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China Marketing, China Brand Strategy, Growth Campaigns

The CMO's Guide to China Insight Research

Market research is awesome. Having accurate and organized macro data at your fingertips makes a huge difference to developing any business strategy. You know the size of your market and what its’ needs are. You know who your competitors are and what they are up to. You know what your customers want.

You know what!

But you don’t know why!

That is the big difference between market research and market insight, it adds a layer of narrative to the stats and data market research provides that is invaluable when looking for growth in a market as challenging, diverse and fast-paced as China. Having this insight allows you to determine why your customers behave the way they do when it comes to your brand. By having this information you can then start to influence purchasing behavior with actions that positively impact on growth and the bottom line.

So, what do global CMOs need to know about insight research in China? Here are 6 things that I think are the most important.

Set up a smoother landing

Market entry in China is tough, full of challenges, surprises and fierce competition from global players and local businesses alike. Most new market entrants in China have seen all the market research data and decided that the potential size of the prize is worth the risk and investment. However, we’ve seen countless foreign businesses forgo insight and then fail to understand why their brand hasn’t made the big splash and huge profits they expected here in China (I’m looking at you Marks & Spencer). Insight research should be an integral part of any China market entry strategy.

Decide who you want to speak to

The first stage of any successful insight research project, be it for the China market or anywhere else, is to identify exactly who you need to speak to within your customer base. What are the demographics? What is their job title? In complicated value chains, there may be a number of people involved – who are the biggest influencers to purchase? Who is most likely to give you 30 minutes of their time?! The answer to all these questions is likely to be very different for a Chinese company, or a local Chinese team for a global business, compared to western organizations.

Ask the right questions

Remember that the whole point of insight research is to get to the ‘why’ of customer behavior so the questions you ask need to give you the ability to map out their interests, pain points, aspirations, etc. What influences their purchasing decisions? What channels are they using for product information? What type of content do they appreciate and engage with?

Make sure you see all the angles

One common mistake many insight research projects make is to just focus on the external. Make sure your viewpoint isn’t too narrow by including both customers past and present, as well as members of your existing sales and marketing team. This is particularly valuable for international marketing managers working with a local team in China as they are your best eyes and ears on the ground here.

3 is the magic number

Once you’ve conducted your interviews, the next step is to distill all the data down into preferably no more than 3 detailed buyer personas. You can break your personas down into three sections; general persona – their background, education, job title, the type of company they work for, for example; their value proposition – what his/her pain points are, what they value in a supplier, what their objections are when it comes to making a purchasing decision; and their influencers and stakeholders – his /her purchasing process, where do they source their information and what information do they need to make a decision, what are their touchpoints and the communication channels they are open to, and so on.

Map your touchpoints

It’s imperative to make this stage of the insight research project as detailed as possible, and again, for global CMOs based outside of China you are going to want to lean on your local team or agency support here as you will be looking to identify, amongst other things, the best channels to reach your targeted buyer, when to do it, and the types of messaging that is going to resonate best with them and influence their behavior. Your target customers in China are very likely to favor different channels and exhibit different behaviors than you are perhaps used to in your home market or other international territories.

You also want to break this down into the different stages of the buyer journey. Different channels and messaging will be more impactful at different times as your customer moves through the cycle from thinking about purchasing to pulling the trigger and signing the contract. When you have this information mapped out, you can use it as a base to build a strong go-to-market China strategy, including identification of the key channels.


If you want to find out more about how to make your China marketing strategy more effective, or to bring your brand up to speed on the latest China digital marketing tactics, you can download our latest ebook, The CMO's Guide to China Marketing: 10 Top Tips for Your International Brand. Just click on the image below.

The CMO's Guide to China Marketing: 10 Top Tips for Your International Brand

We’ve seen countless foreign businesses forgo insight and then fail to understand why their brand hasn’t made the big splash and huge profits they expected here in China.

- Steven Proud

Global Marketing Director, Brandigo

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