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Sinorbis

Digital China Strategy

Developing a targeted digital strategy is important for any market around the globe, but especially in China. Local Internet regulation means international web giants such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are completely blocked. And this has wider implications for the performance of your digital presence which require you to completely rethink your digital China strategy.

Your English (or international website) will use things such as Google Analytics tracking, Facebook pixel for remarketing, embedded YouTube videos and more. All of these elements mean that your website is most likely not going to be accessible behind China’s Great Firewall. Or if it’s not completely blocked, it will at least significantly impact your website loading speed. 

What’s more, with all usual digital marketing channels blocked, China has developed a parallel digital ecosystem that is completely different from what we know in the West. Instead of Google there’s Baidu. Instead of Youtube there’s Youku. And WeChat is a social media platform unlike any other. 

Social Media Ecosystem comparison图片

Given these major differences in digital channels, it’s probably no surprise that Chinese people also display completely different online behaviours and preferences compared. The consequence of all of these factors is that you need to take a different approach for your digital China strategy. And in many cases, this means starting from scratch. 

In this article, we will cover the six most important channels you should consider as part of your Chinese digital strategy. We will also include the five of the most common mistakes businesses run into when entering the Chinese market. 

1. Chinese website

As a business targeting a Chinese audience, the first step you should take is creating a Chinese website. Your Chinese website is a central hub for all digital marketing activities and needs to present your company in the best way possible. And as mentioned above your English website is unlikely to be visible. 

Furthermore, when targeting a Chinese audience, you should develop a user interface that suits their needs. We have written extensively about the difference between Chinese and Western website design, so if you’d like to dive deeper into that topic, this post is a good starting point. 

Another major consideration for your Chinese website is your hosting set up. The Sinorbis Experience Platform makes sure that your site is visible behind the Great Firewall - without the need for an ICP filing. What’s more, all of our website and landing page templates have been designed with an Chinese audience in mind. 

2. Search engine optimisation

China’s SEO market has shown remarkable growth over a short period of time. Since Google is blocked by the Great Firewall in China, your business will need to develop a new SEO strategy. In China, the main search engines are Baidu, Sogou, Shenma and 360 Haosou. Both the technical set up of your website and content you publish directly affects your ranking, so make sure you fully understand how to optimise your website accordingly. Websites managed and hosted on the Sinorbis Experience Platform are by default optimised for the Chinese digital ecosystem, making this step a lot easier. 

Baidu

Baidu is the leading search engine in China. Headquartered in Beijing’s Haidian District, Baidu is one of the largest artificial intelligence and internet companies in the world. As of January 2024, Baidu dominates the search engine market in China, driving 61.11% of web traffic across all device types and a whopping 75.93% on mobile.

360 Search

360 Search (previously Haosou), owned by Qihoo 360 was launched in 2012. Almost immediately, it became one of the most popular search engines in China. Currently, 360 Search has 6.86% of the total search engine market share in China. 360 Search offers a variety of services including antivirus software, web browser, mobile application store, search engine and directory which lead to its rapid increase in popularity. 

Sogou

Sogou currently holds 5.58% of market share across all device types just after Baidu. Because Sogou is owned by Tencent, it’s the only search engine that indexes WeChat content, so it’s a critical one to consider if you’re planning to open up a WeChat official account. 

Shenma

As one of China’s highly regarded search engines, Shenma is a Chinese mobile search engine. Shenma holds 4.3% of the total mobile search engine market share in China. Many brands love using Shenma for marketing purposes due to its mobile capabilities. It provides users with a very smooth search and viewing experience when looking into online products such as mobile apps downloads, specifically games.   

3. China SEO strategy

Today, having an SEO strategy is common practice in any market. And if you’re serious about succeeding in China, you need to develop a separate China SEO strategy that takes these key differences into account and takes advantage of the different features the different search engines provide. 

It’s of course impossible to talk about digital China strategy without talking about social media. Just like search engines, internet regulation means that popular platforms in the West are not accessible within the constraints of the Chinese digital ecosystem. While there’s no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, Chinese netizens have access to a whole range of social media platforms that offer very similar features, and in some case are even more powerful; Here’s an overview of the most commonly used social media channels in China.  

