In this long article, you will find top 7 marketing strategies for China in 2019, illustrated with case studies and concrete examples.
There have been numerous articles and posts talking about China’s phenomenal economic growth, its massive market for every industry or its exciting technological development, which have transformed Chinese people into the most digitalized consumers in the world.
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Top Marketing Strategies for China Market (2019)
- Branding is everything in China
- Build your Ereputation First
- Social Media as a Brand awareness Tool
- Engagement will make the difference
- KOL as sale channels
- e-Commerce is more powerful than retail
- Explore niche Market
- China market is a long run.
For the past decade, numerous global brands have entered China and see it as their main arena for growth as well as new, smaller businesses looking for opportunities to make a fortune in this country.
The most important question remains as what marketing strategies work well in China.
Your overseas reputation or financial capabilities may grant you certain advantages; however, both global companies and start-ups face similar challenges when it comes to understanding Chinese consumers and their buying behaviours; China’s unique, ever-changing digital ecosystem as well as the way people live and interact in it.
Having worked with and helped numerous brands across different industries establish their brand names in China, we consolidate top marketing strategies to succeed in China market in this article.
1. Branding is everything in China!
It is not exaggerated to say that Chinese consumers are scared of new and unknown brands.
China is huge and thus the market is complicated in the sense that there are countless producers and merchants selling everything you need for life here. Meanwhile, the legal system to protect consumers from fake goods is not yet fully developed as in the West.
Many consumers have been cheated with counterfeit products, fake reputable brands and domestic brands that are expensive but of poor quality; accordingly, they become paranoid and cautious towards less recognised or unbranded products.
Additionally, Chinese people buy brands not only for the functions they have but also to reflect their social status and improve how other people perceive about them. Chinese consumers are willing to pay more if the brand can bring them prestige and respect among their social circle. That’s why luxury consumer products enjoy such phenomenal growth in China for the past 2 decades.
I don’t mean that you should position your brands as luxury but definitely, brand awareness should be your priority of focus if you are new to China.
So, how to increase your brand awareness?
2. Social media marketing is of paramount importance to build e-reputation
Unsurprisingly for a country with 1.4 billion people, China possesses a massive amount of citizens on social media. The country beats out Japan, the United States, and South Korea in the percentage of its population that uses social media.
In a new McKinsey survey of nearly 6,000 Chinese Internet users, it was found that 95% of people who live in large Chinese cities have an account with at least one social media site.
Not only that, but China social media users are far more active than in other countries, with 91% of them saying they had visited a social media site in the past six months.
The McKinsey survey also shows that social media has a larger impact on the buying decisions of Chinese consumers than on those of any other country.
If a Chinese consumer sees a product being discussed positively on a social media site, especially by a friend or acquaintance, they are far more likely to actually purchase the product than his or her counterpart in other countries.
Peer recommendations have huge influence in Chinese culture, as formal institutions are less likely to be trusted.
As your targeted audience is active on social media, you have to be there, too.
Social media in China is fragmented and sophisticated. I would analyse Wechat and Weibo in comparison as well as other more niche platforms so that brands have an overall picture.
Weibo & Wechat marketing
Weibo and WeChat are two largest social networking platforms in China. They both exert significant influence in Chinese society and play an indispensable role in modern life.
Wechat is the most powerful APP in China. It is the personal messaging app, social media platform, online payment tool, online shopping place and more; all included in just ONE app.
Wechat’s ambition is to integrate itself into every aspect of the daily life of customers, helping them perform different activities without leaving the app.
Meanwhile, Weibo is a more open social media platform where users come to socialize with friends and new people; entertain themselves with funny, viral videos as well as discover trendy topics or hot social information.
Celebrities, famous bloggers, media outfits, government departments, and ordinary users all create and share contents on Weibo, making it a very bustling and exciting social hub to hang out.
- Generate awareness through content marketing
No matter which platform you choose to do your branding on Chinese social media, high-quality content that users repost or share is the most important element. Unique, informative and interesting content will engage followers and attract new ones.
