Marketing in China Uncovered

No-one can deny that at any moment during the last year and a half China is a hot spot. Pandemic or not, the country is an attractive opportunity for both businesses and consumers. Highly controversial, culturally different and linguistically foreign to most people living outside of Asia, there is something China offers in abundance – opportunities.

There is,however, one thing that most entrepreneurs are not aware of when they look into this lucrative country. That is the different business and consumer environment born from the features I’ve already outlined above.

The role of this article is to create awareness of the differences and to outline only a few of the specifics that relate to Chinese marketing. The topic is so vast that it needs a book, not a single article but we’d like to point you in the right direction now when the time is right.

Let’s talk Social Media

Social media and online presence had a leading role in China even before the pandemic happened. If we have to stick by the numbers the internet users in China in January 2021 were nearly a billion (939.8 million according to datareportal.com). That makes for internet penetration of 65.2%. On the other hand, the social media users in China in January 2021 according to the same portal, was 64.6% of the total population.
As it figures that nearly 90% of the internet users in China are also Social media users.

One might ask what’s the fuss about? The truth is that in China almost any platform can be Social media, too. The landscape is so diverse and the platforms are so mixed up that it is quite difficult to grasp it at the beginning.

Take WeChat for example, which is an app for instant messaging while at the same time people are used to making payments, transfer money or even buy things via the application.

Weibo and Zhihu are two of the most famous content platforms in China but they both differ in the type of content delivered to their audience. While Weibo is more a microblogging platform, Zhihu is more for narrow, business and specialized content.

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I’ll make a big slip if I do not mention E-commerce in China as this is a very well developed market. Names like Taobao, JD and Pinduoduo are familiar not only to Chinese consumers.
But the one I’d like to talk about is RED (Xiaohongshu, Chinese: 小红书; pinyin: xiǎohóngshū), which is not only an e-commerce platform but also a social media. RED is an interesting mix that actually reflects the current trends in China with regards to social media. It allows users to post various types of content like stories, photos, reviews of products and even travel blogs. Along with that there is the RED Mall which offers international products to Chinese consumers.

Last but not least is video presence in China. The current trend is that in China everything is video, everything can be social media. People, brands, influencers, businesses everyone wants to be out there. In any form available! That is why there are so many video platforms, along with so many video posting options and content.

Pre- and post-COVID-19 customers

Customer values is a topic that we cannot avoid when it comes to customer behavior and where else would this start from if not China – the country that took the brunt of the pandemic first. With the shift of our world from safe to threatened by something like COVID-19 the values of people started to change, too. If a year and a half ago the Chinese customer has put on the personal values scale success as a top priority, currently that one moved down and its place is taken by the desire for security and health. The recognition of the family values have also gone up a few notches along with the desire for freedom, which of course is understandable.

These shifts always add complexity to the planning of a marketing strategy and should be carefully analyzed and considered prior to entering the Chinese market. With that being said we are going to the next logical feature that needs to be outlined – B2B and B2C customers.

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Difference between B2B and B2C

That is a general topic, which is not only valid for Chinese marketing but for the rest of the world, too. Of course deviations are possible depending on the country and market specifics, so don’t take all of this for granted.

In B2B marketing and sales the focus usually is on the brand, the functionality and what one can gain from a certain product. Company reputation and brand authority are highly regarded and are generally paid more attention.

On the other hand B2C consumers are more easily influenced by emotions, as well as pricing of a product, its prestige and popularity.

marketing in ChinaAnother difference between these two is the way we approach the sales process. If for B2B a skillful sales team is suitable with the main highlight on their professionalism and authority, where B2C is concerned the accent falls on promotions, the trending of a brand and suitable personnel.

Other specifics like the decision making process and how long it takes to achieve an actual sale, also differ in B2B and B2C.
For example: a company that produces grinding machines can negotiate for months to get the best price for parts from a supplier of spare parts for their machines. That contract will be in force for years ahead in the best case scenario. While a 20 year old can see a T-shirt in an online shop, find out if it is trendy and buy it in about 10 min since noticing it.

But going back to the Chinese market, there is one thing we need to do and I am covering it further below. After all, this is what marketing is all about – be recognized, right?

How to stand out from the crowd

In a huge country like China there are limitless opportunities but there is also a huge variety of competition. The fact that the market is so crowded makes it essential for a company or a product to find a way to stand out.
That has been taken into consideration by platforms like WeChat for example, which give various options for brands to produce more interesting content. Of course this transforms into better engagement and a more interesting user experience.

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WeChat has different types of offers for this. Such an example is the SVG article design, where users actually have to interact with the content in order to read it. That gives a brand more options to become more recognizable and use design and brand recognition as a marketing tool.

When it comes to B2C marketing tools technology is already advancing with fun tools utilizing AR (augmented reality) and AI (artificial intelligence) when a consumer wants to choose a hair color, lipstick or even furniture.

What does this have to do with translation?

I am almost certain that you’ve been asking yourself that same question, while reading this article but it is quite simple. For countries like China, where there is a language barrier the marketing strategy is always tangled with lots of translation and localization and not only. The differences in the writing systems, the information display and the amount of video content the Chinese audience is used to, lead to services like desktop publishing and subtitling or dubbing.
So the earlier a company adds it into the steps necessary to access the Chinese market the better. The skillful translation and localization will give the company a head start and will make it accessible and trustworthy to the Chinese consumer. It will also give you a glimpse into the diversity of the country as well as the cultural differences one has to consider.
I will finish with a favorite sentence of mine, which you will find in other places in our content, too.
Marketing is the art to speak the language of your target audience. Marketing in Asia? Same but with a language barrier! I’d advise you to consider breaking that barrier to succeed.