WeChat

WeChat is the most popular social platform for users in China. First launched as a simple messaging app similar to WhatsApp, WeChat is now the leading and most innovative Chinese social media network available. Companies on WeChat can create WeChat official accounts, similar to Facebook company pages to build awareness. Through content sharing and active engagement, you can convert followers into loyal customers. Check out this article for everything you need to know about WeChat marketing

Tencent QQ

Created by Chinese tech giant Tencent (also the company behind WeChat), QQ is an instant messaging platform that connects people through messaging, image sharing and online games. Although the popularity of QQ has decreased, it still reaches over 500 million monthly active users and can be a powerful digital marketing tool. 

Weibo

Used as a microblogging website, Weibo can be best described as the Chinese counterpart of Twitter. Users on Weibo post, share, and interact within the online community to receive the latest news and trends. For businesses looking to integrate Weibo into their digital strategy, they can start by creating a business account, creating content users can interact with, and uploading information about popular products. 

Video marketing

Never underestimate the importance of video marketing in China. Tactics such as live streaming, short video apps and long form video content help to engage with audiences on a personal level. Video marketing for businesses has become an important tool that should be considered as part of a China digital marketing strategy. There are several platforms available for hosting and streaming videos in China, but the below are by far the ones that are most widely used: 

Douyin

Owned by ByteDance, Douyin allows app users to produce and browse through short videos. The appeal of Douyin comes from the viral user generated content and a never-ending feed that keeps showing users more content based on their watch history. Douyin allows businesses to link directly to products on shopping sites, paving a convenient way for users to purchase what they see in the video instantly. We have covered Douyin marketing in some more detail in this post

Youku

Often referred to the Chinese equivalent of YouTube, the main purpose of Youku is to share and stream video content. When comparing the two platforms, Youku ranks higher in catering towards a brand’s needs. For example, it’s possible to set up an online store under your brand’s official channel, allowing viewers to purchase products instantaneously. This will give users a unique viewing experience while boosting online sales. Youku does not allow viewers to skip ads before the video or when videos are paused allowing your brand to gain the exposure it needs. 

5. China e-commerce

China has become one of the world’s largest e-commerce markets. As a major driver of the country's retail economy, e-commerce in China currently holds 27.6% of market share. China also has some of the world’s leading e-commerce platforms available that we will discuss below. 

Tmall

As the largest B2C (business to consumer) channel in China, Tmall holds a total market share of 50% in the Chinese e-commerce market. The platform allows users to purchase international and local brands with quality reassurance. Tmall is owned by the Alibaba group with 1.3 billion users searching, purchasing, and reviewing products on the platform. An advantage of brands setting up an online shop on Tmall as part of their digital China strategy is that users will have full trust in the authenticity of your brand. Tmall has made a promise to sell “authentic brands with a guarantee” labels on its portal page. This label costs each shop 10,000 yuan deposit every year for the certification mark.

JD

JD, known as Jingdong is China’s second biggest ecommerce company in China. The platform prides itself in selling high quality and authentic goods to consumers. This is a significant advantage given the large amount of counterfeit goods sold in China. JD currently has 569.7 million annual active customer accounts and operates over 10,000 retail stores across China. 

6. Knowledge

When looking for information, the first search result is often Wikipedia or Quora. Within the Chinese digital ecosystem, similar user-focused knowledge sharing platforms exist and can act as a touch point for people looking to find more about your product.  

Zhihu

Zhihu is a Chinese questions and answer website where questions can be created, answered and edited by the community. Chinese internet users today increasingly use Zhihu for knowledge and insights about a wide range of topics. Businesses can take advantage of Zhihu by sharing accurate information online about their business. Businesses can implement answering and interacting with online users as a part of their digital China strategy. This way brands can provide accurate insight about their products to prospective customers. 

7. Online payments

As an almost cashless society, enabling digital payment should be a key consideration for your China digital marketing strategy. It makes it easy for your customers to make payments without having to reach for their credit card or finding the right amount of cash. Digital payments are so popular in China that they can be found absolutely everywhere from street markets, to high end retailers. A digital payment solution can improve your conversion rate by removing friction from the payment process. The most widely known payment options are WeChat Pay and Alipay. 

