Recently, I wrote a piece on what brands should take note of before entering the Chinese market.

However, brand marketers and advertising professionals have to do some preparation of their own before coming to China. Here are some tips for your consideration.

1) Come into China prepared with training, research and expertise

For the past six and a half years in China, I have prepared for every meeting with C-class executives as if my life depended on it. What are they impressed with?

  • In-depth knowledge of the behaviour of their end users and consumers as well as city-region level variation of their media and purchasing habits,
  • An understanding of their companies’ needs,
  • Firm grasp of the brand and products,
  • Awareness of their competitors' movements online i.e. search and social.

For a professional new to China, your company and your clients will not give you time for on-the-job learning. Go for training, workshops and orientation before you start work in China.

2) Leave your non-China expertise behind

Industry peers in China have told me that they find it refreshing to talk to professionals who use their own research and applied work to support their ideas and strategies.

They have no reason to believe anybody who cannot put their own professional beliefs into action in Asia, for Asians.

When in China, focus on doing work for Chinese consumers and end users, especially since Facebook, Google, Instagram, Skype, Whatsapp, YouTube, Pinterest, Google Play are blocked in China.

3) Your ideas are only as great as your China market insights

China is one of the most data-orientated markets. This trend heavily influences local brand managers’ tolerance for risk when it comes to experimenting with global or well-known brands under their care, which are already success stories in overseas markets.

To sell disruptive breakthrough ideas, it is important to lead with a highly relevant user, product or market insight, supported by a digital strategy backed by the type of creative executions you have in mind. Such insights provide cover for the brand manager, as well as an easy lead-in for him and her to pitch the idea to the brand’s decision maker.

For such insights, try social media listening when you can and follow highly informative China-based reports from sites such as China Internet Watch, iResearch China and Digital Ing

4) Remember that idea and media need to work as one in China’s digital and social media scene

Having a keen finger on the most current media behaviour is critical to selling your ideas for a digital and social media campaign. In China, media agencies tend to have the ear of their clients when it comes to digital and social media ideas. A deep knowledge of user behaviour on various social, app and ecommerce platforms is critical to selling your idea.

Simply put, media agnostic thinking does not work in China. In China, every idea requires positioning it within the right media environment or social context/occasion to best position the idea to the client as a workable one.

Some research insights for the China market:

  • The Chinese start everything with search before consulting colleagues, friends and family. 内事百度知,外事谷歌晓。(Translation: For local, domestic or home affairs, ask Baidu. For international matters, check Google, which requires a VPN in China)
  • Business decision makers are increasingly using the internet to do research on the market and competitors.
  • Social media impacts decision making in China as the opinions of your peers and colleagues matters when it comes to brand preference and purchase considerations.

5) To secure large budgets for digital and social media campaigns, avoid proposing siloed campaigns

Don’t go in with a social gaming idea, a WeChat account launch campaign or even a pure online video campaign that is a one-off siloed initiative. Think of ideas that can be presented as an integrated brand idea or promotion that can cut across media, technology, brand strategy and communications.

Note that every brand is contemplating spending on social, ecommerce and digital media in China. The question is – 'how much?'

For example, as a brand marketer or an agency executive, you may get around 500-800,000 RMB for a 12-month retainer if you pitch a WeChat account launch and management initiative to a company.

But if you can show how to link your social media efforts with the company’s ecommerce efforts, branding building initiatives, corporate social responsibility campaigns plus SEO, you have a better chance of going after a far larger budget. Do you have the expertise to make your strategy scalable?

6) Push the ROI question to linking social media buzz to an increase in search volumes for the brand, product or campaign

In China and many parts of the world, digital media has split into four areas: traditional/paid, PR/editorial, owned and social media. With media fragmentation and advertising clutter, people need to hear something multiple times from different media sources in order to believe it, giving precedence to peer-reviewed social media such as WeChat and Taobao. 

When it comes to customer intent to research or purchase, nothing beats increasing organic search volumes to show an increase in intent. Drive search volumes with the help of social referrals of your brand’s content and product, and increase in sales will often follow. This is my experience with digital and social campaigns in China and Southeast Asia.

If you are keen to know more about launching your brand in China via digital marketing and ecommerce, please check out these upcoming courses with Econsultancy: 

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Published 6 December, 2017 by Kestrel Lee

Kestrel Lee is Principal Analyst, Greater China at Econsultancy

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