the society is different and needs to be respected and built upon if your marketing is to be effective and engaging. Understanding the audience and identifying what resonates with them even if it is different from your current customer persona is key.
Finding a partners who understand the market and who have Chinese staff is the fastest way to begin creating campaigns that have a higher likelihood of success.
4. It's the biggest online market in the world. There are 1.3 billion people in the China market - Brands just love that, WOW isn't that great we have this big a market. There will be millions of people who will love our products. That's true but the challenge is how do we find the several million who are our primary customers in amongst that 1.3 billion. Think of this as a needle in a haystack challenge.
To compound this challenge is the fact that most of the Chinese digital and social channels do not have the sophisticated granular digital targeting we are used to with google and facebook etc. While many of the platforms drive significant revenues from advertising they keep access to consumer data very closely held. Simple tactics like retargeting in search are not possible and hence finding our idea audience is not easy.
This means that you will need to be very careful on where and how you allocate channel spend to achieve your objectives. In China it is easy to gain large numbers of followers and even traffic but it is very challenging to find and engage the right audience and close the sale.
5. Mobile is king in China. Yes I know mobile is critical in all markets but in China mobile is truly the where people live. In China you can do almost anything with your mobile phone, no I don't mean that you can visit multiple websites and then make transactions. In China there is a fully mobile digital ecosystem that means that you can do everything on your mobile. All the big digital platforms from ecommerce to search to news to business to communications and transport have their own mobile app and mean an Apple or android app I mean a specifically Chinese app. Often built in their own programming browser language like for Wechat.
Research, bookings, payment, commerce, social, identity services, government services, .
logistics, health, transport, even buying a house can all be completed on your mobile phone. While some B2B and detailed imagery & systems are focused on the web nearly everything else is mobile first. So when you consider marketing and selling your products in China you need to focus on mobile as your number one platform for success.
There are many other top tips for this market and over the coming months I will start adding some more detailed tips and tricks for doing business in China so stay tuned and let me know if you have any questions.
OK one final tip for China and this relates to a everyone and everything you want to do:
If you are not committed to a long term strategy & investment in building the Chinese market then walk away now. The landscape