Alipay

Owned by Alibaba, Alipay is one of the two leading online payment platforms available in China. Alipay represents significant opportunities for businesses in offering products and services to Chinese consumers and cross border e-commerce development. 

WeChat Pay

Because of the diversity in functions on WeChat, Chinese users tend to stick with WeChat as their app of choice whether on vacation or at home. WeChat allows users to book tables, order taxis, or transfer money in China or abroad. 

Common mistakes businesses run into when entering the Chinese market

With one of the largest economies in the world and around 1.4 billion potential customers in China, China poses as a great opportunity for foreign businesses to tap into. Your business is definitely not the first or the last to want to enter the Chinese economy. Many global brands such as Nike and Uber have tried but failed to deliver when entering the market. It's no easy feat to be successful. How can your business avoid similar mistakes? Here are five of the most common China market entry mistakes that brands must avoid.   

1. Not doing your homework

China is a unique country and with different views than westerners. Services and products that are successful in the western market may not always be well received by Chinese people. Although there is a growing demand for foreign goods in China, the way you adapt and market your product digitally in China can be the tipping point of success. Before rushing into entering the Chinese market, make sure you take the time to research and understand what your Chinese target audience needs. Ask yourself, what digital marketing strategies capture the audience’s attention in China? What campaigns have been well received and why? 

Even better, travel to China personally to get a feel for the culture firsthand. Many foreign brands are eager to share their products to the Chinese population, but only businesses that combine their digital China strategies with local tastes and preferences will succeed in the Chinese market.

2. Going in with unrealistic expectations

Another common mistake is entering the Chinese market with unrealistic expectations. Whether that be underestimating your local competitors in the market or expecting a return on investment too fast. It’s a market of over 1 billion people. Getting cut through here will take time and some upfront investment. This is another reason why it's vital to do your homework. Have full appreciation of the challenges, such as a completely different digital ecosystem. 

3. Not having a clear targeting approach

As mentioned above, China is a huge market and it’s unlikely that your product or service is going to be relevant to every single Chinese person. If you don’t get clear on who your target audience is, you will struggle to develop a successful digital China strategy. Your digital marketing approach should not follow a one size fits all approach. Instead, focus on the different city tiers available in China. Because of the large population in China, a successful digital strategy even in a tier 4 city can reach a sizable number of people.

Tier 1 cities such as Shanghai and Beijing have much higher per capita income than other cities. Therefore, make sure you do not treat China as one unified market. Design your digital marketing strategy and product positioning based on the regional differences between the cities - and of course your target demographic within that. 

4. Betting on just one horse

When marketing to Chinese consumers, it might seem sensible to focus on one platform before moving to the next. But their expectations for digital marketing campaigns are completely different. With all the platforms available trying to figure out the best option does get a bit complicated but it’s worth the effort. In reality, consumers need this type of exposure to develop a positive image towards your brand. Trust and reputation is highly regarded by Chinese consumers and arguably more so than by Western consumers. The average Chinese consumer needs 10-12 online and offline touchpoints before making a purchase decision. These touchpoints may include social media, search engines, your website, and physical stores. 

With that being said, it is vital that you set up your website and WeChat account properly to help customers find the answers they are searching for to build brand awareness. Brands should also consider other stages of the consumer journey such as engagement, conversion, and purchase to develop a successful and integrated digital China strategy ensuring long term success. 

5. Not taking advantage of the local Chinese community

No matter big or small, most cities and countries have local Chinese communities. Businesses can make the most of the local population in the research and testing phase of their digital China strategy. For instance, you could work with your local Chinese community to conduct market research, product testing, or hiring local Chinese staff to help launch your first digital initiatives in China. This will give your company a better idea of what is involved when entering the Chinese marketing in a cheaper and safer environment. 

Final words

Entering the Chinese market is no easy feat. It can be highly complex, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Keep in mind the digital marketing strategy you develop for China must be unique to the Chinese audience to get the most out of your investments. Using the above guide on how to develop a digital China strategy and avoiding these five common market entry mistakes will help you make the most of the opportunities made available to you. From creating a WeChat official account to hosting your Chinese website, Sinorbis can help you navigate the Chinese digital ecosystem.