What is the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about China? For a country with over 1.3 billion people, of which more than 700 million are connected to the internet, there is one thing it is not short of – business opportunities.
However, everyone knows about the Great Firewall of China…where platforms so tightly integrated in our daily lives such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are inaccessible. In their place are similar platforms launched by giant Chinese tech companies such as Tencent and Alibaba and they have created waves; not just in China, but globally as well.
The success stories of foreign brands who made it in China ring as loud as the silence of other global brands that have since faded into the background. Is there a tried and tested formula to be successful in China? What can brands do to gain a foothold amongst all the noise and competition?
Here are some tips for starters:
1. Start early…
One of few frustrations for brands when entering China is having the right legal documents in place. For example, getting registered and verified on WeChat would require several documents from the business, including a local number and letters with the official red stamp… no promises on the timeline though.
2. Localized owned platforms
A website is pretty much the ‘storefront’ for any brand online…let’s just say the Great Wall of China would not be the same if it’s not located in China. The same goes for your owned digital assets. If you can, have it hosted locally. This not only helps with your search ranking, but the user experience will also be greatly improved. Alternatively, look at having a CDN (Content Delivery Network).
And of course, don’t forget to get your WeChat and Weibo verified.
3. Get rid of fakes
If your brand is already popular in China, be prepared to see your brand name splattered all over the popular social platforms – for better or for worse. A portion are created by fans but there are others who are simply riding on your brand’s coattails. Having an official account could help in suspending these ‘fake’ accounts.
4. How Chinese “name” your brand
The Chinese has a penchant for going far with creative license when it comes to brand names. For example, Chanel has a lovely Chinese name, but most consumers affectionately refer to it as “Double C”. It is important to do your insights and research right from the beginning, and understand how consumer perceive your brand.
5. Let influencers speak for you
The largest following on Weibo (Jan 2016) belongs to a Chinese celebrity, Xie Na, with over 80 million followers. The power of influencers and KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) should not be neglected. Brands such as Swedish watch maker, Daniel Wellington, leveraged on the impact of influencers to drive awareness and ultimately sales. For chocolate brand Dove, it leveraged on the popularity of Korean and Hong Kong popstars to endorse the brand and it is currently the top selling chocolate brand in China. Letting influencers speak for you is a good way for brands with very little awareness outside of their home country.
6. Think mobile
Globally, brands are aware of the importance of mobile devices when it comes to digital marketing. In China, it is exactly the same. More than 80% of Chinese are on their mobile devices daily, and their primary uses for it include instant messaging, social networking, online shopping and information search. For a brand to start any campaign, do ensure that your sites are responsive and the mobile experience is optimized.
7. Leverage existing platform functions
Everyone is talking about WeChat, and its success cannot be undermined. This social platform, once known as a copy of WhatsApp, has innovated in so many ways that it surpassed many of its predecessors. Today, you can get discounts, join an investment fund or even make payments on WeChat. There are many functions within the platform that can be utilized for targeted purposes. The recently launched WeChat Enterprise Account is very relevant for internal communications. Rather than developing new apps and hoping for consumers to download them, highly consider leveraging on the functional offerings within existing popular platforms.
8. Long-tail keywords goes a long way
Ensuring your brand name is protected on search engines will be a never-ending battle. Majority of Chinese users are still hovering at an information exploration stage, so don’t neglect your long-tail keywords. Searches related to questions are still popular, such as “Which android phone should I buy?” or “Which brand is better, X or Y?” Expand on your keywords that have produced good results, and optimize accordingly.
9. Explore ways to be integrated
Unsurprisingly, one needs to know about the rivalries between Chinese internet companies. For example, WeChat has blocked access within its platform to Taobao. On Sina Weibo, any link to WeChat content is blocked as well. Brands need to bear in mind how they approach the different platforms and have them integrate flawlessly.
10. Visual appeal
In a space where consumers are often overwhelmed with information, the quickest way to grab one’s attention is through stimulating visuals. Infographics, videos and comic strips are just some of the more preferred forms of content in China. One of the most popular WeChat account posts astrology content through comic strips and each post generates up to 100k views. Micro-movies have also been a great way to tell the story of a brand.
So there you have it, 10 tips for starters on entering China’s digital landscape. Thoughts?
Ying is the Shanghai & Digital lead at WE Communications. She has over 10 years of experience working across markets in China, SEA, Australia, US and London, helping brands cross the cultural differences between Asia and the rest of the world.