A recent report in the Harvard Business Review provides essential reading for global marketers who have China in their sights. Author, Kimberly A Whitler, an academic studying corporate marketing, explains how Western marketing principles are not universal when it comes to brand marketing in China.
Here I share the key takeaways from Whitler’s report and how these may impact the way your brand localises its global marketing campaigns.
Why you need a different marketing approach in China
Generally, multinational brands develop global marketing campaigns localised for each market. They translate the content, the tone of voice, key messages and aligned Call-to-Actions.
The images and graphics are localised to ensure they resonate with the target audiences. This kind of approach works effectively in many global markets, but not, accordingly to Whitler, in China.
That’s because there are fundamental differences in the way consumers access brand content and the way the Chinese economy has developed. These include:
BAT – the media powerhouses
In China, there are huge media companies that control digital content across multiple channels. The largest of these – Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent – are collectively known as BAT. They control everything from news channels, social media, gaming platforms, online retailers, to streaming services and financial services platforms.
These media giants have access to a vast amount of integrated data on individuals. Marketers in China can target consumers on multiple channels much more effectively than we can in the West, reaching individuals based on their different interests and creating highly targeted content for them.
Because of the way digital and online media penetrated China (it didn’t evolve gradually like in the West, but went through a rapid evolution), mobile-dominated from the start. In China, almost all online activities take place on a mobile device (98% of China’s 800 million Internet users are on mobile), which has led to a focus on content-based experiences rather than promotional marketing. Danielle Jin, chief marketing officer for Visa Greater China, says:
“The Chinese approach starts with thinking about content, information, and knowledge that could be engaging and shared, it isn’t about advertising and price promotions.”
Chinese marketers are highly agile and responsive compared to their Western counterparts. That’s a reflection on the fast-growing economy, where decision-making and results have to be delivered quickly to keep investors on board. Marketers in China are quick to roll out campaigns, even if they’re not perfect, with a focus on driving awareness and engagement.
What Western brands need to do to market in China
Whitler advocates the following six ways to market in China successfully, and suggests that these can also help global brands compete in other markets:
- Develop relationships with the BATs – engage with them directly to create more effective marketing campaigns drawing on their knowledge, expertise and, most importantly, their integrated data.
- Put mobile at the centre of all campaigns – develop content for mobile, don’t retrofit content created for other platforms.
- Focus on virality – aim for socially engaging content that raises brand awareness, educates and gets shared. Chinese marketers believe that viral content delivers much faster, cheaper and better results than advertising.
- Content, not promotions – Chinese consumers engage with content that influences their behaviour long term, rather than promotional price-based marketing that needs constant reinvention to maintain ROI.
- Create a single brand experience – because the BATs control multiple channels, Chinese consumers are used to a holistic experience, where all brand content tells the same story.
- Become more agile – try to avoid lengthy planning processes and instead develop methods that allow you to be more responsive and roll out campaigns quickly. In the report, Whitler features how a Chinese brand – Xi Jiu – partnered with Tencent News to develop, create and live stream a series of 1 hour long native-advertising shows in just five days!
I would highly recommend reading this report in full. It highlights the importance of understanding your overseas markets and localising not only your campaigns but also your marketing approach for each different market.
You may also like to download our free guide that shares our advice for developing successful global marketing campaigns, with a focus on localising content for different markets and streamlining the process so you can launch campaigns quickly and cost-effectively. Please download your copy by clicking on the link below.