After registering an account on both Wechat and Weibo, brands can post content or push feeds to their subscribers.
Weibo is an open platform where even non-followers can view your Weibo posts and the posting default setting is public. In addition, everyone can also see the reposts, comments or likes.
More information about Weibo Marketing
A Weibo post by the People’s Daily official account with users’ reposts and comments shown publicly below
Therefore, Weibo is very suitable for viral campaigns or viral contents, which aim to boost brand awareness extensively.
Unlike Weibo, WeChat is a closer community. Normally, WeChat users can only see posts pushed by official accounts to which they subscribe. So your followers on Wechat tend to be more condense and targeted.
The “Subscriptions” folder in WeChat shows the official accounts you subscribe to and all their push messages
Besides, in WeChat, our contact lists are usually the people that we already know such as relatives, friends and colleagues; so we tend to be a bit extra concerned regarding what we share. Therefore, contents on Wechat may not reach a massive audience but can create powerful word of mouth effect.
In terms of content type, on Weibo, businesses can make use of the media-rich nature of Weibo to create multimedia content including things like videos, pictures, live streaming, and adding emojis in their posts.
Besides, the “@tag” function enables users to tag relevant parties in the posts, while the “#hashtag” function leads users to a dedicated page that garners all posts with the same topic.
Create Engaging Content with Multimedia, tags, and hashtags on Weibo
On WeChat, the content that users like to repost is interactive with text and photos/audio/video. This makes it a good place for long, detailed articles to introduce the brand.
The language style is also more formal and more professional. Remember to highlight the most essential parts so that it’ll be easy for readers to skim.
Attractive visuals and well-designed layout are also important to retain readers.
An example of a push article from the LinkedIn official account with elements that make the layout clear and improve readability – a banner image that includes icons, subtitles, bold characters, clearly marked headings and a chart
- Engage customers with games and giveaways
Interactive campaigns are another important aspect of Wechat and Weibo marketing. Users like to take part in interesting and creative campaigns for a prize.
Promotional campaigns on Weibo are very cost-effective as the platform helps you to reach a large population across different regions in China with a smaller budget.
Brands can launch re-post campaigns in which fans would repost a certain message from brands on their walls, content creation campaigns where users are encouraged to contribute organic content related to the brand or products or Lucky draw.
Lancôme’s report campaign on Weibo
Lucky participants will receive valuable awards from the organizers. This is an effective way to generate traffic and gain popularity as well as engage followers.
Brands can launch H5 campaigns with a variety of creative features, such as voting, games, quizzes, and more!
To motivate your audience and encourage participation, obviously attractive incentives should be offered such as discounts and gifts.
However, remember that since WeChat is a closed platform so to promote the campaign you’ll need to encourage sharing, work with KOLs, or invest in WeChat advertising to truly take advantage of the campaign.
Coach, for instance, ran a campaign called “#MyFirstCoach” in 2015 to celebrate Mother’s Day. WeChat users, who uploaded a photo of themselves and their mothers, could have a chance to be featured on Coach’s homepage and win a Coach wristlet
- KOLs help amplify the message
Key opinion leaders play an important role in both Weibo and WeChat marketing.
They’re bloggers, celebrities, authorities or professionals in a certain industry that have a huge number of followers/ subscribers.
The social influence of KOLs is enormous. Their posts not only reach a large and loyal audience but also influence significantly the purchase decisions of their fans.
Brand awareness will expand and brand equity will be reinforced through the credibility of KOLs who they cooperate with.
The most common form of cooperation with KOLs involves sponsored content creation. Brands find a KOL who likes their products and is a good fit for their positioning. They then negotiate and arrange for them to write promotional articles and recommend their products or services.
KOLs can also share/ repost messages of brands or co-organize online campaigns.
- Run advertisements to reach a wider audience
Rather than depending solely on organic traffic, brands can run advertisements on Wechat and Weibo to reach a larger audience.
