The Secrets of Online Marketing in China
China has the largest e-commerce market of anywhere in the world and, with only 45.8% of its population connected to the internet, compared with the USA’s 85%,there is impressive scope for growth. However, as with any market, there are cultural differences and consumer trends that companies doing business in the country need to be aware of.
Marketers wishing to penetrate the market need to take into account such differences between the Chinese market and elsewhere. As China covers such a vast area, marketers also need to bear in mind the cultural and economic differences between municipalities, cities and rural areas within China itself, which can make creating an overall China marketing strategy quite challenging.
The differences between aspirations, outlooks and needs of people living throughout China and coming from different demographic backgrounds in the country can be striking. The most successful companies are those which tailor their marketing campaign to suit the area they are in. Campaigns in less developed second and third tier cities often need to focus on different aspects and products to campaigns run in more developed first tier cities.
One major snack manufacturer in China only markets its entry-level products in lower-tier cities, saving the more expensive, luxury products for first tier cities. They adapt their packaging and marketing to each area to suit the demographics of people they are marketing to. This two-pronged approach has increased the company’s revenues in the country by more than 15% per year (Mckinsey.com).
There is also a generational difference between consumers in China as those who grew up in the 80s and onwards experienced the rapid development of China and a huge growth in the country’s prosperity, as well as being born under the One Child Policy. This generation is used to indulgence and getting what they want. Those who grew up before this era can remember more difficult times and are often less likely to part with their money for things they don’t feel they need. Marketers need to understand these generational differences in order to make the most impact with their marketing and advertising campaigns.
Once marketers understand who they are marketing to and the different strategies they may need to implement in different locales, they can start researching the tools available to get their message across.
The main tool all marketers use throughout the world to get their product and company known is search engine optimisation or SEO. In the West, companies generally focus on getting their name to the top of the list in a Google search. In China, Baidu is the most commonly used search engine and Baidu’s seach optimisation is a little different from Google’s.
The best way to get a website noticed is to make sure it is based within the “Great Firewall of China”. If a website is hosted outside China, it is unlikely to appear on the first page of results. It is also better to have a Chinese URL as it makes it easier for Baidu to find. Key information should be included on the landing page of a website as Baidu’s bots do not crawl as deeply or thoroughly as Google’s.
Foreign companies should also create a simplified Chinese version of their websites, not just so Chinese customers can understand and learn about the product but also to improve search ratings as Chinese customers are more likely to type a search term in Chinese rather than English.
Another common tool that marketers make use of is social media. This is an especially important tool in China where e-commerce is such a big market. However, due to Chinese government censorship, the social media landscape in China is a little different to other parts of the world.
When thinking of social media, the first names that generally pop up are Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. These platforms are all banned in China; however there are Chinese alternatives that are just as effective when it comes to marketing products. Facebook becomes an almost identical-looking RenRen, Twitter is Weibo and Youtube’s equivalent is Youku.
These Chinese alternatives are often listed as equivalents of their Western counterparts because the main service they offer can be related to other platforms. However, Chinese social media tends to offer more services that just one. For example, WeChat, the equivalent of WhatsApp, offers video calls, picture messaging, a Facebook-like feed and voice messaging options as well as just the normal messaging that WhatsApp provides. This means that Chinese social media platforms are very versatile and are more open to various different marketing techniques.
Marketing on Chinese social media is the same in many ways as it is in other parts of the world, you create a company page, post company news, buy advertising etc. however there are some differences. In China, customers are less likely to buy a brand just because of the name especially as, on some e-commerce sites, it can be difficult to tell if a product is genuine or whether a supplier is trustworthy. Chinese customers are less trusting of well-known brand names and prefer to rely on previous customers’ reviews and the advice of friends. Word of mouth is very important in the country.
This means that customer interaction is vitally important especially as Chinese customers are more comfortable using platforms like Weibo to talk to companies, enquire about products and leave complaints. Companies need to keep on top of their social media accounts and make sure that they are responding to customer questions and concerns in a reasonable time.
Company-customer interaction is also common on platforms such as Twitter, but Chinese customers are more likely than their Western counterparts to buy a product based on the reviews and opinions they read on Weibo or review sites like Dianping.
The demographic on Chinese social media platforms is also very different to Western countries with the average social media use of netizens aged 55-64 being far more active than that of the average American 25-34 year old.
The main difference between Chinese internet usage and that of other countries like the USA and UK; is that for around 80% of China’s netizens, mobile phones are the primary device for accessing social media, e-commerce sites and other areas of the web. This means that websites should be optimised for mobile and tablet viewing. It also means that companies may want to focus more of their marketing budget advertising on apps or maybe even on developing a company app to attract more customers.
There are many other differences between online marketing in China compared with other countries around the world; however those mentioned are the most significant and the ones that warrant the most attention and consideration when developing marketing strategies for China.
The easiest way to create a successful marketing campaign is to understand the people you are selling to first. The best way to do this is to get insight from Chinese marketers. Many of the companies who fail in China do so, because they do not understand the nuances of the culture and are unwilling to accept local insight and assistance.
Percolate, Beyond 1.3 Billion: Understanding China & Social Media, New York, 2014