10 tips for digital marketing in China

Social media marketing
China Digital Marketing

With its massive population and exciting business opportunities, China attracts a lot of foreign companies. Those foreign companies want to get in on the digital wonders the Chinese market represents. With more than 772 million users in 2017 and a vibrant social media scene, a well-thought digital marketing strategy can do miracles.

Brands are being more creative than ever and coming up with interesting and inspiring campaigns. Here are a few tips to follow if you want to succeed in your integration in the Chinese market.

1. Create a localized website

The first step to reaching Chinese consumers is to design a Chinese website for your business and host it in China (register a .cn domain name). Creating localized web content, however, might not be as simple as you think.

First, the translation must be accurate on the website. Never use a translation software program or an automatic online translation service like Google Translation to translate your content into Chinese. Otherwise, it will be awkward and even ridiculous sometimes.

Second, the content must conform to Chinese socio-cultural context. Cultural sensitivity is crucial in building up web content because what is considered funny in one language may be insulting in another. So, to launch a Chinese language website often requires a China-based bilingual team that has a deep understanding of Chinese culture and society.

If used properly, content localization is the most effective way to communicate with your target audience. Having a carefully localized slogan/tagline for your company, for example, can help you foster relationships with Chinese users immediately.

Always remember: your Chinese visitors are most likely different than American or European visitors, and as such, are often attracted by different things. This is why simple translation can sometimes fail a business in creating connections with Chinese visitors.

online marketing Centrum
Chinese website of Centrum

2. Leverage traffic from local search engines 

Chinese consumers like to search product or brand information online. When the Chinese need to search information or check something: they use Baidu.

Google is our first choice when we check something, for Chinese, it is the same with Baidu. “Baidu Yixia” means Google it!

In 2016 in China, Baidu became the first Search Engine with an 83% market share.

Leveraging traffic from this search engine giant is a must for businesses to gauge their brand perceptions in China. Baidu provides a variety of services, including a Chinese language search engine for websites, multimedia files, online mapping, Baidu Baike (an online collaboratively built encyclopedia similar to Wikipedia), Baidu Tieba (a platform of BBS forums), etc.

Baidu SEO is harder and more expensive than Google SEO because the duration is longer and the competition is generally more intense. Besides, Baidu has a very clear focus on China – websites that rank highly are in the Mandarin language and hosted inside the Mainland China.

Chinese marketing
Chinese search engine Baidu

3. Create Buzz on Sina Weibo

Social media has a great impact on China. Even the United States, generally considered the biggest adopter of social media, is behind China in both penetration and use.

Sina Weibo, considered a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, is the most widely used social networking site in China with over 392 million monthly active users by the end of 2017. Now, the word Weibo is buzzing all over the net. Companies and brands take the opportunity to create online buzz through the accounts of celebrities and key opinion leaders that can attract millions of followers.

Some luxury brands interact with their consumers through well-managed accounts of their own. For example, Sephora has launched a Mother’s Day “My Beauty Style” (#我的美力Style#) campaign. To win a free Sephora eye cream, participants are asked to write about their mothers’ beauty style and then refer the post to three friends by Mother’s Day.

The brand is also using Weibo to drive brick-and-mortar traffic in Shanghai through an “I Love Sephora’s Largest Flagship Store” (#我愛絲芙蘭超級旗艦店#) campaign. From May 9 – 11, the flagship on Nanking West Road is staging a complimentary event for participants and their mothers, which includes a mother-daughter photo shoot, video recordings of participants singing songs dedicated to their mothers, cupcakes to share, opportunities to make Mother’s Day cards, and free cosmetic makeovers and information sessions about skincare.

And similarly to localizing a website, translating a Facebook or Twitter campaign into Chinese might fall flat against Chinese viewers, as what Chinese want often differs greatly from Westerners. Unique content is the best way to create buzz.

digital Marketing Chinese market
Sephora Mother’s Day Campaign

4. Use cultural icons to create a buzz and get the trust of Chinese consumers!

To connect with Internet users, the strategy of Givenchy in China is to use a new and nonconformist celebrity. The brand chose Li Yuchun, who became famous when she won “Supergirls”, a singing competition.

The singer stood out as she did not conform to the usual standards of beauty. She dressed very simply and had an aggressive voice. She quickly became a new symbol for Chinese netizens and has reached 3.6 million followers. With an engagement of more than 20,000 with each of her social media posts, she was bound to get noticed by a brand. Collaborating with icons like Li Yuchun provides a lot of visibility in China.

With Chinese netizens’ tendency to comment on and share everything they see online, content can quickly go viral. They trust and seek the judgements of experts, so, Key Opinion Leaders are the way to go if you want your content to be seen by many.

If we go back to Givenchy’s example, the brand works with icons and a few KOL’s to strengthen visibility. These experts communicate a brand’s activity and assets – here, on the collaboration between Li Yuchun and Givenchy – and relays information to a larger audience. In the Fashion industry, it’s important to work on your word of mouth marketing, this should be the centre of your Digital Strategy.

HanHan has been used in many advertisements. He is the KOL for the after the 80’s generation. The rebel blogger is a Chinese professional rally driver, best-selling author, creator of Party, and China’s most popular blogger. He is the unofficial voice of his generation.

Here Hublot uses him as a brand ambassador!

Hublot marketing
Hublot Chinese ambassador Hanhan

5. Engage Consumers Through WeChat

Mobile is ubiquitous in China, with more than four out of every five Internet users connecting via mobile. Today, every Chinese social media site has created a mobile app to give their users instant and real-time access from their devices.

