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The CMO’s Guide to China Marketing: Localization

Any brand the operates in a foreign territory faces a delicate balancing act when it comes to localization. Not enough and your brand won’t resonate with key target audiences in your various countries of operation. Too much and you dilute all the things that made your brand successful in the first place. And it’s not just your creative output and messaging that need consideration, there are technical aspects to localization that make sure your buyer journey is fully optimized for your target foreign market, website performance being one such example.

Some regions will require less localization than others, such as US brands targeting UK consumers for example, and vice versa. China is not one of those regions.

Over the last couple of years, there have been some high-profile examples of foreign brands getting China completely wrong, with most of them still suffering the consequences. To this day, there are luxury brands that created a ‘messaging fail’ for themselves that are still unable to list their products on the biggest Chinese e-commerce platforms over a year later, seriously impacting their China growth.

China localization is multi-faceted, complex, and at times political, and requires the support of your HQ marketers, in-market team, and quite often, an agency partner that is well versed in helping international brands maximize their China marketing strategy. I’m not going to attempt to cover off every aspect in this article, but to give you a brief insight into some of the major considerations, here are our 6 things global CMOs need to know about China localization.

Get your messaging house in order

This is something we see frequently here in China, particularly when a ‘global’ agency based in the client’s home country is responsible for the China marketing strategy. Key messaging pillars, personas, positioning statements, and so on, may have had a great impact at home, but that in no way guarantees success in China. Tap into your local team and agency’s expertise here. They will be better versed in what your local consumers are looking for, what their purchasing behaviors are, and what messaging will benefit most. If you have time and budget available, China insight research can also make the difference between success and failure when it comes to your China marketing strategy.

Overcome the language barrier and cultural distance

English is not a widely spoken language in China, and in general, direct translations rarely have the same meaning or impact. Never rely on online translation (we’ve seen this done!) and while there are lots of good translation companies out there, they will not be able to tweak your messaging. Specialist China copywriters have the skill set required to provide translations that are on brand yet tailored to resonate with Chinese consumers.

The language barrier can have far-reaching consequences in China, even down to the brand or product name which may sound or mean something very different to a Chinese audience. Certain colors and shapes within your visual identity may hold different significance and meaning. The lasting damage getting these things wrong can do to a brand in China is huge so taking the time to have this all reviewed is well worth the investment.

Get a feel for the social landscape

Do you know your WeChat from your Weibo? Your Douyin from your Youku? The social media platforms that you regularly use, and which likely make up part of your digital strategy, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, are blocked in China, so it is essential that you get to grips with the various Chinese social media platforms and the different demographics that favor them. Each one has its own type of content, some include e-commerce elements, all are unique and can be tricky for foreign brands to utilize successfully. Although seemingly comparable, a typical LinkedIn or Facebook post would not work well as a WeChat post, for example.

Again, this is where the input of your local team and the support of a local agency will prove invaluable. Embarking on robust market insight research will also help you identify which social media platforms your customers are using, and the type of content they engage with.

Getting over the Great Fire Wall

It’s not just your usual social media channels that are blocked in China. Websites such as Google are also blocked so all that time spent on Google ads, your SEO strategy, even some of the functionality of your website, will need to be reviewed for your China marketing strategy. This will include how you embed video on your site, for example. Where your site is hosted also plays a part and can impact on the visitor experience.

Many companies choose to set-up a dedicated China version of their website which helps to navigate the complex China digital ecosystem. It will perhaps have a look and tone that may differ from your global website, but it will enhance your credibility with Chinese consumers and boost your performance on Baidu, China’s version of Google.

Read the rule book

Make sure you familiarize yourself with all of the rules and regulations of Chinese advertising. This is another one that may seem like stating the obvious, but you would be surprised at how many companies get this wrong.

One common error foreign businesses make is in their ad copy. In China, you are not allowed to make claims such as “the leading product”, “top product”, “world’s number 1 product” and so on. Indeed, for some industries, such as the medical and healthcare industries, the regulations go deeper and it may in fact be against the rules to advertise your products or services.

Find your balance

As with most things, balance is key. Some marketers go too far in their localization efforts and leave everything to the local office. Before you know it, your brand bears no resemblance to the global brand. Many times the local marketing team may be trying to make their own mark, or want to use their own team.

The trick is to find a perfect blend or happy medium – and each industry has its own norms. The Chinese version of your materials appeals to your target market. But at the same time one look and you know it is your global brand. Evaluating all marketing materials or having someone audit for you, is an important step to ensure global alignment.

This is just scratching the surface when it comes to China localization. If you’ve got any questions or if you are facing a China localization challenge for yourself, you can get in touch with any of the Brandigo team and we would be delighted to chat through it with you.

You can also read up on more of Brandigo’s China marketing insight in our CMO’s Guide to China Marketing series by visiting our website and reading more of our blogs.

Finally, listen to the first two episodes of our brand-new podcast. Available via Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also download it yourself.

Key messaging pillars, personas, positioning statements, and so on, may have had a great impact at home, but that in no way guarantees success in China.

- Steven Proud

Global Marketing Director, Brandigo

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