How to Get Started with a China Marketing Plan
Let me show you how to get started with a China marketing plan that helps coordinate the work of our team and the clients. I will also explain why it is useful, and point out some differences between China and Western marketing. This is specifically for people that have experience with marketing but may not have much experience with China.
Going through this simple process helps everyone remember the marketing fundamentals that are going to improve the chances of success of the project, especially in the early stages.
This post is based on the video below, if you prefer listening over reading.
The file we use is Google Doc that you can download here. You can copy it and use it yourself.
The structure of our China marketing plan (and this post):
- Company and Product
- Goal and Scope
- How Chinese Marketing Fits in the Broader Strategy
Company and Product
The first basic information that we need to get from everybody is the company and product. We want to know what the company is, what they’re doing, what kind of product they’re providing. The product they provide in their home country might be more comprehensive than the ones they provide when they first enter China. So, we want to know which are the most relevant products for China at the early stages.
If you don’t know which products to enter China with first, one thing you could do is just ask what types of products Chinese people are already buying. Even if you don’t have a presence in China yet, there may be Chinese customers in your stores, and on your eCommerce storefront in your home country. Also, use your best guess on what products may be relevant for China.
It is important for us to know the website, storefronts, and active social profiles - basically anywhere that brand has a presence online. That includes social profiles on Western platforms, WeChat and Weibo, for example, the main site as well as a site that may be specific for China.
For the website, we would check it using a few different methods to see how accessible it is in China, if it even loads alright, if it is going to be easy to use for Chinese people, if it is translated nicely or not.
And also if there’s a business entity, a corporation that is in China already. It is not usually necessary to have one in China unless your company belongs to one of the more restricted industries, but it is helpful to have it and it does affect some of the options that we have available for marketing. For instance, the process of setting up a corporate WeChat official account will be different for Chinese and overseas entities.
Goal and Scope
The next step is the goal and scope of what it is we want to do with the marketing in China. So, what is the goal for this project is going to be? A lot of times when we launch projects we don’t have that specific goal. For many clients we work with, the initial goal is just to get started, gain some quality feedback and start earning as much revenue as possible, without much consideration of how much would really be possible.
In other cases, we may have specific revenue targets, or a cost-per-lead target. Anything like that is useful to have.
When I talk to client contacts individually, I always ask them what their goal is. What is surprising is that many times people have different goals. I may ask three people and get three different goals, which isn’t a good thing really, so we want to discuss it and confirm with all the people that are involved.
As for the budget, we find a lot of people know their budget up-front, and a lot don’t. If the marketing agency like us doesn’t know the budget, and they have to come up with a plan, they will just assume the budget randomly, which may not be the best way of going about it.
The budget really changes the range and even the depth of the services that are included in the proposal.
For services, our company is usually providing full-service Chinese marketing and considering the big picture. However, in some cases, it may only be one thing. For example, it could be Weibo advertising, an influencer campaign or search marketing.
It is useful to know what analytics tools we’re gonna use to track the campaign, but that can be decided later as well (still before we start the campaign!). Most of the projects we work on use a combination of Google Analytics, Baidu Tongji and the analytics tool of particular platforms. However, there are clients that want to work with the tools they use internally, such as Matomo or Salesforce.
It is also important to know what other types of marketing is being done. We can take a look at Facebook or the English website, or LinkedIn ads, and get some inspiration about what type of marketing is working for the business abroad and may be extendible to China. Or may not. But it gives us some insights and inspiration.
How Chinese Marketing Fits in the Broader Strategy
This section is tough to define and put in a template. It’s about how Chinese marketing would fit into the big picture strategy of the business. The best way to find the answer is getting in touch with a higher-level person in a client’s company and asking them why they enter China, or why they want to expand in China. We may keep asking questions about why they’re doing this and that to get to a deeper level, and we might get more information that is useful for us. Or, which works just as fine, we might help them think through the process a bit which would affect what the goal would be.
The team is very important. We believe in using small cross-functional teams so that everyone can communicate with each other. We want to have everybody listed here. In our case, we would list 4-5 NMG contacts, and we may end up listing one, three or five client contacts. It’s good to have a team of 5-10 people in total, NOT fifty people. Based on our experience, working with just one person or too many people on the client-side both make it difficult to actually get things done.
