8 Effective Ways to Improve your Digital Marketing Strategy in China

Business owners and marketers have untapped potential to bring significant awareness to their brands in China. With a population of 1.4 billion and 800 million active internet users, China can be a catalyst for growth.

It is critical, therefore, for businesses to use China-specific digital marketing tactics to reach Chinese audiences.

However, given the uniqueness of China’s digital platforms, digital marketing in China may be alien to businesses entering the market.

In this week’s article, we show you 8 ways to improve your digital marketing strategies in China.

Use Chinese language

Although English is the main language of business and is becoming more popular in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, the Chinese are still very proud of Mandarin, and the large majority still prefer to converse and read in Mandarin. As such, your content—from articles and blogs to advertising materials—should be in simplified Chinese to appeal to your audience.

Be mobile-focused

Chinese users rely heavily on mobile. Statistics from the Chinese government show that 98% of the 800 million active internet users in China use mobile for everything from daily social media usage to booking a table or flight tickets and more. With a mobile penetration rate growth of 3% on average year-on-year, it’s clear that targeting mobile Chinese users is imperative.

A key mobile focus should be to optimise your strategies for the 2 main operating systems: Android & iOS.

Recent statistics from Statista show that Google’s Android has been the most popular operating system since 2013.

Google’s Android OS leads the way since 2013 (Source: Statista)

Targeting Chinese users based on their operating systems helps brands distill a more specific audience. It is also possible to adopt technologies unique to a particular operating system to maximise your marketing campaign.

Leverage Chinese social media platforms

Judging by the high mobile penetration rate, which is around 50% of the entire population of China, it is not surprising that the key digital strategy is social media. According to McKinsey China, 50% of China’s digital consumers use social media to do product research and get recommendations.

Even if yours is one of the lucky companies that generates great content and owns a fully optimized Facebook account with a million fans and a Twitter account boasting 2 million followers, that social presence does not automatically extend to China.

Due to the Great Firewall of China, leading social media players from North America like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are all blocked in China.

Alternatively, WeChat, Weibo, Qzone, and the newest player Douyin are some of the social media platforms that boast behemoth MAU (monthly active users).

“Viralability” is key in the China social-sphere, and success for boosting brand awareness is just a share or like away. High fashion brands, such as Gucci, YSL, and Chanel, have reaped success in the Chinese market, with huge efforts pointing to creativity in their social media content to create viralability.

According to China Internet Watch, WeChat (86%), QQ (70.1%), and Weibo (35.8%) were the top three mobile social networking apps by penetration rate in China.

Work with KOLs (key opinion leaders)

Key opinion leaders (KOLs) or 网红 are a diverse community of internet users who boast millions of followers on their own social accounts like WeChat, Weibo, and Douyin. There are Chinese KOLs in every imaginable field, from fashion to travel and sports. There are even business-related KOLs for property and investments.

KOLs are becoming more of a necessity as part of a brand’s marketing strategy due to exponentially high engagement rates as international brands continue to tap into the giant Chinese consumer market. Finding the right KOL for your campaign begins with key factors:

  • Industry
  • Number of followers
  • Engagement rates from past campaigns

For some brands, KOLs play a key role in their sales conversion. Givenchy is one success story. In 2017, the French luxury brand cooperated with a KOL named Mr. Bags to leverage his huge audience base on WeChat.

Mr Bag collaborates with Givenchy again in 2018 (Source: Mr Bags)

The result? Givenchy sold 1.2 million RMB worth of bags in 12 minutes.

Include buffers and contingencies in your marketing budget for China

Budget and pipeline planning can be very stressful for marketers, especially if you are in a regional or global role with multiple countries to budget out for the entire year. If China is in your pipeline, this can be a good takeaway for you.

With a 1.4 billion population spread over 613 cities and divided into a 4-tier system based on the GDP, political structure, and population of individual cities, China will take a huge chunk out from your annual marketing budget. Just Shanghai alone holds a population of more than 24 million, which is 4 times that of Singapore!

When planning your marketing budget for China, the key is to plan based on the tier structure of the cities, and always plan a buffer! For instance, you may need to shift your focus to only one city due to constraints in budget. Because the cost of ads fluctuates due to demand and the period of campaign activity, there will likely be a need to top up on the budget to reach your desired target audiences.

Invest in videos

In China, an increased focus on mobile along with investments in video and social will continue to boost overall digital ad spend, according to eMarketer’s latest forecast.

As consumers become more mobile dependent, their ad consumption is also shifting rapidly. Chinese users resonate well with video ads due to the engagement qualities that a video ad portrays, unlike the conventional image ad format.

Mobike’s WeChat video Moments Ad generated more than 100,000 views (Source: WeChat)

According to a Statista report on video advertising in China, the revenue in video advertising amounts to US$5,761 million in 2018 thus far, with an annual growth rate of 9.5%. This shows that more brands are investing in video ad formats. As mobile devices become ubiquitous, local, real-time, and precisely targeted video advertising will become increasingly valuable for businesses.

Leverage Golden Weeks: Special tip on Chinese travellers

If you are in the retail, tourism, hospitality, or luxury industries, you should know that Chinese tourists account for the highest tourism spend in Singapore year-on-year. Based on the Q1 2018 performance report by the Singapore Tourism Board, Chinese tourists spent S$1 billion that quarter, contributing the most on shopping followed by accommodation.

(Source: Singapore Tourism Board)

This performance was bolstered by the Spring Festival Golden Week in February, when we saw an influx of Chinese visitors.

Chinese tourist arrivals see a peak during February due to Golden Week (Source: Singapore Tourism Board)

There are 2 Golden Weeks in China:

  • Spring Festival Golden Week usually happens during the week of the Lunar New Year, around January/February.
  • National Day Golden Week happens during the 1st week of October.

For marketers looking to tap into the huge Chinese tourism market, the Golden Weeks are the most lucrative periods. Of course, there are 2 Golden Weeks in a year, so if you’ve missed out on the first one, there’s still the second one that you can look forward to.

Understand Chinese OTAs to reach Chinese tourists: Special tip on Chinese travellers

OTAs (Online Travel Aggregators), such as TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Trip.com, are some of the sites we usually visit to plan our holidays. The convenience of OTAs allows us to plan the perfect trip, from plane tickets to accommodations to car rentals.

As top outbound travellers compared to the rest of the world, Chinese tourists depend heavily on OTAs for their holiday planning. EyeforTravel’s research finds that the sector has an OTA penetration of 77.5% for website bookings and 81.2% for bookings made through an app. In contrast, 17.6% of website users reported to EyeforTravel that they booked direct and a slightly lower 12.9% also went direct through an airline app.

Just like social platforms and search engines, the dominant OTAs in China are Chinese-owned. Whether on the web or in-app (mobile) flight or accommodation bookings, OTAs take more than 70% of digital bookings. At the forefront and both with popular apps are Ctrip and Qunar. Interestingly, because of this trend in the upsurge of OTAs, the Chinese government even put pressure onto big Chinese airlines to capture direct bookings.

Thus, an understanding of Chinese OTAs and the digital consumption behavior of Chinese tourists will allow you to to streamline your digital marketing strategies to effectively target them.

The Chinese market is lucrative for many businesses due to its demographics and Chinese consumption behaviors. We can help you find a winning digital formula to succeed in the market. Contact us.

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