What Back Flips Taught Me About Internet Marketing in China

Wed, 01/25/2012 - 17:05

Last week I was interviewed by James Renouf for an upcoming audio book and one of the questions they asked me was something like, “What is the biggest mistake you see Western companies making in entering the online Chinese market?” The answer I gave was that they just sit and wait until the best time for entry is already over.

I think that’s a good answer for Western companies in general, and especially true for companies that are making something that can easily be copied, such as an application or web startup. However, I gave it some more thought over the weekend to see what other major mistakes I may be able to identify. My thoughts on this matter led me to memories of when I learned to do some basic diving.

A few years ago I went through a diving kick with a couple of my friends. Two or three evenings a week, we’d jump and dive off the platforms and diving boards at a local swimming pool. This was the same year I started Nanjing Marketing Group.

Now, I didn’t know how to dive, I wasn’t acrobatic in the least and I was scared of heights too. For me, glass-walled elevators are scary. Both the friends I went with, Nick and Ryan, are the opposite. Nick especially is acrobatic to the extreme and seems to enjoy jumping off of anything dangerously high – stair wells, mountains, airplanes and of course diving platforms.

The first thing I learned to do was simply jump off the platforms. If you’ve done this before, you know it’s not complicated. But if you haven’t done it before, it can be pretty scary to take the jump. We humans are hard-wired to keep a safe distance away from deadly heights, even if it is just water below. Anyways, I started off by just doing some straight jumps and that worked out fine.

A few trips to the pool later, the time came when Ryan and Nick thought I should be learning how to do back flips. I knew that technically shouldn’t be too difficult. With enough height, a back flip isn’t that difficult of a manoeuvre for a young person in decent shape, even if they are inexperienced. But jumping out from a concrete platform and trying to spin backwards still felt like a very hard thing to commit to. Ryan gave me some words of encouragement: “Come on man, even my girlfriend can back flip off of there.” Well, I wasn’t going to have that. Not that there’s anything wrong with his girlfriend, but the implication was that she wasn’t experienced with diving either.

You know, if you haven’t done a back flip before, jumping out from a concrete platform with the hope of doing a 360 and landing on your feet isn’t actually that easy. You want to see the ground and you naturally want to level yourself out, so the first 180 degrees of the turn goes against your natural instincts.

So, I hedged my bets a bit and jumped with my right side turned down a bit… just a bit. In mid-flip it made me feel safer, made me feel like I could get out of this crazy commitment if I wanted to, until… … SLAP, I hit the water on my side after doing a turn of about 270 degrees or so. The entire right side of my body was red.

How the heck does this relate to entering a foreign market you say?

There are things in life, and business, that can be done partially, and there are others that must be taken full turn. Doing them partially only results in pain.

I often feel that the many Western business people that approach me about marketing in China must feel a bit like I did before doing a back flip. Doing business so far away, in a country with a greatly different language and culture must feel far outside one’s comfort zone at first.

But uncomfortable or not, it’s my advice that they either have to take their China business plan full turn, or not do it at all.

Because, guess what happens if you translate your website into Chinese but don’t market it properly? Guess what happens if you run a targeted search engine marketing campaign, but don’t have anybody to answer customer inquiries in Chinese? SLAP! You get slapped with the full force of the expense of your time and money, but don’t get any results.

I think that quite a few Western business people must have gone through a thought process something like this:

  1. Oh, yeah! I can make millions promoting my business in China.
  2. I’ll get ready to make the jump.
  3. But… I better reduce my risk by making some cuts to my budget or limiting the time I spend on this project.

Reducing expenses is smart, but if cuts are made in the wrong places, this is a recipe for a painful failure.

If you do need to keep your expenses down, decrease the scale of the project, but don’t remove any of the components essential for success.  To give another analogy, you can decrease the size of the chain you use, but don’t remove links from that chain.

What you need is the ability to move visitors through your entire sales funnel.

  1. Get people to your website, Taobao Store, Weibo or whatever platform you are using. This means marketing. You need an active marketing channel such as SEO, social media or pay per click to drive people to your money maker.
  2. Allow people to move from your landing page to the information they want. This means content. Your website needs to have the content that your target customers are looking for. Plus, the website needs to be designed in such a way that it is easy for people to reach that content and the content needs to be written in such a way that it is easy for people to absorb.
  3. Turn potential customers into customers. This means sales. In almost all cases, you will need a real human being to talk to your potential customers. In rare cases, there are exceptions to this point.

If you aren’t ready to address these three factors, do not enter the Chinese market yet. You’ll get slaughtered by your Chinese competitors. If you are ready to take your China market entry plan all the way, good for you!

Of the three factors I listed above, I’ve noticed that the idea of providing Chinese-language sales and/or support in Chinese during Chinese business hours is often the part that is toughest for Western Internet marketers to understand. But that’s another topic…one we’ll be writing about soon, so if you haven’t already, subscribe!




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