Marketing in China Uncovered
No-one can deny that during the last year and a half China has become a hot spot. Pandemic or not, the country is an attractive opportunity for both businesses and consumers. Highly controversial, culturally different and linguistically foreign to most people living outside of Asia, there is something China offers in abundance – opportunities.
There is, however, one thing that most entrepreneurs are not aware of when they look into this lucrative country: the different business and consumer environments born from the features I’ve already outlined above.
The goal of this article is to create awareness of the differences and to outline only a few of the specifics that relate to Chinese marketing. The topic is so vast that it needs a book, not a single article, but we’d like to point you in the right direction now that the time is right.
Let’s Talk Social Media
Social media and online presence had a leading role in China even before the pandemic. If we have to stick to the numbers, in January 2021 internet users in China were nearly a billion (939.8 million, according to datareportal.com). That makes for an internet penetration of 65.2%. On the other hand, according to the same portal, social media users in China in January 2021 represented 64.6% of the total population. As it figures that nearly 90% of the internet users in China are also social media users.
One might ask what the fuss is about. The truth is that in China almost any platform can be social media, too. The landscape is so diverse, and the platforms are so mixed up, that it is quite difficult to grasp it at the beginning.
Take WeChat for example, which is an app for instant messaging that people also use to make payments, transfer money or even buy things via the application. Weibo and Zhihu are two of the most famous content platforms in China but they both differ in the type of content delivered to their audience. While Weibo is more a microblogging platform, Zhihu is more for narrow, business, and specialized content.
I’ll make a big slip if I do not mention E-commerce in China as this is a very well-developed market. Names like Taobao, JD, and Pinduoduo are not familiar only to Chinese consumers.
But the one I’d like to talk about is RED (Xiaohongshu, Chinese: 小红书; pinyin: xiǎohóngshū), which is not only an e-commerce platform but also a social media channel. RED is an interesting mix that actually reflects the current trends in China with regard to social media. This channel allows users to post various types of content like stories, photos, reviews of products, and even travel blogs. In addition to that, there is the RED Mall, which offers international products to Chinese consumers.
Last but not least, we need to mention video presence in China. The current trend is that in China everything is video, everything can be social media. People, brands, influencers, businesses: Everyone wants to be out there, in any format available. This explains why there are so many video platforms, along with so many video posting options and content.
Pre- and Post-COVID-19 Customers
Customer values is a topic that we cannot avoid when it comes to customer behavior and where else would this start from if not China – the country that took the brunt of the pandemic first. With the shift of our world from safe to threatened by something like COVID-19, people's values started to change, too. A year and a half ago the Chinese customer had put success as a top priority on the personal values scale. Currently, that priority has moved down, and its place has been taken by the desire for security and health. The recognition of the family values has also gone up a few notches, along with the desire for freedom, which of course is understandable.
These shifts always add complexity to the planning of a marketing strategy and should be carefully analyzed and considered prior to entering the Chinese market. With that being said, we are going to the next logical feature that needs to be outlined – B2B and B2C customers.
Difference between B2B and B2C
This is a general topic, which is valid not only for marketing in China, but in the rest of the world, too. Of course, we must allow for exceptions depending on the country and market specifics, so don’t take all of this for granted.
In B2B marketing and sales, the focus is usually on the brand, the functionality, and what one can gain from a certain product. Company reputation and brand authority are highly regarded and receive generally more attention.
On the other hand, B2C consumers are more easily influenced by emotions, as well as by the pricing of a product, its prestige, and its popularity.
Another difference between B2B and B2C is the way we approach the sales process. If for B2B a skillful sales team is suitable with focus on their professionalism and authority, where B2C is concerned the accent falls on promotions, the trending of a brand and suitable personnel.
Other specifics like the decision-making process and how long it takes to achieve an actual sale, also differ in B2B and B2C. For example: A company that produces grinding machines can negotiate for months to get the best price for parts from a supplier of spare parts. One signed, the contract will be in force for many years in the best-case scenario. On the other hand, a 20-year-old can see a T-shirt in an online shop, find out if it is trendy and buy it, all in 10 minutes or less.
But going back to the Chinese market, there is one thing we need to discuss, and I am covering it further below. After all, this is what marketing is all about – be recognized, right?
How to Stand Out from the Crowd
In a huge country like China, there are limitless opportunities, but there is also a huge variety of competitors. Because the market is so crowded, it's essential for a company or a product to find a way to stand out.
Platforms like Wechat have taken this aspect into consideration and they all give various options for brands to produce more interesting content. Of course, this translates into better engagement and a more interesting user experience.
WeChat has different types of offers for this. Such an example is the SVG article design, where users actually have to interact with the content in order to read it. That gives a brand more options to become more recognizable and use design and brand recognition as a marketing tool.
When it comes to B2C marketing tools, technology is already advancing with fun tools utilizing AR (augmented reality) and AI (artificial intelligence) that allow a consumer wants to choose a hair color, lipstick, or even furniture.
What Does This Have To Do with Translation?
I am almost certain that you’ve been asking yourself that same question, while reading this article. It's quite simple. For countries like China, where there is a language barrier, the marketing strategy is always tangled with lots of translation and localization and not only that. The differences in the writing systems, the information display, and the amount of video content the Chinese audience is used to, lead to services like desktop publishing and subtitling or dubbing.
So, the earlier a company adds these elements into the steps necessary to access the Chinese market the better. Skillful translation and localization will give a company a head start and will make it accessible and trustworthy to the Chinese consumer. It will also give you a glimpse into the diversity of the country as well as the cultural differences one has to consider.
I will finish with a favorite sentence of mine: Marketing is the art to speak the language of your target audience. Marketing in Asia? Same but with a language barrier! I’d advise you to consider breaking that barrier to succeed.