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5 China marketing trends for 2019

While China still represents a big growth opportunity for all brands, brands need to be more measured and focus on fewer, higher quality efforts. Marketing to China is becoming a global challenge. Brands need to support their China-specific marketing with new strategies at the HQ level, in order to reach PRC nationals across borders. A new report from Totem Media has outlined five trends advertisers and marketers should start taking note of. 

1. China marketing is now global

As China continues to grow at a breakneck speed, it’s expanding beyond the limits of its borders in many ways: overseas visits are expanding rapidly, cross-border eCommerce continues to grow, and Chinese enterprises are setting their sights on global ambitions.

The challenge of marketing to China is now one that needs to be addressed at a global level, with increased attention from brand headquarters, and at multiple checkpoints around the World. With messaging and content which is respectful and authentic, brands must also balance core brand identities with “localising” for China.

As Chinese presence expands, so too will its global impact on media and marketing. Not only is Douyin a top app in China but its international version TikTok has risen to become one of the most popular new apps globally—the two versions combined currently have 500 million users.

WeChat and Kuaishou have also seen success in gaining audiences in other Asian Markets. And – coupled with the rise of Chinese global tourists and migrants – Alipay and WeChat Pay have also been successful in expanding outside of China.

2. Measurements of brand/digital performance are critical

Conditions in China have now reached a level of maturity where measurement and data are necessary. Totem Media states measurement is now seen as key to unlocking the next rounds of growth in a complex market.

In the case of social media, brands have started to realise that authentic follower increases are the result of overall brand awareness and affinity, not simply the result of push marketing on social. And follower count alone does not equate to sales performance. Engagement is a better measure of success than follower count.

Data and measurement efforts are becoming essential to in evaluating and vetting of KOLs/Influencers. As part of comprehensive full-stack marketing reviews, brands are visualizing a complete set of company data to measure the effectiveness of marketing and sales to evaluate the ROI of all efforts.

Social CRM on WeChat together with the improvement in O2O data collection are raising the possibility of more “one-to-one” marketing in China.

The report suggested, for brands who have developed large, engaged follower bases on WeChat, there are important opportunities to organise (by tagging) user data and activities, to segment audiences based on shared attributes, and to start implementing one-to-one marketing tactics. Social CRM systems are designed around these possibilities and offer data collection, publishing and automation support to manage “one-to-one” marketing as Scale.

Brands who simply ask customers what they are interested in, to narrow down interests, are enjoying improved engagement levels. Audience communications thereafter are streamlined to the specific interests of an individual. Data from brands using this approach have shown large improvements in both engagement and sales.

3. Quality in branding and content matters more

Content has not always gotten top billing as part of the China marketing playbook. KOLs, ads, and promotions have typically taken priority, as companies have sought quick results. For many international brands, the China effort has been “a copy to” effort, where content developed at HQ has simply been dropped into the market with light adaptation.

Totem Media pointed out, follower numbers on WeChat and Weibo have been dropping and engagement rates are also trending down for brands that don’t do content well. The steady rise of video and video apps (e.g. Douyin) and a shift in attitudes among millennials/GenZ, toward entertainment, coupled with increased willingness to pay, has seen the value of content jump.

Video content which connects with audiences, around topics they are interested in, will help move brands forward more swiftly. Marketers need to think about developing creative concepts which are unique to their brand,  distinct and relevant for audiences, and repeatable (can be replicated after first success). Content that wins needs to be entertaining, informative and surprising.

4. Social selling is massive

In China, social is an inherent part of eCommerce, social media channels have always been quick to add links to sales. China is several steps ahead when it comes to “social commerce”. There are clear and simple opportunities for consumers to “buy” at every turn, across every platform, such as live-streaming sites, short video apps, community sites, and messaging platforms.

Influencers and KOLs have also started to shift their efforts from being “paid to post” to selling-direct to followers. Audiences themselves are even getting into the action through pyramid-style marketing sites, such as Pinduoduo.

Totem Media suggests that brands that want to succeed with audiences need to plan engagement strategies across a spectrum of sites, in order to support both sales and longer-term brand building efforts. In an environment where social is so connected to commerce, it is imperative to also cultivate brand engagement and identity. The longer-term rewards of strong brand perceptions and word of mouth momentum hang in the balance.

5. Retail is being reshaped by social

In the past, physical retail spaces have been used to move inventory through to customers and collect payment on-site, where retail and merchandising teams would rarely intersect with marketing. However, given how easily consumers can order online in China nowadays, customers switch seamlessly between shopping online and offline. physical retail spaces are now being reimagined as marketing and engagement opportunities.

The report stated, AR and VR are poised to play an interesting role in the re-thinking of retail and in further connecting online to offline, in a market where everyone is connected to social, mobile, video and eCommerce.

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