How to Enter the Chinese Market in the Year of Tiger through Digital Marketing
A megalith of a market with business opportunities as diverse as the mind can imagine and a population that is only growing in size, affluence and digital connectivity. There is so much your business can offer to this thriving nation of 1.4billion, whose GDP stands as the second-highest in the world. Couple that with the fact that 96.3% of its population own smartphones and you’ve got an entire nation that hits more than just the sweet spot for digital marketing. With these astounding statistics, one can hardly resist the urge to dive in headlong.
Hold your horses.
Before taking the plunge, here are a few pointers to wet your toes with. Not only will these tips open you to China’s digital marketing landscape, you will also gain specific insights on China’s market entry strategies by means of investigating general trends in digital marketing in China.
Google is Gold, but Baidu is your Best Bet
To begin, let’s establish some facts about China.
The infographics above are a great summary of statistics and evidence that digital marketing is the way to go for any business to thrive, with internet users in the country standing at a staggering one billion.
Yet, there is no Google.
So how do the Chinese….er….google?
They Baidu instead. 70% of internet users in China use the country’s biggest search engine, Baidu. Considering that Mandarin is the most commonly used language in China, it only makes sense that Baidu would operate in the language – but thankfully using simplified Chinese letters instead of traditional Chinese. This more modern version of Chinese characters is also understood by speakers of Cantonese in Hong Kong and Macau – and what that means for your business is you get to extend your content’s reach to these Chinese territories as well, over and above your digital marketing to Mainland China.
Having a strong presence on Baidu is the surest way to penetrate the Chinese market, especially when you consider that e-commerce is slated to make up 64% of China’s retail sales by 2023.
You need not have a business based in China, nor does the site need to be hosted in China if you want to start advertising with them. As long as you have the proper documentation (and you’re not dealing with gambling or pornography), you’re good to go. It’s not advisable, however, to advertise in English even if your target audience in China is English speakers because most users prefer Chinese and you stand to lose traffic through recommendations to friends and family if your content is in a language alien to them.
Fret not. The folks at Baidu “offer professional translation services if needed”. Yay!
Xiao Hong Shu and the World of Influencers
Speaking of recommendations, it will not come as a surprise to the seasoned digital marketer that the power of the influencer can make or break a business. This force is perfectly exemplified in Xiao Hong Shu a.k.a. the “Little Red Book”, or simply, Red (not to be confused with the 1980s pop band).
Xiao Hong Shu boasts some 300 million subscribers, with almost 100 million users actively using the platform on a monthly basis. While virtually anyone can use this platform to become what is known in China as Key Opinion Leaders, or KOLs, it also includes celebrity-influencers. The demographics of users are mostly
- under 35 years old
- from urban backgrounds.
The importance of KOLs and its use in digital marketing is further elaborated in the next segment.
TMall for Savvy, Sophisticated Selling
However, if you want the whole works then TMall might be your answer. Inarguably the biggest entry point for vendors into China, the highly sophisticated TMall Innovation Centre, or TMIC, helps identify consumer needs in China to help you adapt your products and services to the Chinese market. This explains why TMall’s share of the Chinese B2C platform scene is the biggest in the country and as much as 60% of international leading brands use TMall for digital marketing in China. Part of the Alibaba universe, TMall also uses Hey Box (“Little Black Box”), which is an Alibaba video channel, to highlight new products based on individual user profile and behaviour.
International brand L’Oréal has used this platform not only to adapt its products to Chinese consumers but for product launches, virtual immersion chatrooms and other interactive events, in partnership with KOLs and product designers included. A great case study for your business, indeed!
JD (Jingdong) for Seamless Logistics and Customer Care
Next in line to TMalls, with around half the size in market share, is JD or Jingdong, With a focus on electronics, its customer demography tends more towards men than with TMall. The great thing about this platform is its integration with WeChat, for ease of communication with customers, as well as its reputation for quick and reliable logistics.
Social Media Marketing in China
It would be a great folly to neglect the power of social media and social e-commerce in China due to the sheer size of its population. With users who are highly engaged and tech-savvy – whenever and wherever – it’s not surprising that an estimated 413 billion dollars worth of transactions on social e-commerce have been predicted for this year alone.
With this fact in mind, knowing the big names in China’s social media is absolutely crucial:
- For starters, WeChat, not WhatsApp. Owned by Tencent, WeChat sees 1.2 billion users as an app whose social media function extends beyond just messaging, i.e. payment options. With these multiple functions, it could serve as a mighty vehicle and a driving force in your digital business’ expansion into China, depending on your business licence type.
- Apart from WeChat, Tencent also offers QQ, another instant messenger app boasting an estimated 700 million users. As with Meta’s Instagram compared to Facebook, this app attracts mostly younger users. Good to know when you are streamlining what target app to use to push specific products.
- Douyin comes a close third, with more than 600 million users. For now, this Chinese version of TikTok can only be downloaded in Chinese by international users but its in-app features extend beyond those available in TikTok.
- Lastly, Sina Weibo’s 523 million plus active users are China’s social media answer to Twitter but with additional features like vlogs, personal chats and stories.
Another way of assessing the popularity of these apps is through looking at the cumulative time spent on each, as seen in this infographic below:
The apps listed above are great to include as part of your business’ social media outreach in China but feel free to speak with our experts at 90 Degrees Asia for more customised professional advice to suit your specific business type.
China, the Grand Dame
Venturing into China through digital marketing is really not as daunting as it may seem. In fact, there’s hardly a better place in which you can put to good use the bold adage of “go big or go home”.
With these tips on how to enter China’s digital market, we at 90 Degrees Asia can make those dreams of expanding your business a reality, with a customer base that is only going to get bigger and bigger as the country rapidly urbanises.