When you first start doing business in China it can often be overwhelming, there are many people coming to you with a range of advice (often contradictory) about how you should proceed. There are many technical articles that demonstrate ‘know how’ but do not offer clear solutions to the problems new businesses face in China.
NEW BUSINESSES IN CHINA
Doing business in China is a series of problems and solutions. Hurdles can always be jumped and the solutions can yield incredible results for the savy business operating in the most lucrative market in the world.
Here is my pragmatic guide for new businesses entering the Chinese market broken down into some key problems and their solutions.
PROBLEM – HOW TO MAKE AN IMPACT IN SUCH A HUGE & COMPETITIVE MARKET IN A COST EFFECTIVE WAY?
The Chinese market is indeed enormous, with a population of 1.4 billion and over 350 million relative ‘middle class consumers’ it can seem like a daunting prospect, how do you make an impact on such a huge market in a cost-effective way?
SOLUTION – DIGITAL MARKETING IS THE BEST SOLUTION WITH THE GREATEST RETURN ON INVESTMENT
In China EVERYTHING is digital. Digital marketing is the most effective solution for new businesses. With 900 million Chinese now connected online it is a no brainer in terms of getting your products or services in front of the most applicable Chinese audiences.
The Chinese spend on average 1.5 hours per day browsing online, mostly via their smartphone. There are now over 550 million smartphones in China.
It’s also the least costly method when compared to TV ads, physical billboards or events. You need to be promoting your business where your audience are most active; this is online.
PROBLEM – YOU ARE UNKNOWN IN MAINLAND CHINA
The majority of companies need to start over again when they enter China. They are practically invisible.
The whole Chinese online eco-system is cut off from the rest of the world web by government censorship through the ‘Great Chinese Firewall’. Your reputation on Google, Facebook or Youtube for example are not taken into account at all.
Chinese search engines such as Baidu (China’s Google Equivalent) do not pick up on English content, especially when they are blocked in China..
SOLUTION – IMPROVE YOUR VISIBILITY AND REPUTATION ONLINE ON CHINESE PLATFORMS
The solution is to build your reputation and visibility on local platforms with quality Mandarin Chinese content and a comprehensive marketing strategy.
The barriers to entry also present opportunities. With such a ‘closed off’ online system many of your previous competitors will not have set up in China, particularly because of the complications. This gives you a strong platform to build on with less competition, it also helps your business stand out as an international company operating in China.
PROBLEM – THE MARKET IS SO ENORMOUS, WHERE TO START?
China is more akin to a continent than a country. New businesses need to stay focused on their target audience and demographic. With many tier 1, 2 and 3 cities still growing in size and affluence where is the best place to start?
SOLUTION – THE COSMOPOLITAN, TIER 1 CITIES OF SHANGHAI, BEIJING, GUANGZHOU AND SHENZHEN
You can target the most established tier 1 cities on the east coast of China where the highest urban population is. These cities have the largest international communities and are certainly the most cosmopolitan in terms of the lifestyle.
Consumers in these locations have a stronger propensity towards international brands with a more established structure for business development as well as delivery, storage, office space etc.
With such a wealth of user information online a digital marketing strategy can target consumers in specific area’s as well as consumer demographics very accurately.
PROBLEM – HOW DO YOU IMPROVE YOUR VISIBILITY WHEN GOOGLE SEARCH RANKINGS ARE NOT VALID
SEO (search engine optimization) and your ranking on Google is not taken into account in China. Google is completely blocked and can only be accessed via a VPN. You cannot rely on previous search engine marketing, instead you must develop a Chinese website on Baidu, the largest search engine in the Middle Kingdom.
SOLUTION – BAIDU IS YOUR KEY TO VISIBILITY
In China 70% of all online research is conducted via Baidu. It is the best portal for finding relevant websites based on Mandarin Character keyword searches. Baidu prioritize websites that are hosted on Chinese servers and with a .cn domain. The speed of loading time is very important to appear on the first page of Baidu’s search results.
Then, your Chinese site can be made visible through optimizing your content, generating backlinks, sharing articles and auditing the back-end of the site with Chinese page titles, meta tags/descriptions etc..
Essentially it needs to be built and promoted in such a way that raises the ranking of the website in the natural search results. Ask yourself which serious professionals click on the ads?
The solution is to focus on 15-20 Mandarin Keywords and overtime improve the ranking of the site based on this. The best quality traffic and leads are created by ranking highly on Baidu because you are appearing on closely related searches.
PROBLEM – FACEBOOK AND TWITTER ARE OF NO USE IN CHINA
You’ve built up a Facebook presence and established your Twitter ‘handle’ as a popular source of information. However in China this will not further your interests, again both platforms are blocked.
The good news is that the leading Chinese platforms are even bigger with larger, more active communities of users than their western counterparts. They are very intelligent platforms designed to integrate a host of helpful marketing tools for reaching your target.
SOLUTION – USING WECHAT AND WEIBO AS YOUR ‘LAUNCHPAD’
The solution to not having ‘western’ social media is to embrace ‘WeChat’, arguably the most advanced social network ever designed, many of Facebook’s recent updates seem to be modelled closely on WeChat’s user functionality.
WeChat now has over 850 million monthly active users. On WeChat you can tap into groups of up to 500 users to share content, this can be very targeted based on specific group interests and topics. An official account needs to be set up, from here you can share quality content and engage with potential customers via the messenger.
Weibo (literally ‘Micro Blog’) is smaller but still boasts 300 million active monthly users. It has not been beset by many of the problems Twitter has had and is the most ‘brand friendly’ platform in China. Users can see posts from anyone so it’s a great platform for promoting content on your business/services.
The social media solution is very powerful in China with users spending an average of 40-60 minutes per day on these sites. More time equals more exposure to your business.
PROBLEM: YOUR ENGLISH LANGUAGE CONTENT IS NOT APPLICABLE
A lot of companies existing content is obviously not geared up to the Chinese customer. This can be seen as a big issue but actually with the right partnership tailoring and adapting English language content to Mandarin Chinese is not that difficult.
SOLUTION: QUALITY CHINESE COPYWRITING
Doing business in China is in many way’s a series of problems and solutions. Hurdles can always be jumped and the solutions can yield incredible results for the savy business in the most lucrative market in the world.
HOW TO NAVIGATE THE MAZE THAT IS CHINA?
The problem for new companies is they are stepping into an unknown market. You need a trusted local partner on the ground to help you sail straight in the Chinese market and jump the hurdles that present themselves.
By_ Benji Lamb
From_Marketing To China