Weibo has introduced several advertising packages which include display ads, search engine promotion, newsfeed ads, and video ads, which are popular among companies in different industries.
WeChat provides fewer advertising options for verified accounts: Moments Ads and Account Ads. For more information on WeChat ads you can check the official WeChat website here.
- E–commerce is big on social media : Social Commerce
Social commerce is gaining traction in China.
This is understandable when social media is already a place for Chinese consumers to discover new brands, read reviews/ opinions/ experiences of other people with products and services before making purchases.
The online shopping function of social media just makes the whole buying process faster, more convenient and thus the conversion rate of social commerce is very high.
Weibo Window enables users to link their e-commerce shops to their Weibo accounts. It can promote direct sales as users can browse all product listings on a single page, or may purchase it right after reading product reviews on the platform.
Grace Chow, a KOL in China who owns her own fashion brand has demonstrated how to make use of Weibo Window efficiently. She links her TaoBao shop to Weibo Window so that all products are properly listed on a single page. Interested buyers can simply click on the image and be directed to TaoBao.com for payment.
Different from Weibo, Wechat has its own online payment tool – Wechat Pay that is very powerful in driving sales on the platform.
Brands can open Wechat shops, which are linked to their official accounts to sell their products or services. These shops are very well-integrated with Wechat by using its interface, online payment, chat function for customer service, log-in and sharing functions …
Buyers can easily access and browse shops smoothly as well as make purchases with one-click payment without leaving the app for an e-commerce platform.
You can build your own e-commerce website and integrate the WeChat API for some of the WeChat-specific functions. Or, you can use 3rd-party platforms to create WeChat shops fast and for cheap.
We have written a very detailed article on how to sell on Wechat for you to gain more insights about this topic.
Explore niche social media to reach super-targeted audience
A solid presence on Wechat and Weibo is a must. However, it is increasingly competitive to get your brands noticed by customers in the noise of millions of posts, tweets and campaigns happening every second on those well-known sites.
Meanwhile, you can take a look into more specialized platforms which serve unique niches. These smaller, passion-based networks allow brands to connect with conversations that really matter and drive authentic traffic to your business.
Here are some niche social media that are growing in popularity:
- Xueqiu (Snowball): Equity & Finance Social Media Network
Founded in 2010, Xueqiu is the one-stop platform to discuss and learn about a wide range of financial services. This could be the ideal social media platform for brands in the financial or real estate industries.
- Keep: The Hub of Health and Fitness Enthusiasts
Launched in February 2015, Keep is a platform dedicated to health and fitness niche. This platform is a great choice for brands that want to take part in the rise of the fitness industry in China.
- Mafengwo: Chinese people’s favourite tour guide
As Chinese travellers are increasingly sophisticated and knowledgeable, they prefer to create their own unique travel experiences. Many navigate to Mafengwo to help them plan their trips.
For those in the tourism industry, this is the ideal platform for social media marketing in China.
- Xiao Hong Shu (Little Red Book): females’ world of fashion and cosmetics
Xiaohongshu is both a social media and e-commerce platform focusing on cosmetics and fashion.
Brands or KOLs on this platform can directly influence sales through the useful content that they generate for users, making this a very attractive platform for cosmetics and fashion brands.
Read more about marketing strategies for Xiaohongshu here.
It will require a lot of investment if brands are determined to build a proper presence on all social media.
Wechat and Weibo are absolutely necessary since brands would not be perceived as important and big if they are not available on these 2 most dominant platforms.
On the other hand, other niche social media would help brands reach the audience who are truly interested in related products and services. The competition is less and costs for marketing on these platforms are also more affordable.
2. Chinese forums for customer insight and content marketing
Another powerful strategy is to tap into the large and active user groups on Chinese forums.
Forums in the West may be outdated but in China, it’s still significant. Large communities of similar interests gather on different forums to discuss their favorite topics.
For brands, forums can be a source of valuable insights into your targeted customers as well as a place to seed your content strategically to enhance brand expertise and image.
