At Zudu, we’re passionate about attending exhibitions and trade fairs in China. Not only do they help Western businesses connect with local suppliers and tradespeople, but they also allow you to build brand awareness and drive sales. This year, we were looking forward to returning to the Food Hotel China exhibition and the China International Import Expo, but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced most major events and festivals to be postponed until 2021.
But all is not lost. Though you can’t physically meet potential clients and customers in China right now, you can still promote your products and services and build your business online…
Focus on search engine optimisation
If you can’t take your products along to major trade fairs and exhibitions, at least make sure they are readily available to view online. In a market where so many products are subject to counterfeit, having an official website where you can relay important information about your products - and create dedicated websites for consumers and stockists - helps to authenticate your brand and show potential customers (both B2B and B2C) why they should choose you.
Once you’ve built a Chinese-language website and optimised it to maximise conversions, you should then turn to Baidu and build an SEO strategy. Use the appropriate tools and SEO strategies like link building, content marketing, and digital PR to climb the ranks and you’ll eventually appear ahead of both local and international competitors, increasing your traffic.
On top of optimising your website, make sure it’s hosted in China and complies with local laws. You should also be sure it loads quickly and is optimised for smartphones and tablets.
Work with a distributor
Many Western businesses with limited experience in the Chinese market turn to third-party support to increase their chances of success. Distributors will not only serve as the middle man, but they’ll assist with importing and storing your projects, as well as shipping and sales.
The most obvious benefit to finding a distributor is that you’ll immediately gain access to their network of partners and sell your products in retail stores and ecommerce websites quickly.
But without an exhibition to meet distributors face to face, you might struggle to know who to turn to. We recommend scouring the internet and hosting virtual consultations to assess who has the most experience working with clients in your niche. If you’re selling Scottish whisky, for instance, working with an experienced distributor in the FMCG market makes sense.
Alternatively, you might decide to go it alone. Distributors can open doors but they can also be expensive and command a high percentage of sales to recoup their costs. Weigh up the pros and cons of both and remember you can sign up to an ecommerce site on your own.
Create localised content for customers
Exhibitions give you an opportunity to promote the benefits of your products to an audience, offering them freebies and sample products to take home. Though this can’t be replicated entirely online, creating localised content that targets specific user groups makes sense.
Remember that you’ll need to tap into the psyche of your ideal Chinese consumer; they’ll likely have a different way of thinking to your average Western consumer, so work with a local marketing agency who can not only translate your content but localise it to maximise engagement. And consider multiple audiences to target; a UK skincare brand might have millennial women at the top of their list but should also consider men and older consumers.
Spend time on Chinese social networks
Social networking is perhaps the closest thing to exhibiting your products in China. You can make some noise about your brand, and the odd few consumers will stop and pay attention.
Again, we recommend leaning on a native Chinese marketing team who can create social media content that is specialised and highly-targeted. They can also help you to identify the most appropriate channels for your campaign, whether that’s Douyin, WeChat, or Weibo.
Partnering with Key Opinion Leaders can also increase the scope of your campaign. Though this can be expensive, it puts your brand in front of thousands of potential customers in a few seconds, and you can piggyback off of their established audiences to drive sales and interactivity. Calculate the opportunity cost and prioritise micro-influencers who have built smaller but more engaged and specialist audiences; they’re cheaper and deliver higher ROI.
Create a WeChat brochure and video
Exhibition stands and product demonstrations can be replaced by WeChat brochures and videos, allowing you to list your products in one easy-to-navigate document for consumers and distributors and show off your products with a local Chinese presenter or influencer.
Both consumers and businesses use WeChat to identify new products to invest in, so as long as you’ve created an aesthetically pleasing brochure and your videos are engaging and sticky, you’ll find it easy to convert your followers into customers and brand ambassadors.
And remember: though it may be time-consuming and expensive to film videos and collate all of your product information into one brochure, this content can be repurposed on your website and other social networks including Douyin and Youku to further boost your brand.
Encourage reviews and recommendations
Finally, encourage reviews and recommendations from existing clients to expand into new audiences and market segments in lieu of exhibitions. In China, people trust reviews and recommendations from real users far more than brands and the mainstream media, so the more product reviews and brand mentions you can accrue, the more likely you are to sell.
Ask your customers to leave reviews on Chinese forums like Zhihu and Baidu Zhidao and consider launching a user-generated content competition, allowing customers to share selfies using your products for a chance to win. Social proof is a highly valuable currency and can influence the decisions of thousands of potential customers, so display reviews and UGC prominently on your social channels, ecommerce profiles, and company website.
Though some communities are experimenting with virtual exhibitions and conferences this year, the tips we’ve offered above should serve you well and help you maintain a presence in the country in these truly unprecedented times. Always be on the look-out for new opportunities to drive sales and engagement, and look ahead to 2021 when you can put your business in front of thousands of buyers and distributors when exhibitions return.