20 Jun 2014

8 Tips for Successful Digital Marketing in China

Increasing your online presence in the world’s largest internet market

Since the country opened up to foreign investment in the 1970s, China has attracted a huge number of global firms looking to capitalize on the country’s huge population, economic growth and newfound appetite for western consumer goods and services. More recently, the internet has become a huge sensation in China with over 54 million users added in 2013 alone. Most of these new users access the internet from their smartphone.

While smartphone penetration is reaching saturation, there is still room for growth. PwC reported that while smartphone growth is expected to start slowing in coming years, the total Chinese smartphone population is still expected to reach 500 million users in 2015, increasing further to 600 million users by 2017.

However, China can be a very difficult market to crack. Many multi-national companies have tried and failed including the likes of Google, eBay, Home Depot and Mattel, among others. There are a variety of different reasons why these companies didn’t succeed in China but most of the time it’s because they failed to analyse the market or gain an understanding of Chinese culture or user behaviour before launching products in the country. To avoid these pitfalls, we’ve identified some best practice approaches to successful digital marketing in China.

Do your research

This applies to any strategy that your business decides to implement but it’s even more important when attempting to enter a market as diverse and complicated as China. Research of your target market and audience, competitor analysis and a thorough review of your organization’s internal capabilities would need to be conducted to determine if China is a viable market for your business. This might seem obvious but you’d be surprised how many companies don’t get this right.

For instance, Home Depot attempted to enter the Chinese market in 2006 and was embarrassingly forced to retreat in 2011. The American retailer of home improvement and construction products blamed the fact that they misread the country’s appetite for DIY. “The market trend says this is more of a do-it-for-me culture,” a Home Depot spokeswoman said of China. Market research could have saved the company a lot of time and money.

Speak Mandarin & transcreate your content

The Chinese expect you to communicate in the local language, Mandarin, if you want to reach local consumers.

Instead of simply translating your content for use in China, you should transcreate content specifically for Chinese users. Users in China will have different motivations and concerns, so do your research and satisfy their requirements with content created specifically for them.

Secure your .cn domain

Baidu is the search engine of choice in China with 98% market share. So in order to increase visibility of your site to Chinese internet users, you need to ensure you satisfy Baidu’s algorithm. One of the key features of Baidu is that it ranks Chinese sites higher in search engine results. This doesn’t just mean that your content needs to be translated (or ideally transcreated) into Mandarin, but you should host on a Chinese (.cn) domain name to increase exposure on Baidu.

Host your site locally

Chinese internet speeds have improved drastically in recent years and the country enjoys some of faster average mobile data speeds than the UK or US, particularly in the major cities. Despite this, China is on the other site of the world so if your site is hosted in Europe or the US, Chinese users will experience significant latency when accessing your site from China.

Slow page load times lead to high bounce rates, lower engagement and lower conversion rates. Hosting your site in China will decrease latency and increase the likelihood of mobile marketing success. Furthermore, Baidu uses geolocation signals of your web host to determine rankings. So sites hosted in China receive more exposure on Baidu than those that are hosted elsewhere.

Develop a mobile-friendly site and app

In China, if you don’t offer a mobile or responsive website you’re going to be placed at a huge disadvantage as 81% of Chinese internet users access the Internet using a mobile device. Furthermore, according to PwC, 70% of smartphone users in China used their devices to make purchases at least once a week – double the rate of US customers.

Apps are also a key component to any mobile marketing in China. Chinese users download an average of 40 apps a year, more than any other country. Apps are also a great way to collect data from Chinese customers and a staggering 98% of Chinese consumers are happy to share personal data if they are able to receive relevant, targeted advertising.

However, you need to ensure that you don’t charge users to use your app to increase success. Over 90% of apps downloaded in China are free to download and use.

Be social

Social media is huge in China. QZone, the largest social network has over 625 million active users – which is more than half of the number of Facebook users globally and China is leading the way in social commerce. The local culture has a huge influence on how business is conducted, and the Chinese are very sociable in their business dealings.

In China, there is a concept known as ‘Guanxi’, which is a central idea in Chinese culture and has a huge influence on business. Guanxi encourages building social connections and long term relationships through trust and mutual respect. This might seem trivial but many large tech businesses have failed in China as a result of ignoring this significant cultural phenomenon.

For instance, when eBay decided to enter the Chinese market in 2004 by buying a local company called Eachnet, they assumed that their platform was going to be an instant success as it had been in many western markets.

eBay’s store didn’t have any systems to facilitate guanxi, unlike their main competitor Taobao, who implemented live chat functionality in order for buyers and sellers to communicate and build trust and rapport. TaoBao, being Chinese, didn’t underestimate the power of guanxi, and as a result currently holds 96 percent market share in China. eBay, on the other hand, shut down its Chinese website and issued a formal announcement of its withdrawal from the online auction market in China.

Be relevant

Relevance is critical to digital marketing success in all the regions that your company operates. Most Chinese users access the internet through their smartphones and mobile devices allow brands to be more relevant than ever before. Companies should rely on customer data to develop personalized brand experiences for Chinese users. The right offer, to the right customer, at the right place, at the right time, is key to ensuring success. So, collect mobile customer data such as location, preferences and purchase history and use it to better target your Chinese customers with relevant, timely, personalized content.

Develop a mobile strategy

As well as following the tips above, you should ensure that you formalize your mobile marketing strategy and make everyone in your organization aware of it so you can work together to achieve your objectives.

Research by Econsultancy in October 2013 found that despite the recent growth in mobile internet access and m-commerce, many companies are still not ready for the mobile revolution despite industry experts predicting for some time that mobile internet would overtake desktop by 2014.

Companies in the Asia-Pacific region appear to be most prepared with 52% claiming to have a mobile strategy compared with just 21% for Europe (excluding the UK).


So, European companies entering Asian markets need to ensure that they have a mobile strategy in place. Otherwise, they place themselves at a serious disadvantage to their local Asian competitors.

Read the PwC report on Mobile Advertising in China.


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