5 Chinese digital marketing mistakes for Western brands to avoid

China is a huge market for Western businesses, with millions of engaged, sophisticated and increasingly affluent Chinese customers ready to spend on quality brands. But marketing in this huge, complex and technologically advanced country isn’t always easy.

For example, Chinese culture is heavily nuanced, which affects translation efforts, and its sophisticated netizens use entirely different digital platforms from those found in the West.

With this in mind, let’s look at five of the most common Chinese digital marketing mistakes for Western brands to avoid, and consider some strategies for success:

1. Not researching the market fully

If you see China as one market, don’t understand the differences between a Tier 1 and Tier 2 city, or don’t have detailed customer personas for your highly segmented, targeted customer groups… now’s the time to invest in this level of detailed research.

China isn’t simply geographically vast, it’s a hugely complex, fragmented country with huge variations in the way people earn, live, shop, engage with marketing and consume branded content.

China is also a country in a high degree of flux and evolution, and its citizens are increasingly affluent, sophisticated and discerning about the way that they choose, shop and remain loyal to certain brands. With this in mind, targeted, primary research is a key starting point for success.

2. Failing to understand Chinese channels

You may already know that Google, Facebook and Instagram aren’t available in China. But do you know which of the hundreds of Chinese social media platforms will best suit your business needs? Do you understand how Chinese KOLs differ from Western influencers?

Do you understand the different payment platforms available, and the fact that pretty much ‘anything is possible’ when getting to grips with a platform such as WeChat? Again, time spent seeking to understand these channels is time well spent.

Once you have understood the possibilities, it’s sensible to start small and then build up your presence as you get to grips with viral campaigns, micro-influencers, gamification, live streaming and all the other tools at your disposal! Chinese digital marketing can be hugely exciting, and you’ll find a huge array of opportunities for your creative brand campaigns as you learn what’s possible!

3. Resorting to stereotypes

Chinese culture is recognisable around the world for symbols such as dragons and pandas, bright red and gold colours, and a calendar packed with exciting festivals, but it’s important to avoid stereotyping with your marketing campaigns.

Yes, Chinese customers appreciate subtle nods to their heritage and rich culture, but clumsy, stereotypical overuse of these images tends to be offputting. Chinese customers appreciate the heritage and quality of good Western brands. They expect to see marketing that is creative, personalised, insightful and respectful.

This is a fantastic opportunity for Western brands who are truly ready to understand their Chinese target demographic and work hard to delight them! One good example of this is the way that luxury brands often release special versions of their high-end products for key Chinese festivals.

For example, The Cambridge Satchel Company releases special edition Lunar New Year satchels in deep red and green, with themed gold motifs. Maybelline also won a legion of fans when it launched its ‘Fire in Red’ lipstick range for Chinese New Year, and accompanied it with a custom mahjong set! These are great examples of how traditional cultural elements can be tastefully and respectfully used to win Chinese customers!

4. Not localising your content

It’s important to have a Chinese language website that is carefully localised and optimised for your Chinese audience, with local hosting, Chinese payment platforms and integrated social media and eCommerce platforms.

Most brands today will also invest in targeted Chinese language marketing, rather than trying to translate existing content. By creating fresh, unique and Chinese-market content that is completely localised to your end Chinese customer, you can produce a far more impactful and successful marketing strategy.

Remember that localisation efforts go far beyond using a translation feature! Content must be culturally localised to avoid missing the mark (at best) or giving offence (at worst!) Chinese culture is so contextual that it is important to be very considerate and sensitive when creating and building a brand in this market.

After all, even some of the biggest brands in the world have made errors that took years to overcome (such as Pepsi Cola accidentally inviting its Chinese customers to ‘bring their relatives back from the dead’ with their drink!)

5. Not getting expert help!

Yes, the Chinese market can be challenging, but its value to Western brands cannot be underestimated. Chinese customers really value high-quality Western brands, and they are increasingly seeking out Western brands that they feel resonate with their values and aspirations, and which take the time to market to them carefully, sensitively and in a way that is tailored, meaningful and engaging.

But because the Chinese digital marketing landscape is so challenging – and hosted entirely in Chinese – it is important to access the right level of help from a professional native-language Chinese digital marketing agency or resource.

This kind of investment pays off because a good Chinese digital marketing agency can help you leverage your budget by investing in the right things at the right times and focusing your efforts on the activities and channels that will bring you the biggest returns. What’s more, they can evidence their results by using tailored analytics that allows you to further adjust your Chinese digital marketing campaigns and to see the results of your time and budget investment.

Find out more

If you’re serious about building a successful brand in China, contact Market Me China today for expert guidance. Our team of digital marketing professionals have the native language skills and expertise to deliver highly impactful and successful digital marketing campaigns targeted to the China market.

From tailored and bespoke research and the creation of Chinese customer personas to website localisation, ePR, Baidu PPC, and integrated social media campaigns, our team of friendly experts evidences its results at every turn. We also work flexibly around the needs of our clients. Please contact us for a no-obligation chat about your needs and we will be delighted to assist.