Marketing in China: How to Sell your Products in China through Digital Marketing
Western practices won’t cut it for Chinese consumers, with more using social media than in the US and Europe combined
1. China is different
It’s obvious that the platforms that dominate in China are markedly different to ones that marketers are familiar with elsewhere — even those in their Asian neighbors. However, it’s not just the platforms that are different; the ways that Chinese netizens use social channels is also markedly different, and marketers need to carefully adapt their approaches for China’s cultural and societal idiosyncrasies as much as for its technological differences. One size does not fit all when it comes to China
2. A personal approach makes a difference
In particular, the growing popularity of chat apps in China presents a new set of opportunities for marketers. Many of the conversations that take place on these platforms are more private in nature, taking place between individuals and small groups (versus the public environments that western marketers will know from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).
In order to take advantage of the intimate nature of these one-to-one conversations, marketers will need to explore new approaches to social media and content marketing, ensuring that the tactics they employ make it easy for audiences to find and consume content on one platform (eg video-sharing services like Douyin), and then share that content via chat apps.
Chinese Social Media Platforms
Chinese consumers also use a range of different social media platforms that are not used in the western world– they are used to services like WeChat, Weibo, and TikTok (Douyin).
At present WeChat seems to be the most effective way in reaching Chinese consumers. Chinese consumers seem to view traditional advertising mediums cynically due to the lack of regulation on advertising in the past and therefore are a lot more responsive to social media and peer to peer marketing.
WeChat isn’t just a messaging app like WhatsApp or Facebook. It’s an all-in-one app that combines features such as an online payments system, micro-blogging, ride-hailing services, online shops, official company accounts, advertising options, mini-games and more. This app embeds all the most important functions that Chinese people use. In addition, the number of monthly active WeChat users totals 1.05 billion people in 2018. This is a huge potential for any businesses that are looking to attain new clients.
You can read about how to create a WeChat Official Account (business account) here: https://www.chinaseoexperts.com/blog/what-is-a-wechat-official-account-and-why-do-i-need-one/
Weibo is the most popular micro blogging service in China. It is great for connecting with key opinion leaders and running campaigns to galvanise the Chinese public. As almost all the largest social media sites from the West are blocked in China, getting in touch with the Chinese market will almost definitely involve using Weibo.
Sina Weibo is one of the biggest social media sites in China. It’s a microblogging site and is like China’s Facebook and Twitter combined. With more than 772 million monthly active users in 2018, Weibo’s user base is more than double that of Twitter’s 330 million.
Tiktok (Douyin) is the #1 short video platform in China, and the first Chinese social media platform to gain any traction abroad. Douyin is an app for making and sharing short videos with filters, special effects and popular music clips.
Videos on TikTok have a strict limit on their length with the longest allowed being only 15 seconds to capture the audience in the shortest time.
Till mid 2018, it had reportedly hit 500 million global monthly active users, most of whom are young people age from 15 to 22-year-old.
As a new media channel, Douyin offers a range of innovative ways to do brand and influencer marketing.
Due to how short the videos are, content posted on the platform is often seen quickly and has a high potential to go viral. KOL marketing on Tiktok is like viral marketing, better for raising brand awareness and promoting events as opposed to driving sales. Tiktok has an even younger audience as compared to Xiaohongshu and Weibo with 50% of its users being born post-1995.
3. Get to know the calendar
While western marketers gear up for the big pre-Christmas shopping days of the year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday at the end of November, the big dates in the Chinese calendar happen at different times. Singles’ Day or also known as Double 11, a shopping festival created by the largest e-commerce company in China Taobao that offers them an excuse to buy themselves gifts in celebration.
It’s already become hugely popular among young Chinese people and is now the country’s largest shopping day of the year, despite the fact that it’s not a cultural tradition, but the recent commercial brainchild of e-commerce giant Alibaba. Sales on Alibaba’s various sites exceeded $30.8bn in just one day last on Singles’ Day last year.
Retailers start marketing Singles’ Day at least a month before the day, and on the day itself, offer big discounts (sometimes up to 50%) on products to draw consumers in. Think of it as a bit like a Boxing Day shopping mentality, but without the hangover and leftover turkey. Meanwhile, lunar new year is another big commercial festival in China, and inspires the sort of commercial activity that western marketers would associate with Christmas.
4. Social selling
As with any market, peer-to-peer recommendations are the holy grail of marketing, and China is no different in this respect. Indeed, given the highly regulated nature of the country’s more traditional mass media, word-of-mouth is even more critical in China — a fact supported by McKinsey research.
For this reason, recommendations both offline and on social networks such as WeChat, QQ and Sina Weibo have become “the most important factor in the online shopping decision,” according to another McKinsey report featured in China Daily.
Given this behavior, marketers must start to explore how the dynamics of social referral work in China for their specific audiences and industry, and use that to move from social engagement to social conversion.
5. QR codes are critical
In addition to general online purchases, one trend that our report picked up on is the willingness to buy products on mobile — 20% bought a product on a mobile device over a month (2% higher than the UK and US), with 15% claiming to have researched a product to buy on their phone. M-commerce is clearly big but what are retailers doing to help spur this along?
Despite their poor standing in the minds of many western marketers, the QR code is a daily essential for brands in China, and the distinctive black and white images can be found on billboards and products all over the country. This is partly thanks to WeChat’s adoption — using a QR code and a WeChat wallet, consumers can buy goods from physical stores in China instead of using cash or a credit card. This year, Alibaba launched “dotless visual codes” for brands to place on product packaging so that consumers can use their phone to check a product’s authenticity and get information, discounts and recommendations based on their preferences. Just because something is out of fashion in the west, don’t assume the same is true for China.
If a client has a very tight budget and can only do one thing in Chinese marketing, what do you think it should be?
I wouldn’t recommend only one thing.
If they’re budget is tight, they should make the total campaign smaller, but make sure there are no missing links in the chain especially like WeChat and Weibo.
They need promotions; a content hub (social media platform usually, sometimes a store on another platform); customer support; ability to make transactions and build brand trust. If they take one of those factors out, then the campaign won’t be effective.
If the budget is small, it’s possible to do things smaller. For example, “brand trust building” could be decreased from a PR campaign to organic forum marketing or working with smaller KOLs (you can read more about it https://www.chinakolexperts.com/)
I think there are many ways to shrink the overall campaign while still keeping all of the necessary components.