Customers are really important of course; every business needs customers, and every marketer, that I talk to, would agree with this for sure. However, in my experience, marketing conversations often go off into long discussions on implementation, while forgetting who the customers are, or maybe wrongly assuming who they might be.
There are different ways to go about it. We may do research, surveys or interviews to find out in more detail.
Or, at first, we can use the same customer groups, like target the same demographics, that would be used in other countries as well. However, that’s not always the case. It may be just a subset of the group that is relevant to China, in the early stages or even in the later stages. So, as we go we learn more about the customers and update the information in the marketing plan.
I like to use personas a lot when I write a paragraph about a certain customer, and I use that to spark my imagination when thinking about things such as an ad copy we should be using, etc.
But some of my team members prefer using something else, for example, listing demographics point by point.
What Chinese Customers Want
In here, we like to add actual feedback that customers say. We usually don’t have this at the beginning of the project, but we will add it later on as we gain feedback. We usually gather it from social media, customer e-mails, and from sales reps and customer support. On top of that, we want to know what they said, why they like you, why they want to do business with you, why they don't already do business with you, what kind of problems they have, or what they want.
This can lead to a lot of new insights, such as how to fix the marketing, how to improve on it, how to make changes to a product, the logistics process, or all sorts of different things. It is key information, and the information collected across the channels by us or the client’s team should be exchanged across the team.
For example, if you’re selling blue widgets, and everyone is telling the sales rep that they want red widgets, and the sales rep doesn’t let the marketing team know, that’s just not going to work well for the campaign. And that kind of stuff happens all the time, especially in big businesses.
In the beginning, we always ask the clients who they think their competitors are. They would usually give us a list of 3-5 competitors, and then some of our team members will take a look at Baidu and other places to look up some other competitors there are in China. Sometimes, they are the same competitors, but a lot of times they’re different. Usually, we would see the international-type competition that the client is aware of, and local Chinese competitors as well.
Usually, the local Chinese competitors are better at doing things in China as they understand the market and channels better. The global competitors, on the other hand, are better at providing services and products that are relevant on a global scale.
You can go a lot deeper into this section so we have other files that we use to analyze the competition. In the plan, we like it to keep it sharp and concise. So, we add a list of important competitors and sum them up in a sentence. It should help us get a feel of the competition - especially if the competitors beat you in some areas.
I think this is the toughest question to answer in the marketing plan, and a lot of times the first thing that we have here is not necessarily right. The positioning we have at first may be different in six months’ time. So, it’s a good one to save for a meeting with everyone involved, listen to various opinions, debate them. Also, make sure to review it from time to time as well.
Some of my team members like to use the SWOT analysis so that they can think through the positioning compared to the competitors.
The process is about the customer journey. We want to know how somebody discovers a certain product, how they do their research, how they go through a specific process of making a purchase on the website and receiving the product or service.
It is very different for eCommerce and lead generation campaigns. We want to zoom in a bit on how customers interact with the company staff. If they reach out to customer support, where do they talk to them: on WeChat, on-site chat tools such as Baidu Shangqiao, or via a phone call. How long does it take for the customer to get a hold of somebody, are they able to talk to Chinese-speaking people. And so on.
Actually, one or even more of our team members will go through the process themselves, recording a video. Most of the time, we find some room for improvement. For instance, poor translation quality or places that are not translated at all, or loading speed that is not good enough in China - a whole myriad of things that hinder the customer journey.
Finally, the promotions - which is exactly what people talk about when they discuss marketing. When they talk to us, they like to jump ahead of time and get some advice right away. They want to know what they should be doing in terms of promotions, what channels they should use for their campaigns in China, should it be WeChat, paid search, affiliate marketing or SEO.
We do provide some general advice on our blog, but when it comes to saying what type of promotions we should be using for specific cases, we first gather all the other information above, and then have a discussion with the team internally and come up with a bunch of options. Then, we will summarize a plan in the marketing plan file we just discussed, and go over it with the client.
If you don’t know anything about Chinese marketing yet, or the eCommerce environment, or the platforms, then I suggest following our blog and newsletter first.