Tips and tricks to cracking the China market

The Chinese market has often been intriguing for many companies looking for growth in Asia. It is one of the largest eCommerce markets globally and transactions on its mobile platforms remain unparallelled to its neighbouring countries around the region. But operating in the market doesn't come without its fair share of pitfalls.

In a conversation with Marketing, Ashley Galina Dudarenok, an entrepreneur and professional speaker who runs the world’s largest Youtube vlog about the China market, says it is important to follow all the rules, regulations and policies regarding your business there.

"For example, if you want to start an eCommerce business in China, there are The Network Security Law 《中华人民共和国网络安全法》 and other regulations. And when you post content online, there are certain areas or topics that are sensitive. The best way to avoid mistakes here is to find a trustworthy agency to help you deal with it," she said.

Dudarenok explains that it is important for brands to remember that not every channel is for every brand. Although it’s a good idea to ensure as broad a coverage as possible, marketers will need to zoom in on a few specific channels especially if budgets are tight. For example, in addition to Weibo and WeChat, eCommerce brands can register accounts on Little Red Book and Douyin. Moreover, local brick-and-mortar stores can establish a presence on group-buying platform Dianping. Overseas finance brands can open accounts on Xueqiu and educational institutions can choose Zhihu as well.

"These are just broad examples, however, and you’ll need expert advice to help you understand which channels are worth investing in," she said.

Dudarenok added that while Chinese people love big brands, gaining their love alone is not enough. It’s important to understand the Chinese market and meet the needs of Chinese consumers.

"Take a close look and adjust your brand positioning and product features before entering the Chinese market. For example, the post-90s and post-00s generations are the driving force behind apparel retail today. For foreign fashion brands targeting the middle-class or mature women, they may need to change to a younger, fresher look for Chinese consumers," she explains.

[Learn how to maximise your ROI with Chinese social media at our China Digital Marketing Masterclass with Ashley Galina Dudarenok in Singapore (25-26 April), Hong Kong (16-17 May) and Malaysia (24-25 June). Get your tickets here]

Marketing: What do you think brands need to take note of when entering the Chinese market? 

There are a few key areas to take note of:

  • Occasion-based marketing

When talking about occasion-based marketing in China, it’s not just about holidays or big events such as the World Cup and Double 11. Trending topics start on Weibo and go viral from there. Soon enough, consumers are talking about it on WeChat, Douyin, Little Red Book and other social media channels. So keep track of what’s trending and tap into the power of occasion, or create your own. You can start by buying a most-searched keyword on Weibo. This increases your chances of going viral.

  • An exceptional customer relationship management (CRM) system

Managing your client database is very important. All the numbers are bigger in China. It has a huge population and there will be a lot of customers to deal with if all goes well. Prompt and effective online customer service is also an expectation among most Chinese consumers. A good CRM system is also an effective way for you to increase client engagement and good word-of-mouth marketing.

Since most customer databases in China do not use email addresses or check them infrequently, official WeChat and Alipay accounts are best for CRM. Sending messages to these accounts ensures that users receive updates and information. The back-end of various social media platforms can also provide you with well-structured, informative data about your fans and customers, making it easier for you to analyse their needs and preferences.

  • The power of KOLs

Key opinion leaders (KOLs) are taken seriously in China. According to a PwC report, 29% of Chinese consumers use social media to see what KOLs and celebrities are endorsing, compared to 13% globally. When considering using KOLs as part of your marketing strategy, remember that Chinese digital platforms are content-driven. Invest time and energy to coordinate the presentation of your brand or product and to deal with the conversations and inquiries afterwards.

  • A good Chinese name matters

Although foreign brands are attractive to Chinese consumers, it is still very important to come up with a proper Chinese name. As we all know, localisation is crucial for Chinese consumers, and a great Chinese name is the first step. There are two common ways to create a Chinese business name. The first is transliteration and the second is to use Chinese words that communicate your brand’s essence. You also need to take your target audience into consideration since different groups have different preferences and expectations. Make sure the Chinese name of your brand is consumer-friendly.

Marketing: How has the Chinese market evolved in the past five years?

The Chinese market has dived deep into the digital space and marketing (including eCommerce and payment methods) over the past few years. The following are some of the more prominent recent trends in detail.

  • The new retail revolution

This term was coined by Alibaba referring to a merging of online and offline stores facilitated by technologies such as digital payments, Wi-Fi, AI, sensors, location-based services and improved logistics services.

  • The sharing economy

Over the past few years, the sharing economy has penetrated the daily lives of the Chinese people. Besides shared cars and bikes, there are other sectors that have potential such as clothes, kitchens, accommodation, power-charging and even travel.

  • Short videos

Short videos are witnessing explosive growth in China. People are hooked on short video apps such as Douyin these days and the trend is predicted to grow in tandem with the development of 5G technology. Compared to traditional social media channels, short video platforms provide more vivid and engaging content.

  • Big data

Big data can be used for consumer behavior analysis, ad targeting or to provide personalised services. Businesses can obtain in-depth insights by using data-capturing tools and ROI can be easily evaluated. A good example of a platform that uses big data extensively is Taobao. It tracks each user’s searched items, purchasing history, shopping cart items and other useful information so that sellers can get to know their target customers and can even pinpoint the best time of day to launch a campaign. 

Marketing: What should brands in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong take note of when speaking to Chinese consumers?

  • Find your brand’s USP

China is a very competitive market but the good news for brands from these places is that Chinese consumers feel a closer connection with brands from there than they do with Western brands. These places are closer geographically and also share aspects of Chinese and Asian culture. So find your brand’s unique selling point for Chinese consumers and use that as your key message.

  • Collaboration

For newly launched brands, it is a good way to enter the Chinese market. Collaborate or do joint promotions with major Chinese brands and platforms. For example, Hong Kong brands can give out e-coupons through Alipay or open a store on Tmall. It’s a good way to raise brand awareness and draw customers.

  • Chinese tourists

Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong are top destinations for Chinese travellers so don’t focus only on marketing within China. You can also launch local campaigns aimed at Chinese tourists who are visiting.