When I graduated and got my first role in the marketing world as a junior PR consultant, outdoor and radio were still taking huge chunks of a marketer’s budget. Facebook was brand new. Instagram and Twitter didn’t even exist. From a PR perspective, newsrooms still bustled, pitching good stories was essential, and most people still got their news, national, international, or industry-specific, in print form.
Despite showing my age, there is a point to this little retrospective. The industry I entered almost 20 years ago doesn’t exist anymore. Like everyone, I have had to adapt, learn, and evolve to keep my skills relevant.
There was a big debate going on a year or two ago. Some of the marketing world’s leading lights began to make the statement that ‘all marketing is digital’ and everything else was obsolete. While I don’t agree entirely with that point of view, marketing has always been, and always will be, all about connecting with your audience at the right time, in the right place, with the right message. That is a truism here in China as it is everywhere else in the world.
And China has always been an early adopter, which means that its digital landscape is constantly evolving, and for marketers, this means constantly reviewing and evolving their China marketing. Also, the digital landscape that existed not even 10 or even 5 years ago is no longer what it was, and good practitioners are constantly learning and adapting their skills and expertise.
In a country with over 850 million internet users, who spend almost 6 hours a day online, mostly via their mobile phone, digital marketing plays a key role in any China marketing strategy. While there are no hard and fast rules that will stand the test of time, here are 6 key things global CMOs and marketing managers need to know to get to grips with China digital marketing.
It’s digital Jim, but not as we know it
None of the channels are the same as in the west. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are blocked here in China, and it is the local tech giants, Tencent, Alibaba, and Baidu, that are in a constant battle on many digital fronts.
Typically, we are dealing with WeChat, Weibo, Bilibili, Douyin, Baidu, Little Red Book, and YouKu, to name just a few. Each has its own USP and, as I keep emphasizing, each is constantly evolving, just like the China digital ecosystem itself. Choosing the right platforms for your own content, or to promote your content, is just the first challenge. Each has their strengths, depending on your industry and target audience.
10 years ago, we were talking about “Kaixing Wang” and other platforms that barely exist today. The key takeaway here is that adaptability and flexibility are key to keep up with all the different channels.
Know your tribes
There are so many tribes and demographics segments in China. Understanding your target audience and how they use digital platforms is crucial to success. This is where China insight research, which we covered in more detail in The CMO’s Guide to China Insight Research, and our recent podcast can really show its value. You can identify where, when, and how your target audience is engaging with each of their preferred digital platforms. Understanding the consumer journey, and the touchpoints at each part of the journey, will help you focus your efforts (and budget).
When it comes to your China digital marketing strategy, don’t settle for small measures. Setting up an account and hoping it gains traction without any promotional efforts will not get you very far. Even for B2B brands, Chinese audiences love to see something new and exciting that creates a buzz. Don’t be afraid to work out campaigns instead of just regular content posts.
Video is becoming more and more important as 85% of Chinese internet users aged 16 to 64 are regularly watching online video content. Originally, Youku and Tudou were the digital channels of choice (similar to YouTube in the West), but now with the success of Douyin (TikTok), even luxury brands that normally shy away from content that is too “lo-fi” are getting involved.
WeChat is still a vital channel for many industries (one that we covered in The CMO’s Guide to WeChat here) and that means typically long-form blogs that work best on this platform. But you can also vary this up with video, motion graphics, and excellent design and creative. Well-designed WeChat mini-programs, the WeChat native version of an app, have also provide hugely effective for many businesses.
Make sure your online customer experience is up to scratch
We covered this in detail in our recent piece on localization in China marketing but, as a quick recap, it’s important to note that your Western website hosted on a server outside of China is probably too slow or does not load here. Also, if it doesn’t feature a Chinese language option or images that a Chinese audience won’t relate to, then you are missing an opportunity to build brand fans. Many of the clients we work with opt to develop a stand-alone Chinese version of their website designed within their brand guidelines, hosted in China so that they can optimize the visitor experience for their Chinese customers.
You need to nurture for anything to grow
Channels don’t grow by themselves. Opening a WeChat channel, for example, will not suddenly bring you a flood of fans. You have to understand how the channel works and use creative approaches to build fans (or spend money - a lot of it). Influencer/KOL marketing can help here (again, we covered this in The CMO’s Guide to China KOL Marketing and yes, I am doing all of this on purpose! It’s not a coincidence you know!).
Being active in social groups such as WeChat group chats and making sure your team is actively sharing content via their own social media will also help to grow fans and engagement.
As ever with all things China marketing, it’s hard to cover all the nuances and subtleties that impact on strategy decisions here. Digital marketing is a big area to cover and you are probably asking what about search engine marketing (SEM)? Well, you would be right to ask that question and we’ve got you covered. You can read the partner piece to this blog, The CMO’s Guide to China SEM, right here.