As the Chinese market's immense value continues to draw the interest of enterprises from across the West, it's becoming clear that this demographic remains relatively untapped by Western vendors.
China's status as the second biggest global economy supports the case for considerable growth potential in various industries over the next decade, in particular within the realm of online retail – China’s eCommerce market is widely considered the largest on earth.
Vendors looking to enter this vast market need to understand how to properly utilise key online social platforms in positioning their offer effectively; marketing in China requires alternative approaches compared to other markets worldwide.
For Western vendors who still need to become familiar with the marketing terrain, the relative complexity of successfully entering the Chinese market can make it difficult to gain traction.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) – comparable to Instagram
- Weibo – comparable to Twitter
- WeChat – the “all in one” super app
- QQ – a casual instant messaging app
- Taobao and Tmall – leading marketplaces, owned by e-commerce giant, Alibaba
In this article, we'll go through some critical Chinese platforms you can utilise to gain strong footholds in the Chinese market - whether your focus is B2B, DTC or e-commerce.
This article sets out to empower your research and development as you move to market to China in 2023.
Culture is King: Succeeding Remotely
Comprehension of modern Chinese culture is fundamental to success. As a brand, you'll need to correctly understand the culture of your target demographic when designing and implementing successful campaigns.
To market successfully to China, you need to understand the various regional nuances of Chinese culture. Grasping this intersectionality and understanding how it influences your target market needs to be an ongoing consideration when drawing up content strategies.
Operating as a non-native brand has unique challenges with unique solutions: China's super-native-apps can be expertly utilised as R&D tools. Popular platforms such as WeChat, RED or Douyin can be used to gather crucial information on local audiences, without a need for proximity or even a regional presence.
However, there is no long-term substitute for interacting in real-time with Chinese culture. We advise that vendors looking to establish long-term relationships with the Chinese market need to consider spending time in China to get a real-world sense of how their market lives and breathes.
The importance of gaining actionable knowledge of the culture of your target market is the number one determinant of successful marketing campaigns in China.
The Great Firewall Of China: Apps Vs. Websites?
It is notoriously tricky to operate websites in China from overseas. Network restrictions set by China's CCP can make it difficult to set up a presence in China. As an overseas business, you must complete incredibly stringent procedures to get your website up and running in China, which still doesn't guarantee your website won't be partially censored.
Enterprises that still need to establish dedicated domains in China will need to set up a business and apply for an ICP License, which can be difficult to obtain. We also recommend using websites with ".cn" to ensure content loads quickly - Chinese users are also more familiar with this domain type, indicating authority.
However, your brand can establish branded pages on critical Chinese social media apps like WeChat, RED and Weibo. You can effectively market through these Channels if you know and understand how to use them.
As it happens, massive portions of the Chinese population prefer to use these super-native apps for all their online points of contact, rendering website use in marketing endeavours, in many cases, obsolete.
Dialling In on Your Content Strategy
It is essential to cross-pollinate branded content across various platforms, as Chinese buyers prefer to make a few points of contact with brands before converting. It would help if your team utilised these super-apps in tandem to make it as easy and quick as possible to generate an audience.
For example, Chinese consumers have a particular affinity for cartoons & comics, generally responding well to brands that incorporate this artefact into their campaigns.
Culture-specific trends should be taken seriously because the Chinese market is unique.
Companies that can successfully adapt to Chinese appetites will most surely be successful in their campaigns.
The Effectiveness of Influencer Marketing in The Chinese Market
In recent years, influencer marketing has taken centre stage in China and globally as the most effective marketing strategy to come out of the 2010s. Chinese consumers routinely demonstrate that they value influencer content over any other marketing-related contact.
Live streaming has become especially popular – as demonstrated by China's top live streamer, who was able to generate $1.9 billion in sales in a single live stream.
Finding influencers who are well-aligned with your target audience (for example, a Chinese student living in the city that your rental properties are located within) can be the most effective way of driving new audiences to your Mini Program & sales funnels.
App-Based Marketing: Why Mastering China's Super-Native-Apps are Key to Successfully Entering the Market in 2023
It is no secret that Chinese audiences prefer to use super native apps like Wechat, Weibo and Douyin as their primary content channels.
These super-apps give foreign vendors the ability to create Official Accounts, which offer workarounds for the various legal requirements of doing commerce in China while simultaneously being some of the most effective social platforms to become active upon.
However, WeChat is widely recognised to be China's preeminent super-app and social media marketing tool and should be the first port of call for overseas vendors looking to enter this market smoothly.
These platforms also have paid advertising structures that can be used to gain traction in the Chinese market relatively quickly.
Here are the most effective apps to start getting noticed on:
The Chinese-dominated app has become one of the biggest social-commerce platforms. With over 100 million monthly active users globally - Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) is among the most trusted outlets for Chinese audiences.
Users consume content that matches their interests. They post about products and services with reviews and tips for their peers, who can comment on and save them to their dashboards.
Boasting robust interactive features - most notably RED's algorithm-driven content feed, RED focuses on user-generated reviews of products or services purchased in China and abroad.
