We’ve been involved in over 200 Chinese-language marketing projects for foreign companies. There’s definitely a pattern behind the successful campaigns, and that pattern has shifted a bit in the 8 years I’ve been specializing in Chinese-language marketing.
For our updated 2016 model, we break it down into 5 “keys” to implementing a successful marketing campaign in China. I’ll start with the 3 keys that most of the Western marketers that contact us tend to agree with, then move on to the less obvious, but still very important, final 2.
To read more about any of this, I suggest starting on the page “China Digital Marketing 101”, which lists some of our most popular and most useful articles.
It’s obviously essential to let people know about your product or service. Our go-to methods for driving consumers to a website are search engine advertising, social marketing, SEO and affiliate marketing.
When it comes to marketing, driving traffic to a website is usually what people think of first. Many of our previous posts go into traffic generation work in a lot more detail.
As a tip, I’ll mention that SEO-heavy traffic generation hasn’t typically worked well for us. When marketing for Google, it’s still possible to create very high-quality niche content for a new website and start ranking well. But in China, it requires additional traffic-generating activities as well.
So you’re driving traffic, but where do you drive it to? An informative and usable content hub is essential. Usually, this hub is a standalone website, but there are other options too. You may choose to only start a store on an e-commerce platform such as TMall, or maybe even go the route of starting a WeChat store. In some cases, even a WeChat account can replace an informational website.
Whichever options you choose, the content absolutely needs to be written in mainland-style Mandarin Chinese. It should guide users towards their next step with your brand. In other words, the content should help them make their way towards a conversion – for example, contacting one of your salespeople, making a purchase or getting a direction to your restaurant.
If you use your own website, make sure it loads quickly within mainland China.
Mobile usage is very high in China. So make sure your content works well on smartphones and tablets.
It’s also really great to have a Chinese-language brand name. A name that is memorable and expresses your company spirit.
Whether you’re in e-commerce, B2B or another area, the consumer needs to be able to perform an action.
If your site allows for online payment, you should know that Chinese consumers use different payment options. Alipay is #1, and luckily there’s an integration with Stripe that should make it easier to use. (2017 update: Seems Stripe no longer offers Stripe integration.)
If you are generating leads, you should know that Chinese consumers aren’t as big on email or lead-gen forms as Westerners are. Make sure to include additional contact options such as WeChat, QQ, live-site chat and phone.
Whatever steps a consumer must take to engage with your business, make sure they're tested! And re-test them regularly too. I can’t count how many times somebody went into a website and changed some little thing…but didn’t tell anybody about it. It comes back to marketing, with a comment like “Hey, where are our leads,” and ends with something like “Sorry guys, seems John from web dev in LA changed the _________ and now the Chinese site’s ____ button doesn’t work.”
I think these first 3 keys form the traditional marketing funnel that performance marketers love. It’s easy to understand and easy to analyze.
Before moving on, it’s important to gain a little understanding of Chinese consumers.
They’ve grown up in an environment that can be described as “hectic,” “fast-paced” and “dog-eat-dog.” They’ve seen quality scandals for everything from milk to vaccines to the oil their lunch food is cooked in. In 2016, their biggest search engine had a major scandal due to the promotion of cancer treatments that didn’t work.
And it’s not just about safety; they are also wary of counterfeit goods and after-purchase service too.
Plus, many clients we serve actually have to compete with clones of themselves! There are websites, Taobao stores and even physical stores that claim to be them. Even Apple can’t stamp out all the fake Apple stores in China. The point is that even if clients learn to trust your brand, they might not trust that your website is actually operated by your brand! This is fixable, of course.
In fact, it’s an opportunity. The Chinese consumer mindset is harder to crack but very lucrative if you can.
Approach Chinese consumers with respect and understanding. You will need to work a lot harder to earn their trust.
For us, “interaction” means communication via 1-on-1 customer support as well as social media.
First, Chinese consumers prefer instant communication. They want to get information quickly and also prefer the human-to-human connection.
Why is this?
The common communication channels used include on-site chat boxes, WeChat, QQ and phone.
Secondly, Chinese consumers respond very well to recommendations from friends and family.
As we see it, the key to interaction is to view it as both a social and sales-oriented activity. We don’t put the on-site customer support and social media interaction into two separate buckets.
This is the hardest to measure, but essential. It’s that cloud out there that digital marketers have shunned because they can’t measure it, but grey-haired marketing strategists have seen as sacred for generations.
The more people trust your brand, the more they will buy. Not only that but below a certain threshold, your conversion rate will likely be quite dismal. In other words, if consumers don’t see a few signals that they can trust their brand, your sales are likely to approach zero.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, you already have brand recognition in China. Perhaps there are companies that distribute your product, or influential WeChaters that have spread the good word about your brand.
Brand recognition is helpful throughout the whole consumer journey. They may learn about your brand before they go seeking a solution. On the other hand, they may see your website first, then search for more information about your brand online. If they see nothing, they’re very unlikely to trust you.
But imagine they search for your brand name and see multiple positive signals. For example:
When that happens, something just clicks. People think, “Alright, these guys are legit. I’ll give them a chance.”
The list above is just a few examples of how to build brand recognition. Brand-building marketing methods include everything from TV ads to outdoor to ad networks to print. Another advertising method we often use during the launch phase is Weibo advertising.
Some simple advice: Cover these 5 keys first. Then expand later. Do not put all your budget into 2 or 3 of these keys and then plan to cover the other keys later.
The details are different for each and every campaign we do. But these 5 keys to successful Chinese marketing hold true 95% of the time.