In addition, peer reviews are highly influential in a collectivist society. Consumers really care about the feedback from other consumers. Positive discussions about brands can greatly lead to more trust and sales, but negative ones spread fast like cancer and damage the brand image.
Therefore, it is critical for brands to involve, monitor and promote a positive reputation across forums.
Another advantage of being active on forums is that posts on forums rank highly on Baidu, thus contributing to your visibility on the most popular search engine.
Here are some of the most popular forums in China:
- Baidu Tieba 百度贴吧 – 54 Million MAU
It is known for allowing users to create their own “吧” (sub-forums), about any topic under the sun, such as your favorite idol, your favorite game, your city, or even your high school.
- Zhihu 知乎 – 35 Million MAU
Zhihu is very much like Quora.
Zhihu provides good information and analysis on a wide range of topics, and there are lots of famous people actively participating in discussions.
If you want to know the opinions of “intellectual elites”, Zhihu is the best place to go.
- Douban Group 豆瓣小组 – 300 Million MAU
Douban has a reputation of being the community of young intellectuals.
Anything from literature to minimalism to travel is being discussed here within communities of like-minded people.
Besides, we have Tianya.cn – China’s most active forum-based website for public issue awareness while Sina and 163 are two of the biggest portal websites in China with sections devoted to real-estate, education, economy, and fashion.
3. Nobody trusts a brand with no website
But in China, brands should see websites not as a separate hub of information but a part of the digital ecosystem that consumers would pass till they reach the buying stage.
- Well-integrated with social media
When you create a Chinese website, you need to look at all the points in which Chinese social media can be utilized. For example, WeChat or QQ should be used for logins in a website built for China.
While virtually every Chinese netizen has an email address, it is used far less than you might expect. Inputting a mobile phone number and receiving a unique sms confirmation, is much more widespread.
Youku or QQ video should be built into a Chinese website for embed videos, and WeChat pay and/or Alibaba’s Alipay should be the payment method integrated.
- Design and UX
UX or design requires thoughtfully and methodically consideration of factors such as environment, attention span and screen space.
As with anywhere, it is highly important that the purpose and audience is clearly defined when creating a website for China.
China is a mobile-first country, so your website must be adapted for mobile usage. Additionally, integrating the website that you create for China with WeChat or building a Chinese WeChat minisite will create a more seamless user experience.
Besides, when looking to build Chinese websites, the content architecture, image choice and user flow must be evaluated for Chinese audience.
- Localized content instead of translated content
Chinese marketing language is full of high-contextual meaning.
When creating a website for China, it is important to keep in mind that the content should speak directly to your target market.
Rather than hire a translator, hire a copywriter with knowledge in your specific industry that can adapt and polish your content for a Chinese audience.
- Domain and Hosting
If you want your website to rank on Chinese search engines, your website must be hosted in China.
To host your website in China, your Chinese website domain name must be managed by a Chinese registrar, your organization must be registered in China, and you must apply for an ICP license.
An ICP license is a permit issued by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology that is mandatory for China-based websites to operate in China.
Applying for an ICP license can take some time, so it is important to plan this in advance when you build a Chinese website.
4. A website is pointless if not seen on Baidu
Search engine market in China is also fragmented with various players. However, Baidu is dominant with nearly 80% market share.
Similar to the West, search engine optimization is one important pillar of your digital marketing plan.
Considering that 80% Chinese consumers conduct intensive searches online (either on search engines, social media or e-commerce platforms) to learn about products or services, being visible on Baidu is very critical to capture targeted traffic to your website and ultimately generate sales.
In China, Baidu holds the most market share. A myriad of smaller and vertical search engines like Google CN, Sogou, Soso, eTao and Qihoo 360 exist – each caters to a specific target group.
Knowing which China Search Engines to invest in and the right budget allocation makes all the difference in your search ROI.
In addition, an integrated search engine strategy combines both China Search Engine Marketing (SEM PPC) and China Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is also important to your overall China Search Marketing ROI.
Read here for advanced tactics to conquer Baidu
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