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The Beginners Guide to Marketing in China

26 August 2016 - Gareth Goodridge, Digital Marketing Director, Worldpay
Internet penetration in China only really took off after 2000. At that point, China’s share of the global Internet was only 6%  - compared to 30% for the United States. However, by 2009, China had overtaken the United States. And last year it’s estimated that China accounted for 20% of global Internet users – compared to just 9% for the United States.

What’s significant about this data is that the Internet was fully established before China truly embraced it. So, in many ways, the Internet was built by the West, for the West.

But this has drastically changed over the past 16 years – and China has produced a number of unique online platforms tailored to the market. Here, we’ll look at a few – and how businesses can use them to grow their business in China.

Social Media

Most social media platforms taken for granted in the West are blocked in China, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

China’s main platforms include WeChat, Sina Weibo, QQ & Q Zone. We haven’t got time to look at them all in detail – so let’s focus on the main ones. 

WeChat (Weixin)

WeChat is China’s version of WhatsApp. It’s primarily a personal messaging app – where users can chat via text, audio and video. It also allows users to share photos and updates in a microblog format via WeChat Moments.

The network launched in January 2011 and has seen staggering growth ever since. As of May 2016, it had over 762 million monthly active users, 200 million of which have credit cards attached to their account. Over 55% of users open the app more than 10 times a day – and the average time spent on WeChat is over 40 minutes per day.  

As with social platforms in the West, WeChat users can follow brands or businesses. If you want to promote your business, you can chose between 2 types of account: 

  • Service Account – typically used by smaller businesses, this allows you to post information about your company with basic functionality – for example – the ability to make a reservation.  The proactive marketing options are fairly limited, as a Service Account only allows businesses to push one message a week.
  • Subscription Account – is used by larger business as it lets them send out notifications to subscribers on a daily basis.  Subscribers can either save the message or share it with others via their personal network.

Businesses can also advertise on WeChat – however they need at least 100,000 followers. WeChat also allows customers to pay directly from the app.

Sina Weibo

Sina Weibo launched in August 2009, and is often referred to as ‘the Chinese Twitter’. It’s a microblogging service, which like Twitter, had a limit of 140 characters. However, the limit was scrapped in January 2016.

It was initially viewed as the biggest social platform in China, however, censorship introduced in March 2012, led to a 30% reduction in activity. More recently, Weibo has started to bounce back – and as of 2015, there were over 236 million active monthly users.

In terms of marketing opportunities, Weibo allows businesses to create fan pages. International companies are already experiencing success on the platform. Tourism New Zealand signed up Chinese actress Yao Chen as their brand ambassador in 2011. During her tour of New Zealand she posted regular updates to her 40 million followers, which resulted in 500,000 visits to the campaign site – and 20,000 referrals.   

Both WeChat & Weibo can work hand-in-hand – with the difference between the two platforms summed up nicely by Jing Daily in 2015… 

“[Sina Weibo] offers branding opportunities that are quite different from those of WeChat. Where WeChat is more about 1:1 communications and personalised interactions with fans, Weibo is useful for reaching a mass audience with viral posts.”

Search Engine Marketing

Just like social media, search is slightly different in China. Google have had quite a traumatic relationship with country – which has lead to them threatening to exit the market due to censorship issues.  

This has allowed Baidu to become the dominant search engine – with almost 80% market share. The platform attracts over 9 billion searches a year – with over 50% of these via mobile.  

As with Google, search results are indexed – and over time – can rise up the rankings organically. However, if you’re new to the market, you can use pay-per-click advertising to increase your prominence. 

To use PPC in China, you’ll need to register with Baidu – and provide a raft of legal information about your business. Dealing directly can prove challenging – so you can go via a 3rd party – such as China Search International – who will help you navigate through the process.

Baidu is also launching a new AR platform that will open up new augmented reality opportunities for advertisers.

Youku Tudou

As YouTube is part of Google – yes, you guessed it – it’s banned in China! So, if you want to promote video – you’ll need to use a native site, such as Youku.

The site promotes online video content – from user-generated & self-produced series, to licensed professional content. Video is big business in China and Youku has 150 million daily active users and 900 million daily video views – 400 million of which are on mobile devices.

In terms of marketing – companies have several options. As with YouTube you can create an official brand channel. Online ads can be also placed as a banner, text links, buttons and branded viral videos. You can also sponsor live events, or use product-placement within in-house produced content or viral videos. And you can do pre-roll, mid-roll or post-roll ads – which the user can’t skip.

QR Codes

We can’t talk about digital marketing in China without mentioning QR codes. They’re huge! You’ll find them everywhere.

One of the most popular uses is to attract WeChat followers. A wide range of Chinese apps have a QR code reader built-in. The user simply scans the code, and is taken to the company’s WeChat account.

And they’re not restricted to off-line use – brands will routinely add them to their website and social media channels.

If you are planning on using QR codes at an event – or another off-line location – just remember to place them where people can easily scan them. On a backdrop may mean it’s too far away – and a side panel may mean people need to crouch to scan it.

So that’s a very brief overview of digital marketing in China. We hope you’ve found it useful.  If you are looking to launch digital activity in the market – just make sure you allow plenty of time to go through all the red-tape. Good luck!