The global pandemic reinforced the importance of digital strategies as essential to ride out the disruption that came with being unable to market in traditional ways. But even prior to 2020, organisations wanting to remain relevant, visible and competitive in China’s burgeoning B2B market were already coming to understand that being across the nuances of China’s digital ecosystem was crucial to engage prospective buyers.
This is not to say that having an on-the-ground strategy — attending trade shows, having local sales reps on the ground and building partnerships — has become irrelevant, particularly as we come out of the pandemic and international travel resumes. However, to remain competitive in China’s B2B market, these standard business development and marketing techniques need to be underpinned by a comprehensive digital strategy.
The decision making journey
Key to building this strategy is understanding the decision-making journey of Chinese B2B buyers and the Chinese digital marketing channels and content types that are the most effective at each stage.
Here are the three stages of the decision making journey with the relevant digital channels and content:
Definition: Buyer is aware of the pain point or problem but does not have a clear understanding of how to resolve it.
- Organic search
- WeChat Zhihu
- Problem-focussed content (e.g. guides and how-to’s) optimised for longtail keyword searches
- Answering typical pain point questions
Definition: Buyer has understanding of the available solutions to overcome their pain point or problem.
- Organic search
- Paid search
- Live chat on website
- Solution-focussed content (e.g. product pages with clear benefit statements) optimised for solution keywords
- Case studies proving effectiveness of solution in relevant industries
- Product demo videos
Definition: Buyer is aware of solution providers and assessing best fit to meet their business needs.
- Organic search
- WeChat group chat & one-on-one chat with sales rep
- Video meetings
- Decision-focused content (e.g. comparative guides) optimised for brand keywords
- Live product demo
- Pricing page/proposals
- Customer testimonials
As the decision-making journey shows, there are two platforms that are critical foundational elements to cover the digital B2B buyer journey in its entirety: a Chinese website and an official WeChat account. The content hosted on these channels provides important brand touchpoints with buyers at every stage.
How can a Chinese website and an official WeChat account act as important touchpoints with buyers at every stage?
- Establishes a powerful presence on Chinese search engines across the entire decision making journey
- Cultivates trust
- Supports an offline activity in the market, such as tradeshows and networking events
- Establishes the foundation for other digital marketing activities such as paid media campaigns
- Directly engages prospective buyers
- Can be integrated with your official WeChat account
However, while having a website as the foundation of your digital marketing strategy may seem obvious, the devil is in the detail. Crucial considerations when setting up this digital channel should include:
- Localising the site for the needs of Chinese buyers rather than just offering a translated version in simplified Chinese
- Optimising the site for Chinese search engines
- Ensuring load time is as fast as possible
Having an official WeChat account when doing any kind of business with China is as essential as a standalone website. WeChat’s array of cloud-based sub-applications means it is no mere social media platform, and while rival platform Weibo may be trying to play catch-up, it has some way to go to match the ubiquitous nature of WeChat amongst Chinese netizens.
Some simple stats to illustrate WeChat’s importance:
- 1.15 billion users
- Two-thirds of users log in over 10 times a day
- Users spend 30% of their time on mobile
In terms of set-up, creating a domestic WeChat account managed and owned by a digital marketing agency in China may at first glance seem like the simplest, most cost-effective solution.
However, this approach comes with challenges and risks. The agency-run domestic account means ceding autonomy to a third party to manage your WeChat activity. What’s more, if you choose to take your WeChat account management in-house at a later stage, the agency you have employed legally owns the followers you have accumulated. This means that you may have to start the slow process of growing your WeChat followers again from scratch should you decide to go it alone.
Having a universal/official WeChat account removes these challenges but does
take a little longer to set up and get verified. However, given how crucial WeChat is for engagement with prospective buyers, the effort required is proportionate to the potential benefits.
B2B marketing on WeChat comprises an entire subject in and of itself, which is why we created a comprehensive best-practice guide to WeChat management here. We encourage you to download it if you’re looking for a deep-dive on different WeChat functions and how to incorporate them into your China digital marketing strategy.