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3 things you need to know about Digital Marketing in China

November 29, 2016 |   Dandan Cheng

It’s now almost a year ago since the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) entered into force. Given that China is one of the world’s fastest growing consumer markets and home to over 710 million internet users, there’s no doubt that it holds tremendous opportunities for Australian businesses looking to expand their reach and global market share.

Yet, launching your product successfully in China is easier said than done. Overcoming administrative barriers such as obtaining an ICP identity can be challenging, but the biggest hurdle for many foreign businesses is developing and implementing strategy for digital marketing in China. It all starts with understanding the intricacies of the diverse Chinese consumer market and their digital content consumption and communication preferences.

This article uncovers 3 things you need to know about digital marketing in China to inform your go-to-market strategy.

1. Baidu Yixia

‘Baidu Yixia’ is the Chinese equivalent to ‘Google it.' While searching for information online is as much a daily habit of Chinese consumers as it is for locals, the search landscape is very different to the Western world where Google processes over 90% of all search queries.

The Chinese search engine landscape is currently still a lot more diverse with Baidu, Sogou, (formerly known as Haosou) and Shenmna dominating the field at the time of writing. The market is also subject to a lot of change. While Baidu receives over 5 billion search queries every day with approximately half the market share, competitors, taking advantage of the mobile trend, are starting to gain ground.  

For businesses wanting to enter the Chinese market, it’s important to understand the complexities of the local search engine space and stay ahead of trends to ensure their product or offering can be found by consumers. It requires not only a knowledge of the latest search algorithms and SEO techniques, but also insight into the fast-shifting search behaviour of Chinese consumers. Just being visible on Baidu through paid and organic search is not enough.  The good news is that the Chinese digital consumer is information hungry and will sift through a long list of results rather than just the top three results typical to Google searchers, giving you a much better chance to get found.

2. Social media is everywhere - but not as you know it

Chinese consumers aren’t tweeting, ‘gramming or Facebooking— these platforms don’t exist behind the Great Firewall of China. So instead of relying on foreign businesses to allow Chinese consumers to keep in touch with their friends and family, they’ve created their own Chinese social media platforms. Networks such as WeChat, Weibo, Renren and Youku are some of the more popular ones. And even though some appear to be the equivalent of ours, in practice the capabilities are very different. The New York Times produced a fantastic look at the Chinese tech sphere called How China is Changing the Internet:

What’s interesting about Chinese social media platforms is that many of them started out mimicking platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, but then quickly outstripped them.

Because Chinese social media platforms have diverged from our familiar apps, the way they are used is significantly different to how we use ours. For example, WeChat, termed a ‘super app,’ has a staggering array of capabilities. It allows the user to purchase products or services, pay bills, share pictures and moments, post reviews and much more. Businesses can even use it to provide customer service and conduct group conferences.

How China is Changing the Internet puts this into perspective: Your friend texts you to see if you’re free for dinner. You agree so she orders and pays for you. You get to the restaurant and your order is displayed, with your WeChat profile pic alongside it. You eat and you think the meal is bland so you post a review. You also remember that your friend paid so you transfer the money.  All these transactions, with your friend, with the restaurant and with the bank have taken place on WeChat. At no point have you left the app. This unified experience offers tremendous opportunities for digital marketers who understand how to harness it.

3. Business networking transformed

What is even more astounding about WeChat is how it shapes the nature of relationships in China. Relationships or guanxi, have always been highly valued in Chinese culture and are heavily based on networking. As Tech in Asia notes:

In Western countries, separating work from play is seen as a healthy practice. We’ve built our web tools around this premise. You don’t hunt for jobs on Facebook. You have a work email and a personal email. Very few of your LinkedIn references are also contacts in WhatsApp.

With its multi-faceted strands, WeChat blurs the lines between the personal and the professional to the point where it’s becoming increasingly unlikely to do business in China if you don’t have a WeChat account.

Where business people used to exchange ‘a classy packet of cigarettes or a bottle of baijiu,’ now you are much more likely to accompany it with your WeChat QR codes. Users can also use the platform to get in touch directly with business and vice versa, as well as receiving news from the wider industry. If you want to get an understanding of how Chinese social media works, downloading and creating a profile on WeChat is a great place to start.

Digital marketing in China: great opportunities … for the wise

Jumping into the Chinese market isn’t for the faint of heart, nor is it for the rash. However, if you are willing to learn, ask questions and keep an open mind, your business could flourish in this vibrant market.

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