How Foreign companies can adapt to the Chinese market.

In business, same as in the evolution theory, companies have to adapt their behavior and products to new markets in order to be competitive.

Let me give you a few practical examples regarding some top companies.


In terms of globalization, Zara creates similar content for all countries. They always maintain a consistent brand image and deliver the same values on all of their country website with its neat and modern web design as well as high quality street snapshot. However, they follow the different rules in each country and adapt themselves to local behavior.

Unlike Zara Spain, email marketing is not a priority for Zara in China. Instead, they use a completely different approach to their Chinese customers. For example, Zara has more than 600.000 subscribers on their official Weibo page (one of the main social media platform in China). Zara also activated their official WeChat account including an e-shop to drive the sales and to create one-to-one communication with their customers.


In 2010, Google announced its withdrawal from China’s search market due to the disagreement on censorship between Google and the Chinese government. Another reason behind its departure is the battle with Baidu, China’s local search leader. With its’ home court advantage, Baidu absolutely understands the local market better than Google does. Baidu has several superior search features that cater to local taste including bulletin boards, mobile search in multimedia, and most importantly, the advanced search technology in Mandarin. Plus, Baidu offers several services to local information and products such as Baidu Cloud, Baidu knows and Baidu MP3 search. Although Google tried to catch up, Baidu still got the bigger piece of the pie with its Chinese-oriented marketing strategies and products.


Starbucks is much like a rabbit. They dominated the Chinese market in a short time, not leaving any room for competitors. Starbucks covers the entire market with its presence in the online and offline world.

Chinese people prefer to use mobile devices to access the Internet 24/7. That’s why many companies prefer to build their own app or join other apps. WeChat is one of the most used apps in China. Starbucks was one of the first foreign companies that started to use this tool. Through their account, Starbucks launches campaigns, informs about new products or special offers and builds the brand image. One of their most successful campaigns, based on personalized one-to-one communication, was to ask their members “How are you feeling today?” and let them answer with a relevant emoticon. The company answered each user by sending a “refreshing” song that matched the emoticon’s mood. The company added 270,000 WeChat followers in a four-week campaign (Click here for more info about this and other campaigns).

The coffee company tailors every piece of communication exclusive for each country. By adapting their messages to the cultural preferences of their consumers, they built a closer relationships with their members.

Coca Cola

One of the best known fossils is Coca-Cola. But even these species must adapt to their environment. Coca-Cola has always been doing great in adapting to the Chinese market. In 2005, Coca-Cola combined their traditional marketing model and the Internet inICOKE, an online community for consumers in China, in order to reach to younger, local audience.

In order to catch the attention from social awareness, Coke launched a contest on their Sina Weibo fan page to encourage their followers to repost the featured names, and picked 99 participants to send them each a bottle with the name of their choice.

Follow these tips to survive in China

A lot of companies are trying to get a piece of the Chinese market-pie. However, as we have already seen, marketing in China is quite different from marketing in Western countries. From these previous examples, we can extract some tips:

Buyers don’t go to your website

The online commerce environment in China is very different from any other country in the world. Physical shopping is still dominated in China because of better consumer experiences. In e-commerce, Jing Dong and TMall (platforms where many brands are available in the same place) are more popular than starting an own e-commerce website. According to Alibaba, 54% of all online shoppers use TMall. As a B2C platform fully dedicated to brands, TMall has attracted many western retailers as an effective marketing platform to speed up the sales besides their own website.

People don’t use laptops

According to China Internet Network Information Center’s (CNNIC) latest report on Internet usage in China, China has 649 Million of internet user. The number of mobile internet users reached 557 million as of the end of last year, a growth of 11% from the year before.

Content must conform to Chinese socio-cultural context

In terms of culture, China has a distinctiveness which is completely different from anywhere else in the world. Cultural sensitivity is crucial in building your marketing context due to the language’s complexity and the difference in the interpretation from one language to another.

Social media platforms are not the same

Instead of Facebook or Twitter, Chinese people use Weibo and WeChat. Sina Weibo is one of the most popular sites in China with a similar penetration as Twitter. WeChat is the most frequent used social networking platform in China, providing multimedia communication with both text and voice messaging. With WeChat, companies are able to have one to one communication with their clients by establishing a WeChat shore and create integrated campaigns.

Human to human communication is mandatory in China

Today, almost every Chinese social media site has created a mobile app to give their users instant and real-time access from their devices.

Do you want to learn about marketing to China, read more here