WeChat, known as “Wexin” in China, is the most popular mobile text and voice messaging communication service among Chinese users. Businesses have also been leveraging WeChat for marketing purposes but in a way different from Weibo. Weibo is a powerful tool to connect mass audiences with your business, while WeChat is more about engaging individuals.

Also, WeChat messages are not news feeds that can be buried pretty quickly by the sheer volume. Instead, they go directly to an individual’s cellphone through the app and stay there waiting for the user to read. So, WeChat is believed to be more effective than Weibo in terms of maintaining consumer relationships and building customer loyalty.

Starbucks was one of the first foreign companies that jumped into the world of WeChat. Users are able to scan the QR code at Starbucks and instantly add the company as a ‘contact’. In their most successful  WeChat campaign, Starbucks asked their WeChat followers “How are you feeling today?” and let them answer with a relevant emotion. Then, the company sent each user a “refreshing” song that matched the emotion’s mood. The chain added 270,000 WeChat followers over the four-week campaign.

Starbucks Sent its Followers customized “Refreshing Songs” via WeChat
Starbucks Sent its Followers customized “Refreshing Songs” via WeChat

6. Manage E-Reputation on BBS

Although micro-blogs and social networks are leading to dramatic changes in China’s Internet landscape, BBS forums remain a centre of online activity in China. They’re the go-to platforms for researching purchase decisions and travel options.

Chinese BBS is always a double-sided sword for online marketers because others’ comments and recommendations have a strong influence on individual’s decision-making.  Maintaining a good e-reputation on BBS can help you expand your brand awareness rapidly. Luxury and fashion BBS forums are especially active in China. “Shai Dan”, which means “showing off the luxury goods you bought”, is the most popular activity on such BBS forums.

Some companies, such as Lancôme, have opted to start their own BBS to integrate consumer relationship management. Lancôme launched its own branded e-community, RoseBeauty BBS, in 2006, and it has become the second largest beauty BBS in China with more than 900,000 members. The reasons for this success: a mix of conversation, information, and events.

Travel BBS is also huge in China. With an easy access to online resources, Chinese tourists on longer rely on travel agencies to arrange overseas trips. They plan their trips independently and value the information being searched on travel BBS, especially the attraction reviews, itinerary recommendations, and travel journals written by other tourists.

Lancôme RoseBeauty BBS in China
Lancôme RoseBeauty BBS in China

7. Do not force your culture on Chinese customers

This cannot be stressed enough: copying a strategy that works in your country might be risky. Chinese consumers are sensitive to signs of adaptation from brands. Tradition and culture are paramount to the Chinese and it’s a good move for brands to refer to China’s customs.

Localizing your content is essential, and your marketing strategy could, for example, include wordplay. Since Chinese is a tonal language, you could easily turn your campaign into something humorous.

Check this video of thoughtful China to get a better understanding of Cultural communication in Chinese Social Media.

8. Bet on Western clichés

Even though tradition plays a really important role, Chinese consumers are more and more interested in Western culture, and this shows in their consumption habits. Foreign brands understand this and are integrating it into their marketing strategy.

However, Chinese consumers’ image of your country isn’t always accurate and there can be huge disparities between what they think and how things truly are back home. Consequently, when global brands capitalize on the country they come from, communication strategies in the home country will be different than in China.

Starbucks doesn’t communicate much about Christmas on its English website; it’s different in China, where they use many Christmas-centered slogans. China isn’t known for celebrating Christmas but Starbucks made the marketing move to associate this festivity with American culture, and it seems to work well so far.

9. Use online-to-offline opportunities

E-commerce is a huge market in China, and brands want to capitalize on the potential of the Internet to help consumers with real-life purchases. Not only does online-to-offline (O2O) make customers’ life easier – these are usually delivery services – it also helps the brand to keep in touch with its clients.

However, the development of O2O services may lead to a price war: as consumers will compare all offers and the cheapest one will win.

The French Cellar, a top startup in Asia, bet on the O2O strategy to connect Chinese consumers with their wine subscription and organized events in the main cities in China to let people try their wines and connected their potential consumers with existing customers.

With WeChat, The French Celler engaged the people that showed up for the events on their WeChat account. The attendees were able to discover, step by step, their own wine selection, and The French Celler incentivised the attendees to drink good wine.

“The Chinese people want to learn about wine and appreciate having a speaker teach them what a good wine is. Wine is not part of the Chinese culture, but many consumers are open-minded and want to learn and appreciate good wine,” explained Jin Wang Managing Director of the French Cellar in China.

Event of The French Cellar
An event of The French Cellar

10. Become an inspirational brand

Focusing on people’s aspirations have always been an effective marketing move, if not by the product or service you offer then by your communication. Since digital campaigns can be very creative with different formats, it’s easy to create a whole ecosystem around 1 idea.

That’s what Airbnb set out to do in China with a campaign focused on wanderlust. The company highlights its brand with signature visual content, which is then shared across many social media platforms, including some platforms dedicated to travellers such as Qyer or Douban.


Apart from all the aforementioned advice, businesses that market and promote themselves in China should constantly keep up with rapid changes in technology. Stay with the vanguard is the key because it’s entirely possible that three years from now, dominant social media platforms and digital marketing rules in China will be something we are not even thinking about.

The boom in social media and online search in China lead to not only technological changes but also dramatic social changes, forcing the country to open up. At the same, the rising prominence of China becomes one of the most important developments reshaping the Internet. It’s hard to say whether the Internet is changing China or China is changing the Internet.

Digital marketing is important, and if you want to enter the Chinese market, your team needs to have experience in this market and good knowledge about social media.

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