How to be culturally sensitive when marketing in China

As a Western marketer, it is easy to think that marketing in China simply involves applying the principles of marketing strategy and delivery to a new audience. After all, if the seven P’s have served you well in your home markets, there’s no reason that they wouldn’t map across to your Chinese audience, right?

Unfortunately, that’s just not the case! China isn’t just a vast, complex (and lucrative) market – it’s also very different from the West in terms of its cultural factors. The better you can understand these different cultural differences and nuances, the more effectively – and successfully – you can market your products and service to this fast-growing market.

What to know about Chinese culture

Chinese culture is incredibly nuanced, and it’s a fascinating blend of the ancient and traditional and the incredibly modern. For example, in the West, we may instantly think of dragons, festivals, fireworks and complex history, but the reality is that China is also one of the most cutting-edge nations when it comes to digital marketing, social media, AR, VR and technology in general. This is truly a nation that embraces the new whilst cherishing its history – and this represents fantastic opportunities, and challenges, to Western marketers.

If you are new to digital marketing in China, did you know that colours and numbers have a far higher degree of significance than they do in the West? For example, in China, white is associated with death and funerals and the number eight is considered the luckiest number. There are layers of symbology to consider too. The number three is considered to be neutral or positive in most situations, but not in relationships, where it signifies being apart.

Along with these cultural factors, there are local or geographic differences not to mention generational differences that marketers need to know about. For example, older luxury lovers may still prefer more traditional advertising campaigns in China and turn off from the types of ‘sulky-faced’ models that we see in Western advertising campaigns. But younger Chinese customers may enjoy the cosmopolitan and international feel of these types of aesthetics.

A case study: Why luxury matters

‘Mianze’ or ‘face’ is a central concept in China. It means prestige or social standing and is incredibly ingrained in the culture, encouraging Chinese customers to buy things (including services such as education) that showcase their success. This translates into high demand for luxury goods and other kinds of status symbols, such as overseas travel and children studying in high-profile Western universities.

Because of this love of luxury, Chinese customers also value designer Western brands because they are authentic, are of top quality and have heritage. In a market that has often been flooded with counterfeits, these are brand values that Western marketers can leverage for success.

Case study two: festivals matter

In the West, brands often run special promotions for occasions such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day. But in China, the festival calendar is packed and it includes plenty of festivals that aren’t celebrated or recognised in the West. Successful brands know that they can delight customers and grow their sales by launching exclusive products, personalisation and collections that celebrate Chinese festivals. For example, for Chinese New Year, many brands repackage their products in holiday red. Maybelline launched its ‘Red on Fire’ lipstick series, for example, which included Chinese zodiac signs and characters printed across the packaging and product.

Ways to be more culturally sensitive when marketing in China

There are various ways to become more culturally sensitive when you market in China. One of the most important focus areas is to choose your medium and messaging extremely well. Here are our top tips for success:

1. Do your market research carefully

Before devising and launching a Chinese digital marketing campaign, carry out targeted research on your intended audience to really understand their characteristics, likes, wants, needs and turn-offs. You can then use this to create your user persona.

2. Localise your content

Where you already have content that you plan to map into the Chinese market, spend time carefully localising it so that it is relevant, culturally sensitive and of very high quality. Chinese customers are used to rich, immersive and cutting-edge digital experiences, so they are likely to turn off content that doesn’t meet their needs and expectations.

3. Use the right platforms

Most Western marketers know that social media is huge in China, but it’s also vital to know which channels will work best for your China. For example, younger users love Douyin (TikTok), and most people are on WeChat and Weibo. Little Red Book is particularly popular with affluent, educated younger women who want to know about experiences, travel, fashion, beauty and luxury.

4. Understand changing trends

In the West, women led the #MeToo movement, but in China, the younger generations, in particular, have forged ahead with a drive to achieve financial independence and to break traditional gender norms. For example, SK-II launched its #ChangeDestiny campaign which encouraged unmarried Chinese over the age of thirty to feel in control of their destiny, happy to be single and ready to enjoy successful, financially independent lives.

However, it is very important to avoid taboo topics such as politically sensitive content. Only recently a number of global brands including Zara and Delta Airlines were forced to change their websites after they categorised Taiwan and Hong Kong as being separate from China.

5. Use a Chinese digital marketing agency

When you use a Chinese digital marketing agency, you can fast track towards digital marketing success in China. At Market Me China we have a team of highly experienced, knowledgeable Chinese digital marketing professionals with native language skills. Our team works with your business on a flexible basis to deliver culturally sensitive, impactful marketing campaigns that really work – attracting target Chinese customers, and building long-term profitable relationships with them for ongoing success.

To find out more, please contact us for a no-obligation chat about your needs and your business. We look forward to hearing from you!