Marketing in China: How Chinese audiences differ from Western audiences

Any good marketer will know that a successful campaign relies on truly understanding the customer. And when it comes to marketing in China, this need for localised knowledge and insight becomes all the more pressing. Chinese audiences differ from Western audiences in various ways. The more you can understand and anticipate these differences, the better you can target and pitch your campaign to meet their needs.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the features that tend to be present amongst Chinese audiences, for successful marketing in China. Of course, when we talk about an audience, we mean a tightly segmented group of customers with a set of common features, who are likely to want to buy our product or service. There will be a huge variation in the preferences, needs, desires and wants of any audience as a whole. But interesting trends do present themselves, which flag up just how different two customer groups can be. For example:

Online advertising

Western audiences tend to find online advertising irritating and intrusive. Chinese audiences do not have the same negative response and often welcome well-targeted online advertising as a means of learning about new brands.

Social media

Western audiences use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Chinese audiences have a far greater array of popular and in-country social media channels at their disposal, including WeChat, Sina Weibo, Tencent QQ and Douyin AKA TikTok (which is now gaining a global following.) Chinese customers also use industry and topic-specific social media platforms, such as Mafengwo for travel and Keep for health and fitness. In terms of segmentation, there are also platforms such as Kuaishou, which is a short-video platform but targeted to users who live outside of Tier 1 cities. Remember though when we talk about a more ‘niche’ platform, the scale of China needs to be considered. Kuaishou, mentioned above, already has over 160 million active daily users in China!


Western content isn’t subject to government censorship, but Chinese online content is. This means that rules must be followed to avoid campaign content falling foul of state monitoring and being removed. A Chinese marketing agency can help with this aspect, to ensure that Western marketing in China to Chinese audiences is in line with these strict rules.

Digital adoption

Western and Chinese audiences are both sophisticated netizens who live on their smartphones, but in China, the figures are mind-boggling. Around 74% of the Chinese population use a smartphone, which equates to around a billion people – and the figure is growing. A new generation of digital natives in both countries is redefining what it means to live life online – from buying products and services through to engaging with like-minded people, sharing experiences and enjoying entertainment.


Chinese audiences love entertaining, meaningful, quirky, creative and above all – shareable – content. They are often more likely to engage in digital competitions with brands and to share gifs, stickers, filters and other digital assets with their friends. Western brands need to be highly creative and original in their quest to engage online Chinese customers and to stand out from other brands.


Chinese customers are also far more inclined to shop online than Western customers, and they are less bothered by traditional bricks and mortar stores, although they do like to visit high-end Western retail brand premises. Chinese customers will buy online using smartphones, tablets and laptops, so Western marketers need to ensure that their campaigns are optimised at all times for different accessibility modes.


Chinese customers also love shopping online – after all, this is a nation that has entire national holidays devoted to shopping, such as Singles Day on 11th November which is a 24-hour shopping bonanza that exceeds even Black Friday. Price isn’t always the key factor in a purchase decision for Chinese buyers either. In fact, their purchase decisions tend to be more nuanced compared to the West, where ‘bargains’ are heavily sought after.

Product research

As well as really enjoying their shopping experiences (compared to Western counterparts who may view it as a chore), Chinese customers are very active in seeking out brand information such as product reviews and forum conversations. They like to be informed customers and to display their tastes and credentials through the brands that they buy. Chinese customers can seem to be demanding because they need a lot of information about brands and their product or service offer. This is because Chinese audiences have often had negative experiences with counterfeit goods – so authenticity and quality are key to them. This is one of the reasons why Western luxury brands are always so much in demand.

Chinese audiences will go the extra mile to inform themselves about a brand before they buy from it. They will get advice from friends on social media, engage with the brand online to learn about it, watch explainer videos, read reviews and discuss brands in forums, for example. Chinese audiences are also far more likely to seek advice and guidance from online influencers (KOLs).


Chinese and Western audiences are both heavily influenced by the complex interplay of culture – from national through to the social groups that they choose to be part of. And the national cultures are very different! For example, Western humour tends to translate badly into Chinese. British sarcasm is likely to fall flat! Certain symbols, numbers and colours have a different significance in China than to the West, and China has a different calendar of festivals.


It’s important to note, however, that although there are obvious and key differences between Chinese and Western audiences, the drivers that encourage them to buy are very much the same. All customers, whatever their nationality, country of residence or cultural heritage, all want to feel special, and all want to choose brands which reflect their values. All customers want to find quality products and services that meet their needs and which provide an excellent and memorable service. And when customers experience this kind of excellence, they will talk about it with their own network.

Find out more

Market Me China supports Western marketers with all aspects of digital marketing in China. Whether your brand is looking to launch within the market or seeking to grow, our digital marketing experts can assist. From content localisation through to KOL liaison, we act as a flexible resource to provide the expertise and skillsets that you need for a successful campaign. Please contact us to find out more.