The content algorithm serves content not limited to accounts users already follow, giving your team consistent opportunities to engage new audiences on cold traffic.
Recently RED's user base has seen a dramatic uptick in male users interested in real estate, lifestyle, travelling and entertainment.
How to Make an Impact With RED Marketing
The best way is to work with KOLs and KOCs to deliver content tailored to your target audiences:
You'll need to find KOCs and KOLs related to your industry and get them to engage with your flagship product or service.
Once you've established a relationship with them, you can get them to post checklist content, showing their fan base how to use your product or service step by step.
Douyin is the top free shot-from video streaming App designed to cater to younger audiences, making it an important marketing platform for enterprises looking to succeed in the Chinese market.
Engagement rates on Douyin are incredibly high. With over 459 million monthly active users and daily open rates of 640 million instances per day, Douyin social media marketing has the potential to unlock massive audiences for overseas vendors.
It's tough to create verified accounts outside China. Hence, KOL/ KOC marketing and paid ads are the best marketing strategies for this platform if you want to quickly engage with new Chinese audiences.
A brand account can help companies to:
- Establish brand image and enhance brand awareness.
- Attract and gather customers.
- Promote products.
- Boost sales via live streaming and campaigns.
Weibo is the biggest microblogging site in China - unlike WeChat, content on Weibo flows freely.
Most of China's prominent KOLS/KOCS use Weibo as the first port of call for their product or service reviews. Live streaming is now integrated into the platform, and monthly active users skyrocketed.
Weibo is a powerful platform - it's where people go to reach the news, participate in campaigns, and follow their favourite brands and bloggers.
Weibo offers your team the ability to register and verify official business accounts, allowing you to take full advantage of the app’s advertising capabilities.
Types of Official Weibo Accounts
- Individual Accounts
- WeMedia Accounts
- Official Corporate Accounts
Official Weibo Account Benefits
- Ability to add additional information about your brand on your Weibo account:
- Ability to customise branded images.
- Access to banner images.
- You have access to Weibo data centre analytics
- Set custom messages
- Access to Weibo paid advertising
Unlike many Chinese platforms with multi-step verification processes for overseas vendors, Weibo makes account creation simpler.
QQ: The Reddit of China
Your team can use QQ, which offers a chat forum, music streaming platform, email service and an instant messaging platform to create authority on topics relating to your business.
Chinese audiences frequently use this platform for fact-checking and interacting with popular opinions, relying on it as a mainstay for topical research. Even though there aren't any paid ad structures on QQ, it can still reach new consumers and create topical relevance in your field.
An effective audience engagement strategy(no-follow) can be implemented across various community forums relating to your business on QQ.
Alibaba for E-Commerce
Alibaba is the pre-eminent platform for e-commerce DTC vendors looking to enter Chinese e-commerce successfully.
Alibaba has two main sub-platforms that can be used together to increase e-commerce success rates for overseas stores: Tmall Global and Taobao,
Using both platforms together can drastically increase audience reach, as Tmall Global and Taobao are dominant platforms for international brands.
WeChat: The Best Platform To Build a Successful Marketing Strategy On
When courting Chinese audiences, WeChat provides an array of practical marketing & sales functionalities - the most impactful starting point for a brand is to set up and verify an overseas official account. This is very different from having a personal WeChat account, which is used by users to talk to friends and interact with brands.
Once set up, an official account gives you access to powerful marketing channels on WeChat, which can be used to engage and build Chinese audiences quickly.
Setting up an official account can be a slightly complex task, but you can read the VIVA CITY step guide (do-follow) for a complete breakdown of the process.
WeChat Mini Programs: The Best Strategy to Activate Powerful Customer Experiences
Your WeChat strategy needs to be capable of delivering frictionless and impactful experiences to your Chinese customers, who are used to well-considered, highly strategic marketing experiences.
For WeChat, the best way to create these powerful customer experiences is through lightweight applications called Mini Programs. Mini Programs can be used to deliver a wide array of functionality, converting users into paying customers.
You can design your own branded Mini Program to streamline an array of functions, such as:
- Virtual tours
- Easy Document sharing
- Location-specific catalogues
- QR code sharing
- Appointments and meeting applications
The best marketing strategy for UK vendors on WeChat is to synergize an Official Business Account with a Mini Program. Please read our article on WeChat Social Media Marketing (do-follow internal link) for more information on how this works.
VIVA CITY: An Automated WeChat MarTech Utility
Marketing to the Chinese requires a total paradigm shift. Many oversea teams have tried and failed to enter this market by using the same techniques that work with western audiences.
The WeChat set-up process is rigorous for overseas vendors, but VIVA CITY can help your team set up and verify an official WeChat business account and Mini Program, saving you time and cost.
Our no-code, automated system simplifies every step of using a Mini Program for marketing and sales on WeChat in one easy-to-use solution. We help you build and employ your own personalised Mini Program to rapidly increase lead generation through WeChat and other sources such as your website.
As a result, your team can streamline customer journeys and upgrade their experiences through precise data and analytics.