For many foreign companies, China might sound like the land of milk and honey. It is the most popular country in the world with a massive growing middle and upper-middle class. It’s also full of untapped potential with many less refined models dominating most of the markets. So for western ‘superior’ services and products, it should be like shooting fish in a barrel right? Well, not exactly. Just look at Amazon, the e-commerce giant whose 40% of the market in America is at 0.8% in China, dwarfed massively by e-commerce giant Alibaba. Here we look at five ways companies are getting it wrong in China.

Small changes can make a big difference


Good products in the West don’t necessarily transpire to good products in the East, especially with a country like China that had been closed off for so long, and had to rely on domestic products harnessing people’s tastes. Thus, whilst western products are sought after by the Chinese, a slight change here or there can go a long way. For example, McDonald’s, the most recognized brand in the whole world, changed their menu slightly offering shrimp burgers to help satisfy the shrimp loving taste buds of the Chinese.

 Translation doesn’t necessarily mean translation

English and Mandarin are a world apart and simply typing something into google translates doesn’t usually get the best result. While it may suffice, marketing and copywriting are based on emotive language, which may not come through in a poorly translated text.

Pepsi infamously translated their slogan “Pepsi brings you back to life” to the Chinese market, trying to reinforce their marketing strategy that Pepsi was a pick-me-up and could give you a buzz during a tough day. However, the translation transpired as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.” A moment that will forever go down in advertising folklore. Even KFC had to make changes as their finger licking good slogan translates to lick your fingers off. So beware. If you’re going to translate, get a native speaker on board to help you.

Know your consumer base or get left in the dark

We are not all born the same and in China, people consume media in different ways to that in the west. In the west, we use TV, radio, and billboards but if you just take a walk down a busy street in China you can see most people are glued to their phones, checking WeChat and using Baidu as their search engine. China’s internet users grew last year to approximately 731 million people, yet China’s cable TV subscription base, by comparison, has grown to only 313 million as of 2016. Thus, if you’re going to advertise here you need to dispel western ideas of consumers and allocate your products to popular Chinese platforms.

Don’t pander too hard

Some companies try too hard to make their foreign product desperately Chinese. As a result, they get stuck in no man’s land where the product looks Chinese but costs twice as much as the domestic counterpart. As well as this the product itself loses its western appeal. Despite Chinese favoring their own products, many are aware that western products are safer, more legitimate and contain the special formula of exoticness.  Thus, if we return to point number one, the lesson is to alternate but not change.

Money can talk but customers still walk

China had different tier cities from 1, 2 and 3. You’d be mistaken for thinking that due to Chinese sudden rise to economic stardom that most people are rich. However, this is not the case with the average wage being around 8000 dollars a year and this salary changed depending on what tier city they live in. thus prices need to be altered depending on location. Due to the size of China, having separate prices on the streets of the cities and a basic generic high-end price online is a smart way of attracting consumers.


Do not care of your branding

Branding is the key of success in China, and sometimes international brands or companies miss this part. Branding is one of the most important aspects of any brand or company, large or small. Branding is the art of combining what customers think about a company with what the company wants them to think. It’s important to understand what Chinese customers want or need, and determine whether or not your products or services match with their needs. If not, it would most likely be beneficial to make some changes. China is a very different market compared to the Western countries. Before entering the market, you should do your research thoroughly on the Chinese consumer behavior

Do not invest on Digital

China is the most connected country in the world, and “you have to go digital or go home”.  International companies or brands should seriously think digital before investing in China. We are in the digital era.  In fact, Digital in China is already more advanced than many western countries. Chinese consumers are enthusiastically embracing digital technologies that serve them. Some digital tools can easily  boost top-line growth, and others reduce cost. There is a significant opportunity for Chinese companies both to catch up with best practices and use the strengths of China’s digital ecosystem.

Bet on Shops and not on E-Commerce

E-commerce in China accounted more than 2% of the value of worldwide transactions only about a decade ago; that share is actually more than 40 percent. The current value of China’s e-commerce transactions is estimated to be larger than in France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States combined. Penetration of mobile payments among China’s Internet users grew from just 25 percent in 2013 to 70 percent in 2017. In 2017, the value of mobile payments related to individuals’ consumption was $790 billion, 11 times that of the United States.

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