We asked PR and marketing experts who market Western startups and products in China about their market expertise. What kind of products /ventures /industries are likely to be successful in China? What are first steps to consider when planning to access the Chinese market? What do brands need to know about social media and influencer marketing in China? Here are their answers:
“To access the market, it takes a strong on-the-ground partner who will tell it like it is.”
The first thing people need to understand about China is that it’s nothing like the west. It’s also highly misunderstood, often misperceived as an immature, unrefined market in need of what European or American companies have to offer. Over my decade here running Fulcrum, an Asia-focused strategic communications firm, I’ve seen the same missteps over and over. Whether that’s cultural miscommunication, misreading policy, or just plain arrogance, many companies fall before they even take their first steps here.
When it comes to the things destined for success in China, it all comes down to what the Government wants. If your product can fit into the wider China narrative promulgated by the Government, then you are more likely to do well. Companies that can help the Government achieve its aims by providing strategic advice will do even better.
To access the market, it takes a strong on-the-ground partner who will tell it like it is. There are far too many bullshit artists here that promise the world to unsuspecting companies. Deciphering who’s who is critical.
And lastly, the biggest question of all: social media and influencer marketing. We could write books on this (and I know people have). Summed up…it’s the west on steroids. Yet, people in the U.S. or Europe still think Facebook or Amazon have dominance. They’re not even close to the players here. To even think of playing in this space, you’ve got to have someone who knows what they’re doing.
— John Pabon, Founder & Chief Advisor, Fulcrum Strategic Advisors
Michael Satterfield has been working in influencer marketing and producing content for brands in China:
The first thing brands need to understand is that China has their own social media ecosystem and global networks like Facebook and Twitter are officially banned. Behind the “Great Firewall” is WeChat, Sina Weibo, Toudou Youku, Mafengwo, if you don’t know those social media platforms you aren’t going to be doing social media marketing or influencer marketing in China. Being a country that makes everything means that they also generally copy and produce domestic versions of popular products that they ship overseas so launching a product in China can be difficult. Products that do well are luxury items from outside of China and lifestyle brands that can deliver and experience and project status.
— Michael Satterfield, SatterfieldGroup.com
The Chinese Market and WeChat
There are currently almost 700 million internet users in China. So if you want to enter a market with over half of their population having sufficient purchasing power and almost the same number using the net, what do you do? You set up that account and start engaging.
Note that China restricts its netizens from using top international social networks, namely Facebook and Twitter. For an international business that’s planning to penetrate the Chinese market, this can be a pickle. Thankfully, this makes all the more space for WeChat. Locally known in China as Weixin (“micro message”), it is one of the few of China’s home-grown apps that looks likely to break through into the international community.
WeChat is a free messaging and calling app that allows users to connect with their peers and families wherever they are around the globe. It functions like Viber, Line, and KakaoTalk, although with a noticeably different interface. Not only that, it is also a complete entertainment and social platform with photo sharing features and games.
WeChat has a membership functions that allows established brands to give loyal consumers incentives for tuning in to their stream of content. Incentives like virtual VIP cards or e-coupons may be sent to members to retain them or attract new ones, and consumers get freebies for following the profile of a product. It’s definitely a win-win situation.
There are two types of public accounts that are available for use for Weixin brands: Subscription Accounts and Service Accounts. Subscription accounts allow a daily limit of two messages to subscribers per day, which is great for constant updates for your consumers. However, it’s the more basic account in terms of functionality.
Service Accounts could serve as a mobile web version of a company’s desktop site and could also be tweaked by integrating their internal tools. This means if your Service Account member wants to buy a product from your store, they don’t have to open a different web browser and can access your shop from within WeChat. However, you are only able to send out one message in a month.
OgilvyOne released data that shows over 55% of Chinese users engage in brand discussions that give companies an opportunity to understand and study what their target market cares about. People go to WeChat to get a first impression about a brand or to give feedback about a recent purchase.
— Nedelina Payaneva, Digital Marketing Specialist at Asian Absolute
Yael Hsu is a PR and marketing agency owner helping western companies accessing China.
China is a huge place, and people heavily rely on their smart phones in everything. In a way, the internet has brought equality to the Chinese people. They have very advanced mobile and O2O (online to offline) applications that I don’t find in anywhere.
So my PR and marketing strategies are online based, although I can access to print media as well. Reason — the scale:
1. According to a statistic of CNNIC, 788 million people use mobile to access internet, and that counts for 98.3% netizens.
2. 663 million people read online news.
3. 61% of Chinese use online media to collect decision-making data.
So online PR and marketing is the most accessible and effective channel for any western companies to tap into Chinese market.
Products /ventures /industries are likely to be successful in China
It is a big question, but generally speaking, Chinese people like: Luxury brands, baby products, skin products, sports products; brands or products that are limited or have stories behind. Brands with long history.
Before entering China, you must make sure your trademark and/ or IP is valid in China. This is critical. Apple iPad is not available in China because “iPad” name mark belongs to a company in China. Many world famous brands have legal struggle with “trademark cockroaches” who register the trade marke/ name mark and claim the brand owner to pay them loyalty.
Then, you have to establish your social profiles in Weibo, WeChat, and do some SEO in Baidu. The goal is that through those channels, people will be directly back to your sales website (or app download, whatever it is.)
In China, influencer can be very costly, and no one can guarantee the result. It is good only after you have an initial presentation in China. You should put budget on content creation, social media retaining, and grow your own followers. The right mix for online marketing in China is comprised of 3 elements: 1. social media 2. online PR news 3. Baidu SEO.
Besides, you need to hire locals who can understand both world and can communicate well in English and Chinese.
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