China’s affluent middle class is spending more and more time shopping online. How can western companies engage with this lucrative audience and grow their brand in China?
1. Analyse and understand the market
Market analysis is important for any new market. However, China’s size, scale, and cultural differences make robust analysis a crucial element for every company. China’s huge population, which is spread across the vast expanse of land, and the diverse social and cultural nuances between Tier 1 and Tier 3 cities, means knowing your audience is invaluable. Companies that are successful in China are those that have a strong understanding of exactly who they are targeting and the best platforms to reach these consumers.
Brands such as Starbucks, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have abandoned their usual ‘one-size-fits-all’ marketing approach for China. Instead, these brands operate numerous strategies with regional and localised social media accounts to ensure they target different regional areas with different communications and promotions.
2. Be Authentic
The Chinese are very discerning, and they don’t take things at face value, so building trust is immensely important. As Chinese consumers like to do their research, your website is a significant way for your brands to build trust. Creating a Mandarin site, which is hosted in China, is a good first step to establishing trust for your brand in China. However, it is crucial that this site looks, feels and links to your other sites as a further guarantee of authenticity. This not only helps establish trust, but it also enables you to tailor key brand messages to the Chinese consumer.
New Zealand natural products brand Ecostore has launched a dedicated and localised Chinese website. The site carries the look and feel of the NZ site and links to the English language version, but it also features different messaging and promotes different product ranges. The site focuses on health benefits and baby products, both of which are key priorities for Chinese consumers.
3. Optimise for mobile platforms
When it comes to China, there’s no point investing in a flashy website that only works on desktop. If your site isn’t optimised for mobile, China’s 656 million mobile internet users will not give your brand a second look. With more than half of all e-commerce volume in China coming from mobile platforms, ignoring mobile optimisation is a death wish for your brand in China.
Increasingly brands are opting to create dedicated mobile apps to engage directly with Chinese consumers. LinkedIn China has created an app specifically for Chinese networking. Chitu, which translates to Red Rabbit, incorporates features from popular social media sites WeChat and Weibo as well as elements from LinkedIn’s app, to create a unique platform for China.
4.Engage with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)
If you want to get your brand in front of a large audience, nothing beats China’s Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) or Online Superstars as they are increasingly being called. With some of China’s KOLs commanding an audience of followers larger than the population of New Zealand, the benefits of working with these superstars are clear. An endorsement from one of these influential bloggers can have a significant impact on the perception of the brand in China.
When Mercedes-Benz wanted to raise awareness and interest in its Smart Car division in China, the automotive company partnered with popular actor and singer Kris Wu. Wu collaborated with Mercedes-Benz to release a limited edition model 188 Smart ForFour, the model sold out completely within 25 seconds of launch.
5. Collaborate and Partner with other companies
No brand should try to navigate’s China’s vast and complex digital landscape on its own. Brands partnerships and collaborations are big business in China with many companies looking to harness the reach and audiences that a good partnership can offer. Aligning with a brand with similar brand values can help to leverage a brand’s social media presence and provide access to a new audience of potential customers.
Coca-Cola teamed with China’s biggest video streaming site Youku in a bid to boost its popularity with younger audiences. The partnership was the centerpiece of a major Coca-Cola campaign and aimed to ensure Coke’s target market was engaged with the brand. The campaign, which saw famous quotes feature on Coke bottle labels, also gave Youku users the opportunity to add their own names to Coke labels.
6.Test and Learn
China is a fast moving market where things change and evolve at rapid rates, so it is crucial that you continue to test and learn in order to grow your brand in China. Create strong plans and strategies but also remain open to changes and opportunities. Be flexible and accept things will change, sometimes in a manner of days or weeks.