There are over 772 million Internet users in China (as of Dec 2017), which is more than the population size of Europe. Chinese Internet users are very digitally savvy and comfortable with the use of social media, e-commerce, mobile payment, QR codes and so on. WeChat, Weibo, Tmall, Taobao, JD.com, Baidu and Sogou, for example, are some of the recognizable names outside of China.
The high Internet penetration rate makes it more doable for non-Chinese businesses to engage with their target audience in China. Many businesses have started reaching out to their target customers in China via digital marketing activities.
To highlight some of the unique characteristics of Chinese digital marketing, we spoke to Tait Lawton, founder of Nanjing Marketing Group for his insights.
5 Tips For China Digital Marketing
1. What are the most common misconceptions your clients have about marketing in China?
One major misconception is that it’s possible to enter the market with an incomplete ‘test’ campaign and start making money right away.
It is rarely possible because there’s too much competition and the market is huge. Western marketers believe in this type of minimal investment because it works for them elsewhere.
There’re also many agencies set up to attract this type of activity. It’s just easy to tell Western marketers “yes, your way will work, I’ll take your money now.”
It is possible to do small campaigns in some cases, but they need to be tailored just right and need to accompany an attractive product.
2. What are the three most common errors/pitfalls that your clients have experienced when hitting the Chinese market?
2.1 Admin Work and Time
One that’s surprising to them is the amount of administrative work and waiting that’s involved.
In some industries, they need to have a business entity in China. In others, it’s possible to go without a business entity in China, but will still require paperwork and time.
2.2 Poor Localization of Content
Another is poor localization of content. Many translation agencies just don’t do that great of a job. They’re under very high pressure to localize content for a low price.
2.3 Lack of Customer Support
The third is not offering customer support. Chinese consumers are trained to expect customer support quickly and on their favorite chat tools. Most industries are like this.
Also, for early stage campaigns, it’s important to chat with potential customers to gain qualitative feedback.
3. If a client has a very tight budget and can only do one thing in Chinese marketing, what do you think it should be?
I wouldn’t recommend only one thing.
If they’re budget is tight, they should make the total campaign smaller, but make sure there are no missing links in the chain.
They need promotions; a content hub (website usually, sometimes a store on another platform); customer support; ability to make transactions and build brand trust. If they take one of those factors out, then the campaign won’t be effective.
If the budget is small, it’s possible to do things smaller. For example, “brand trust building” could be decreased from a PR campaign to organic forum marketing or working with smaller KOLs.
The campaign could also be made to target just one region instead of all of China.
I think there are many ways to shrink the overall campaign while still keeping all of the necessary components.
4. What kind of products or services benefit the most from search engine, Weibo and/or WeChat advertising?
In general, any product can benefit from search or social advertising. We take it case-by-case.
Sometimes we don’t use search & social advertising in the way that Western marketers would expect though.
For example, search advertising doesn’t always result in transactions on the target website. Chinese users are more likely to go to larger marketplaces to buy.
For example, we’re running a campaign for a hotel website, but the hotel is also present on various Chinese travel platforms for the same price.
Because of this, we recommend that the advertiser use their website to provide an experience to impress potential customers. Customers can then buy on other platforms or the website. To evaluate success, we need to watch sales on the website and the sales lift on other platforms.
5. Do most of your clients already have a Chinese website when they do search engine, Weibo and/or WeChat advertising?
We work with clients at all stages, even ones that don’t even have a Chinese website yet.
I think it’s best to plan out a draft marketing strategy before building anything and then being flexible.
A Few More Questions
What’s your most popular service offering?
Search advertising & social advertising. We get a lot of referrals because we’re well known for it.
In fact, we usually recommend using content marketing as well, but it’s a longer-term play.
Because you are based in Nanjing, would you say your fees are more competitive when compared with agencies based in the west?
I’d say our Chinese marketing services are much stronger than agencies based in the West. Our business is very much performance-oriented, with 1) salaries competitive in Nanjing; 2) work expenses measured to the minute & dollar; 3) performance-based pricing in contracts; 4) profit shared with employees.