ExporterToday sat down with Jessica Miao, founder and CEO of digital marketing agency United Media Solution (UMS) for some practical advice on understanding and accessing China’s fast-growing digital marketplace.
It all starts with a plan. Getting a foothold in China’s daunting e-commerce marketplace requires a specific plan, drawn up with the help of market experts.
UMS is one of the leading ‘full-service and independent’ digital marketing agencies linking New Zealand brands with Chinese consumers, and working with a raft of big-name clients to help them unravel the mysteries of China’s digital marketplace.
Its CEO Jessica Miao says having a unique China plan that’s linked to a business’ overall business plan is vital.
While investing in online marketing for the China market is a long-term strategy, it’s also important to make decisions quickly, she says. “If you delay a decision, by the time you make one the market situation will have already changed.”
Managing a digital market account is not easy, and not just a case of hiring someone fluent in Mandarin, Miao explains. And experts who base themselves in New Zealand can quickly get out of touch with what’s going on in China, especially if they have no personal experience of managing a WeChat account or connections with professionals on the ground in mainland China.
Initially it’s important to set goals based on your main objectives – whether it’s brand awareness, selling goods, or managing client relationships. They all require different strategies, explains Miao.
“Clients may simply ask us how much it costs to, say, run a WeChat account, but that’s hard to answer because we first need to understand the company’s current status and goals, and the volume of sales they wish to achieve in the coming year.
“The marketing spend is normally 20 percent [of the total budget], and a client may want to allocate five to ten percent of the marketing budget towards off-line events. The rest going towards online. But always it comes down to their goals.”
Miao believes it’s important that clients have their China market strategy sorted prior to thinking about their digital marketing strategy.
“It’s much easier for a company to know what their digital objectives are once they have that market strategy in place.”
If a company is yet to put their strategy in place, UMS have partner consultants they collaborate with and they also provide ongoing consultation once a client is on board.
But she’s not ruling out getting into the [initial] consultation space sometime in the future, as market education is very important.
It’s interesting, but also understandable, that many Kiwi clients prefer to work with an English-speaking (as first language) consultant when working on market strategy. When it comes to the execution, however, that’s not so important, says Miao.
On the subject of execution, Miao says her company works with WeChat and Weibo, as well as a number of smaller social media apps, to gain exposure for clients’ products. But they don’t always recommend the biggest sites as they are extremely overpopulated. The official account numbers for WeChat, for example, were around 3.5 million last November – which makes for an extremely competitive marketplace!
Often there can be a ‘better bang for your buck’ on the smaller social media sites.
New Zealand first
Before entering the e-commerce market in China, Miao recommends that businesses first establish a digital footprint within New Zealand. You’ll also need a strong, brand story that is relevant to the China market.
Chinese consumers love hearing stories of successful start-ups, she says. “ecostore is a good example of this, with the story of its owner and the secrets behind its products. Villa Maria is another one.”
Looking ahead over the next 12 months, Miao believes the use of VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) technology on e-commerce sites will accelerate as brands seek to engage consumers with their stories – along with livestreaming and short videos.
“Younger consumers born after the 80s and 90s especially like visual content,” says Miao. “On Chinese social media visualised content is increasingly popular.”
Her advice to New Zealand companies is to not treat videos too seriously – but more as a fun way to engage with potential customers “in the moment”. It can be as simple as capturing and editing a photo on your smartphone and posting it on your social media site.
Miao believes many New Zealand brand posts on sites such as WeChat are too boring – consisting mainly of an image with too much text.
“You need interesting visual content to attract those busy eyeballs.”
She also believes the major difference between Chinese and New Zealand online shoppers is the fact that the Chinese place a great deal of importance on feedback comments, either positive or negative, from other shoppers. It’s a major influence on their purchase decision.
Feedback is also a good thing – it allows you to learn from your customers, Miao says. Her company actively encourages engagement and subsequent feedback on their clients’ WeChat sites for this very reason.
“In social media ‘social’ comes first,” says Miao. “So you must put a lot of care into your community and your fans first.
“By understanding them through their feedback and commentaries, you’ll be able to respond to them even better through your brand stories and make your marketing strategy even more targeted.”
Article by Glenn Baker, editor of ExporterToday