5 Challenges Western Businesses Face When Marketing In China

Although the coronavirus pandemic has put a temporary halt to business expansions, it is hard to deny that taking your products and services to new markets is the key to diversifying your organisation and weathering any future storms. Indeed, markets such as China are becoming increasingly popular for Western firms, offering access to a market of more than 1.4 billion consumers who are digitally-savvy and have a strong appetite for British products.

However, “cracking” China does not come without its challenges. Below, we’ve put together five of the biggest, and offer advice on how to overcome them when you’re ready to expand.

Localisation

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges UK businesses face when launching in China is being able to localise their products. Unfortunately, it’s not just a case of popping your website and logo into Google Translate and crossing your fingers. Your entire brand, marketing strategy and product mix must be adapted to suit a Chinese audience. That’s an audience that has vastly different tastes, attitudes and spending behaviours to British and Western consumers.

Before you dip your toe into the country, conduct thorough research to determine the level of demand for your products, and then create a Chinese-focused brand that really speaks to your target audience. You cannot afford to be proud; leave your ego on the plane and accept that your entire business model may need to change in China in order to maximise sales.

Language

The most obvious barrier to entry for Western companies is language.

It is very easy to feel overwhelmed when opening an app like Babbel in an attempt to pick up some Mandarin, and though it’s a plus to have a basic grasp of the lingo, the truth is that you don’t need to be au fait in order to succeed. Again, it’s about choosing the right partner and having faith in their ability to reposition your branding and products for a Chinese audience.

Translation is incredibly important here, too. Your partner must be able to understand the nuance and tone of your content, whether it’s a WeChat post or a news article for a website. Find a local marketing expert or copywriter who understands not only the nature and aspirations of your business but local culture and the public mood.

Rather than translating English content and marketing materials in the hope they’ll work for Chinese consumers, you should start from scratch and use competitors as reference points.

Complex market

Another challenge many Western entrepreneurs face in China is market complexity. From the country’s popular shopping holidays through to local dialects, cultural values, and city tiers (with consumers in some tiers spending more and buying different things to others) you cannot expect to waltz into the country overnight and start selling your wares to the masses.

In this instance, we recommend spending time “on the ground” developing your business skills and understanding the key cultural values in the country. The truth is that a country as large and diverse as China cannot be mastered overnight, or perhaps even in a few years, so relying on local marketing specialists to bridge the gap will be the key to your success.

You should enlist the help of time-served local professionals who can help to build a picture of your ideal customer and then target that user group with specialist marketing and PR.

Chinese firewalls

If you want to promote your products and services in China, you’re going to need someone on the ground in the country. The Chinese government has strict censorship policies which mean that popular Western websites like Facebook and Google are blocked in the Mainland.

In order to develop your brand successfully in the country, you’ll need a Chinese domain name, Chinese web hosting, and content that adheres to local guidelines. You’ll also need to register your business in China or work with a third-party who can do so on your behalf.

At Zudu China, our Chinese marketing specialists are on hand both in the UK and in China to assist in your growth and development. You can continue to run your business in the UK and relay requests and information to your on-the-ground Chinese marketing team, who can then translate, adapt and distribute in the country to your new-found Chinese customer base.

Social media platforms

Forget Instagram and Snapchat; China is home to dozens of alternative social platforms that attract hundreds of millions (and in some cases billions) of users. Xiaohongshu, WeChat and Weibo are three of the most popular - think of them as the Chinese alternative to Pinterest, Facebook and WhatsApp, and Twitter respectively. The fourth, Douyin (also called TikTok) is fast becoming one of the most popular social networks in the world, including in China.

Whether you’re getting hands-on with marketing or leaving it to the experts, it’s important that you get to grips with each of the platforms and identify where your potential customers will spend most of their time. Some allow you to live stream product showcases, and others let consumers buy directly from you within the app, bypassing third-party ecommerce sites.

In general, we recommend a presence on Weibo and WeChat as a bare minimum, but some social networks attract niche communities. Momo is the Chinese Tinder and an ideal choice for beauty and wellness businesses to invest in paid advertising, whilst Zhihu is the Chinese version of Quora, and great for sharing your knowledge and building your brand awareness.

Though the obstacles we’ve mentioned above are only the tip of the iceberg - counterfeiting, for example, is a huge challenge in China - it’s important to note that there are professionals out there who can do the hard work for you. If you’re considering making a splash in China in the coming months, reach out to Zudu China today on 01382 690080 for a free consultation.


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