Digital marketing agencies in China are feeding you bad information. There, we said it. A simple search for how to enter the Chinese market, or digital marketing trends in China, will turn up countless annually recycled articles that all have the same intent: to look as though they’re informing you, but in fact laying out old or incomplete information, in a way that is confusing for anyone new to marketing in China to understand.
You will be told, as a brand, you need to be on WeChat, Taobao, Weibo, RED, Pinduoduo, Kuaishou, Douyin and more. You will need a website optimised for Baidu, integrated with official accounts across multiple advertising platforms, on top of mini-apps and H5 pages. Further, you will need to throw down thousands on KOLs, while tipping the balance towards engaging KOCs, create endless short videos, regularly livestream, build entire worlds in the metaverse and have constant online-offline activations.
Chinese Internet Ecosystem. Source: https://chinasocialmedia.net/what-happens-in-one-minute-on-the-chinese-internet/
Do you really need all these things to enter or thrive in the Chinese market? No.
Do you need some of them? Yes.
Which ones? Well, as with all marketing endeavours, the options at hand are virtually endless. What is key is figuring out which options are most suitable, most effective, for you and your brand. In this article, we’re going to give you the information you need, considering whether you’re a small, medium or large enterprise, your industry, your target demographics, and more, so that you don’t get lost in the often-befuddling wilderness that is digital marketing in China. We are Sekkei Digital Group, and we will be your guides.
If you’re trying to enter the Chinese market, it’s likely that you’re already somewhat established elsewhere. If you’re a large brand, this can be of benefit, as respected foreign brands are still looked upon favourably by most Chinese consumers. If you’re small or medium-sized, however, your reputation will likely mean nothing.
Chinese consumers have been stung before by brands appearing to be foreign-made, or by poorly-run and unfamiliar foreign brands, selling inferior products. The days of just being able to slap ‘German’ on the side of a toaster and see it fly off the shelves are over; Chinese consumers are savvy. For all intents and purposes, reputationally, you are starting fresh.
To start, you need to understand some key things about the Chinese digital ecosystem.
Should Your Brand Get a Chinese Website?
It is true that you will likely need a Chinese website, hosted on Chinese servers, with a .cn domain. If you’re looking to sell through your website, you will additionally need an ICP licence. Partly, this is so people can find you on Baidu (the search engine with 70%+ market share). More significantly, it’s either advisable or mandatory for certain advertising campaigns, further down the line. Some social media apps you may end up using will need a website to review and/or link to before you can even open an advertising account with them.
When building the website, keep in mind that the vast majority () of Chinese internet users access the web through mobile devices. Doing so, they usually use different browsers to most of the rest of the world – Safari and Chrome collectively command about 27% mobile market share, but the remainder is taken up by homegrown alternatives. It’s therefore important to find developers who know how to test on these browsers, and who can design sites that are equally as responsive.
Should Your Brand Use WeChat?
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, . By now, anyone who knows anything about China knows that it is a super-app, an indispensable part of most people’s lives, a fundamental building block of Chinese society, blah, blah, blah. Figures aren’t even that useful here. Just think of it this way: WeChat is basically as essential in China as a social security number is in the US.
But, it doesn’t operate like any Western social media platforms. First of all, what people post to their feeds is only, and can only be, visible to friends. Second, advertising options are fairly limited. Although ads have become more commonplace in recent years, it is still a largely ad-free experience. Third, brands therefore mainly use it in three ways:
WeChat is a digital ecosystem all of its own, and you will need to use it for at least one of the functions just mentioned. It’s labour-intensive and investment-heavy though, so don’t worry about hitting all three right away. Just choose what’s right for you.
Which other Chinese Apps Should Your Brand Use?
It really depends on what you’re trying to achieve, your size, and your target demographics. Here’s a very quick rundown of which are good for what, from Chinese social media platforms, to live-streaming and e-commerce.
Clarins on Douyin.
Taobao (L) and Pinduoduo (R) Interfaces.
There are myriad other more niche apps, many of which have MAU counts in the tens of millions. To explore them in more depth, it’s best to ask an expert who can give tailored advice based on what your brand is looking to sell, and to whom.
Trends in Digital Marketing in China
If there’s anything that anyone who’s lived in China for a while can tell you, it’s that things change fast. So it is with digital marketing trends and consumer preferences. Western businesses commonly frame trends and consumer preferences in reference to decades. The fashion, music, products of the 70s, 80s and 90s.
An unexpected but explosive consumer trend: surfskating. Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/asia/china/surfskating-women-skateboarding-beijing-china-covid-b2127245.html
In China, it’s better to think in years. 2020 was the for live e-commerce and Singles Day. 2021 was the year when frisbees (yes, frisbees) . 2022 saw the , and, almost everyone under the age of 40 bought a . The challenge for marketers is to distinguish trends from fads, in 2023. Here are a few key pointers.
Douyin Flagship Store. Source: https://marketingtochina.com/douyin-flagship-store/
Weibo metaverse early version. Source: https://jingdaily.com/china-metaverse-players-alibaba-tencent-baidu/
Key Marketing Strategies for the China Market
How to Build Your Digital Face in China
Everyone knows that ‘face’ (Mianzi) in China is important. It is important that, as an international business, you get yours in order before you start any big sales or advertising campaigns. Here’s a to-do list.
How to Launch a Campaign in China?
Is This All You Need to Know to Enter the Chinese Market?
No, of course not. But this is a handy guide to get started, to give you the rough sketches of a China entry strategy. Like we said at the beginning, exactly how a brand should engage with digital marketing in China has to be decided on a case-by-case basis. But, this guide has hopefully dispelled some myths around Chinese apps, shown what is important and what is not, illuminated a few trends and given some pointers about launching.
For true expert advice, get in touch. We’re happy to help, in a no-nonsense, locally-informed way.
Leave a Reply