How Western eCommerce brands can compete with big brands in China

The Chinese market is hugely attractive to Western eCommerce brands, thanks to its size, growth, and increasing affluence. This nation of sophisticated netizens is increasingly-middle class and keen to enjoy the best of Western brands. The advanced nature of Chinese digital technologies also means that it is now easier than ever to bring Western brands to Chinese customers – with the right strategies in place.

Chinese customers know what they want. They love rich and entertaining digital experiences, quality Western brands and luxury goods. This makes the market particularly appealing to western brands that offer ‘heritage’ and high-end products, such as watches, bags, couture and designer fashion and jewellery.

But when your eCommerce brand is new to marketing in China, and potentially has a limited budget to make an impact, how can you compete with the big brands in China?

The answer lies in a threefold approach:

1. Starting small
2. Testing at every stage
3. Evaluating the results and adjusting performance on a continuous, systematic basis.

Additionally, the old adage about ‘failing to prepare, preparing to fail’ holds true here. Even the smallest, newest Western eCommerce brands can enjoy success if they put in the research, think strategically, plan well and use the right tools and expertise to deliver highly targeted campaigns of the highest quality. An investment in preparatory customer and market research will never be a misplaced one!

Additionally, every brand will have a different offer, slightly varied operating model and route to market, and different objectives. With this in mind, every marketing plan will vary and be tailored to suit these unique factors. However, at Market Me China, we would tailor-make a strategy depending on your brand, objectives and budget. In general, the following activities are recommended for success:

1. Build a Chinese microsite

Your Chinese microsite is essential to success and will form the digital hub that underpins your entire Chinese online marketing campaign. With this in mind, the site should be built to appeal to your customers’ user journeys (which tend to be different from the typical user journeys undertaken by Western customers.) Begin with your user persona, to really understand who your ‘ideal’ Chinese customer is. Using this, create targeted content in Chinese, and consider your imagery carefully so that it is relevant, aspirational and appealing to your audience. Make sure you have integrated payment platforms that are familiar in China, such as AliPay, WeChatPay and UnionPay. It’s also important to test your site beforehand with user testing, in order to iron out any issues before you go live. Naturally for such a hyper-connected audience, your microsite will also need to be mobile-friendly and responsive, and it will need to load quickly in order to rank favourably on Baidu, China’s leading search engine.

2. Use online PR for ‘noise’

If your brand is new in China, the right online PR campaign will help to create a buzz and raise awareness and interest in what you have to offer. Remember that Chinese people are generally suspicious of official media outlets, so the right trade, consumer and independent news platforms are viewed as providing useful recommendations and value to this audience, who like to carry out their research before they buy. With the right online PR campaign, you will build trust in your brand, see its recognition and reputation grow within the right market segment, build its value, and leverage the power of Word of Mouth marketing.

3. Set up the right social media accounts

Social media in China is hugely popular, with a large number of platforms that include WeChat, Weibo, DouYin, YouKu, Little Red Book and many others, including niche and subject or audience-specific social media sites. You’ll need to set up a brand presence on the right social media channels to reach your target audience and consider how you might use Key Opinion Leaders, or KOLs, for sponsorship or partnership arrangements. There are KOLs for every brand, every product and every budget, and a Chinese marketing agency can help you to broker the deal. Social ads are another important area to get right, particularly the use of WeChat ads, which can be carefully optimised to reach your target audience – without breaking the bank! Additional features are also available to brands for their marketing, depending on the social media platform. This can include anything from short videos and tip-sharing through to private messaging and group hosting, and direct e-commerce functionalities. As ever, the help of a Chinese digital marketing agency can be invaluable here, as ad campaigns on platforms such as WeChat and Baidu (see below) are created and managed in Chinese.

4. Run Baidu PPC campaigns

Baidu is the Chinese equivalent of Google, and just as crucial to your online marketing success. A good Baidu PPC campaign will allow you to rapidly build an online presence by showcasing adverts alongside relevant searches. In China, online advertising is seen in a positive light; as something of value, which denotes a reputable brand. A good Baidu PPC campaign will use your budget effectively to drive qualified traffic to your website – resulting in everything from leads to sales, depending on your objectives. However, the key to success lies in setting the right, targeted parameters in the system, which is of course in Chinese – and then constantly measuring the results of your campaign to implement ongoing micro-adjustments for maximum ROI.

Find out more

Market Me China works with Western e-Commerce brands. Our digital marketing experts blend marketing expertise with native Chinese language abilities to offer measurable value to our clients. Our team can work with you at every stage of your journey towards Chinese marketing success – from market research and campaign planning, through to post-campaign evaluation and analytics. We offer flexible, bespoke services according to every need, supporting your in-house resource where it exists – and delivering an entire marketing service for you where it doesn’t! During this current period of Covid-19, we are also working virtually with our clients to deliver the same high-quality marketing services, whilst maintaining safe business operations. To find out more, please contact us on a no-obligation basis to discuss your needs.