5 Ways to Market to the Chinese Tiger

Tiger painting on wall in Chinese temple in Thailand

Everyone wants to know how to succeed in marketing to the Chinese, and with Chinese consumer spending expected to triple to $6 trillion by 2020 (compared with flattening Western markets) as projected by Boston Consulting Group and reported in Jing Daily,  it’s no wonder! But succeeding in China is not as easy as it may first appear.

Whilst the West ponder how to cohabit with the colossal Chinese tiger their first problem is, how to avoid getting eaten.

But succeeding in China is not as easy as it may first appear and there’s no one  right or wrong route to success. One thing is certain – having an on-going research programme that is constantly reviewing the local environment in China, from which you can derive a strong digital strategy for your business, is mandatory for success.

Simply put, the market environment in China is vastly different to Western countries. This is no great surprise in itself, as there are always cultural differences across markets. What may sell one brand of chocolate bar in Australia might not work in New Zealand for example – for exceptionally nuanced reasons of cultural trends and competition – but in China, this difference can equate to huge losses and complete marketing failure if the business makes the wrong approach when marketing to the Chinese.

And making the wrong market approach, is very easy to do in China.

Take the example of the savvy New Zealand company who  simply didn’t realize the importance of  KOL’s (Key Opinion Leaders) in their digital marketing campaign and refused to budget for that support. Ending up with egg on your face when marketing in China, is very easy to do.

Many Australian and New Zealand companies make these common mistakes on entrance to China:

  • Low marketing budget for what is a colossal market
  • Recruiting one locally based Chinese speaking employee to ‘handle all of China’
  • Using old-fashioned Renren, or Kaixin platforms for promotion
  • Translating their website into Chinese and thinking ‘that’s enough!’
  • Spending too much time investing in quantitative research which is already out-of-date by the time the business enters the market

 And what’s worse, you might not even know where you failed, or what you need to do differently, without a specialist Chinese marketing agency.

Marketing to the Chinese

Here’s 5 ways in which you can successfully market to the Chinese:

1/ Always work alongside an on-the-ground marketing agency who are at the bleeding edge of what is happening in China. Things happen incredibly quickly in this market. What’s on-trend one minute may be old hat the very next minute. What’s innovative one week looks also-ran the very next minute.

Don’t underestimate how quickly the market changes, you need on the ground professional help.

2/ Create a marketing programme that targets a very specific niche. Targeting a Tier One City is not niche enough, as there is considerable competition in that one city akin to the entire New Zealand market. Try considering a very targeted age group, interest range, even location and target them directly using mobile media first and foremost.

Don’t be afraid to niche tightly. That tight niche could equal several million people.

3/ Consider learning about current media trends in China – preferably from your aforementioned Chinese partner agency. WeChat is not the same as Twitter. Weibo isn’t like Facebook. And Facebook, can people even view Facebook in China? Social media platforms need daily ‘feeding’ and are not set-up and forget. The Chinese digital media environment is the fastest changing environment in the world, you need to know not only what’s key right now, but also what media and technology is fast bringing up the rear!

Learn about the media and technology in China. Understand the differences between the platforms and watch out for what’s up next.

4/ Though TV is still the dominant mass media, Chinese consumers increasingly do everything on their smartphone/iphones – not just banking and travelling but also ecommerce, messaging, ordering taxis and paying for them. Taobao is huge. WeChat is massive. Don’t make the mistake of trying to optimize your website for the mobile experience, build it mobile from the ground up. During “double 11”, (or ‘Singles Day’) an Alibaba created online shopping festival, the total volume of sales on Taobao was 19.1 billion, with about 74.23% of the sales from wireless devices (mobile app & pad).

Mobile is increasingly important for success.

5/ Consider the cultural implications of reputation, review and Word of Mouth (WOM). Chinese consumers are more likely to purchase your product or service if they see good reviews or are referred by friends or celebrities they hold in high esteem. Make the most of sharing functions on your websites and social media platforms and for the best campaign results, be active in specific discussion groups and chat rooms.

Review, reputation and social proof are important entry requirements for success in the Chinese digital market, even more so than they are in the Western markets. 

Do you have any further tips for marketers making their first forays into the Chinese markets? We’d love to hear your comments in the panel provided below.