Marketing in China? Watch out for these challenges

When you’re looking to grow your Western brand in China – whether from scratch or from a more established position – it’s important to anticipate the hurdles that you may face. Without appropriate contingency planning in place, even the best marketing campaigns may fail to achieve their objectives in this powerful, rapidly-growing and lucrative market. With this in mind, let’s turn our attention to some of the main challenges to marketing in China; and potential routes to overcoming them.

The complexity of the market

One of the biggest challenges to marketing in China relates to the complexity of the market itself. Do you know your Chinese dialects and symbolism? What about the big shopping events, such as Singles Day and Double 11? Are you familiar with key cultural values such as ‘guanxi’, and knowledgeable about the various Chinese city tiers? Could you navigate your way around the social media landscape, or accurately identify the needs, wants and desires that your target market wants – from a potential audience of over a billion Chinese citizens. The Chinese market isn’t simply vast, it is incredibly diverse. The more you can understand it, with customised research and analysis designed to build a detailed picture of your target market, the better you can develop your brand campaign strategy.

The language barrier

When Western brands attempt to market their products in Chinese, it is very easy to make language mistakes. Translation involves far more than simple word replacement; it requires an in-depth understanding of local idiom, tone, nuance and context. Good translation requires sensitivity and an understanding of cultural factors, such as the everyday words that your target market use, the regional aspects, and even design factors. For example, Chinese characters take up around 30% less space on a web page than Western equivalents; impacting the look and feel of your digital materials. With these factors in mind, many brands will choose to create targeted and impactful Chinese content from scratch, rather than attempting to translate their Western content.

Chinese attitudes

It’s natural that Chinese culture and attitudes will differ from Western cultures. For example, Chinese customers tend to distrust official government media because of its ongoing use of censorship. However, they are far more receptive to online advertising and the recommendations of their personal network; far more so than customers in the West. Chinese customers view Western brands as being of high quality, due to experiences of counterfeiting in their domestic market. They are increasingly outwards in their view, looking to travel globally, study abroad and enjoy the best of international culture – especially as the Chinese middle classes grow and become more affluent. These types of insight help marketers to get a better sense of the Chinese market, and the attitudes that shape Chinese buying decisions.

Different social platforms

You may already know that China doesn’t have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other Western social media platforms, but did you know that it has dozens of local alternatives, which are hugely powerful within China – and beyond. If you don’t know your WeChat, Weibo, Douyin or Little Red Book, you’ll need to quickly develop an understanding of the platforms that your Chinese customers use, and the functionalities and features that they offer for engagement, marketing and even direct sales via integrated e-commerce functionality. You’ll also need to create a brand presence on the platforms that work for you, and develop them with the right content and engagement programmes.

Influencers matter

If you aren’t yet familiar with Chinese Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) be prepared to enter a new world of influencer power! China has thousands of these KOLs who use their social networks to influence Chinese customers with trusted, valuable recommendations, sponsored partnerships and other forms of branded content. The relationship is a two-way one. A KOL will only work with a brand that it is happy to recommend to its network, in order to maintain integrity and followers. Brands will naturally seek to partner with KOLs who operate within their target market as a way to build brand awareness with potential customers.

A different search engine

Google may reign supreme in the West, but in China, it’s all about Baidu, which has around 70% of the market. The platform offers opportunities for SEO development and paid advertising. Remember that Chinese customers view paid advertising in a positive light (as a sign that the company must be trustworthy), compared to Western customers who may simply see it as an irritation.


Localisation is the key here. Most big Western brands will adapt their logo, copy, graphics and other brand elements to suit their Chinese audience. A Chinese marketing agency can help you to do this effectively, using bespoke market research and attitude testing to create an impactful logo that resonates with your target audience.

The Great Firewall of China

The Chinese government practices censorship to block access to certain Western websites (hosted outside of Mainland China) in China. This means that Western brands also need to follow strict rules around censorship if they wish to develop their brand within China. This means creating websites with Chinese domain names, local hosting and appropriate content which adheres to guidelines.

Internet habits

This vast market of netizens isn’t only connected – they are hyper-connected and prefer to engage with content via their mobile phones. Their user journeys are different, and they expect highly-engaging, relevant and valuable content which is entertaining and appealing to their tastes. Most Western brands will create bespoke Chinese language websites and apps for this audience with this in mind.

Find out more

Market Me China works with Western brands from across all sectors, including education, travel and e-commerce. Our team of digital experts deliver a full suite of Chinese online marketing services, from strategic digital campaign planning through to the measurement of ROI. We work on a flexible basis with your business to provide access to the skills that you need, and we evidence our results throughout. We are also able to work with clients remotely to deliver the same valuable Chinese digital marketing services to the same high quality standards. Please contact us to find out more about how we can assist you.