What is the first thing that comes to mind when we about China? Well, for starters, it is a country with over 1.3 billion people, of which more than 700 million are connected to the internet. As the world’s most populous country, it is clear to see why many would consider this a place for great business opportunities.
Everyone knows about the Great Wall of China…and no, I’m not referring to the historical monument in Beijing (though that is a phenomenal sight). I’m referring to the Great Censorship Wall of China. International platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are blocked here, but Chinese tech companies such as Tencent and Alibaba have launched their own platforms which have garnered great success; not just in China, but globally as well.
Many brands who have entered China have made it work. However, there are also several global brands that tried and failed. 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, to get registered and verified on WeChat would require several documents from the business, including a local number and letters with the official red stamp.
2. Localized owned platforms
The website is pretty much the ‘storefront’ for any brand online. Think of it as if you’re residing in London, you would pretty much visit a store in London, as opposed to flying to Barcelona just to buy something in particular.
The same goes for your owned digital assets. If you can, have it hosted in China. 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 existing accounts with your brand name populating all over social platforms. Some are perhaps created by fans but there are others whom could be competitors ‘hijacking’ your brand name. Registering an official account (with the right documents in place) could help in suspending these ‘fake’ accounts.
4. How Chinese “name” your brand
Chinese have a penchant for thinking out of the box when it comes to brand names. For example, Chanel has a lovely name in Chinese, but most consumers still refer it as “Double C”. Therefore, 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. Top chocolate brand in China, Dove, leveraged on the popularity of Korean and Hong Kong popstars to endorse the brand and is currently the top selling chocolate brand in China. Therefore, for brands with very little awareness outside of their home country, letting influencers speak for you is a good way to start.
6. Think mobile
Globally, every brand is aware of how important mobile is when it comes to digital marketing. In China, it is exactly the same. More than 80% of Chinese are on their mobile daily, and their primary uses for it include instant messaging, social networking, online shopping and finding information. 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 new version 6.3. This social platform, once known to be a copy of WhatsApp, has innovated in so many ways that it surpassed many of its predecessors. Today, you can get discounts, join in an investment fund or even make payments on WeChat. There are many functions within the platform which should be utilized for targeted purposes. The recently launched WeChat Enterprise Account is also very relevant for internal communications. Rather than developing new apps and hoping for consumers to download them, leverage the functions within the platforms.
8. Long-tail keywords goes a long way
It is a given to ensure your brand name is protected on search engines. Chinese users are still primarily at an 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 which have produced good results, and optimize accordingly.
9. Explore ways to be integrated
This is perhaps a given for any brand. In China, 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 bear in mind how they approach the different platforms and have them integrate flawlessly.
10. Visuals 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 daily on astrology 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. Any thoughts?