5 Things To Know About Marketing In China

5 Things To Know About Marketing In China

Over the past year I’ve come to learn a lot about the digital branding landscape in China. While I am certainly no expert, I have been blown away by some of the things that I’ve learned.

As I’ve been reading and soaking in the information, several points continue to amaze me; some were obvious, others not so much.  For those that think extending Western brands into China is easy, think again, and keep these five points in mind:

1 – The Importance of Logos

The written Chinese language, (of which there is only one, despite hundreds of spoken dialects), is much different than the alphabetic language of the Western world.  For starters, the Chinese rely on symbolic characters each representing individual things – a distinct difference to Western languages and their characters, building words from a series of symbols.

It is this reliance on ideograms that leads many Chinese (along with other Asian cultures) to recognize the image of a branded logo much more easily than the written letters themselves.  It’s not just a matter of showing-off (know as shai in Chinese), but rather a simple fact that the Chinese tend to be more at ease with image-based representations.

Nathalie Omori, a Chinese luxury consumer specialist, explains: “Logos are Western versions of ideograms, and they work much like them from a Chinese thought process standpoint. Because the Chinese mind will not clearly identify the letters, but will see the symbol and associate a brand and its myth with it.”

2 – Search Engines vs. Portals

As a follow up to the first point, because the Chinese language relies on symbols rather than an alphabet, there are tens of thousands of unique characters to represent words and phrases.  How does one build a keyboard with that many options?

Clearly a system was needed for computer-inputs in Chinese, and that system is called Pinyin.  Pinyin is a way to write Chinese words using Roman characters and pronunciation and most keyboards use some form of it.

Because inputting text is more complicated (requiring three or four key strokes to create a single letter), the Chinese prefer portals to search engines.  This makes sense given that portals feature lots of text and clickable links rather than the inputting of complete words or phrases.  Interestingly, Google chose China as the first country in which to test the “search suggest” feature, as less key strokes are needed.

This is an important factor when thinking about the importance of search engine marketing within a digital strategy.

3 – What’s Facebook? Social Media Education

If you thought Facebook was by now the de facto social network for the entire world, think again.  Access to Facebook within China is limited thanks to governmental censorship rules and Twitter is completely blocked.  Jack Dorsey, Twitter Chairman, recently expressed his frustration: “The unfortunate fact is, we’re just not allowed to compete in this market, and that’s not up to us to change.”

Facebook and Twitter’s loss however, is the gain of local social networks that have risen up to take its place:  Sina, Tencent, RenRen, QZone, and Kaixin rule the roost in China.

Sina Weibo, as an example, is a micro-blogging platform that’s a mix of Facebook and Twitter.  With over 250 million users, of which 60,000+ are verified brands and celebrities, the network dominates white-collar China.  Luxury brands haven’t missed a beat either.  Brands such as Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Longines, and many others have dedicated presences.

4 – The Mobile Infrastructure

When it comes to mobile, Westerners are accustomed to hearing about Asia’s apparent progressiveness. Years of seeing pictures of Japanese schoolgirls with phones more advanced than those of American CEOs has created a reputation that Asian markets are far ahead in the mobile space.

China, however, is different from Japan, and mobile consumption patterns are still taking form. The sheer size of the Chinese audience, however, makes for some pretty remarkable facts regarding opportunities in mobile marketing in China:

  • China has more than 900 million mobile users, and has not plateaued yet
  • Over 150 million smartphones were expected to be sold in 2011
  • Over 30% of mobile users access the Internet ONLY through their mobile device
  • Thanks to the quick adoption of 3G and smartphones, mobile commerce has become a serious business; e-retailer Taobao’s mobile e-commerce site reaches sales of US$ 6 million per day
  • Starbucks is big in China, with over three million users who have paid for a coffee with the mobile app

5 – Limitations of Browsers and Servers

A majority of web users around the world recognize that when their preferred browser has a new version available, it’s best to move forward with the times.  However, up until 2011, Internet Explorer 6 was the dominant browser in China. A browser that “had its final update in 2008…and is no longer supported by Microsoft.”  Internet Explorer 8 has finally taken the lead, but even this browser isn’t the very latest.

So what makes this a noteworthy point?  Most online marketers design website functionality for the most recent browsers, so HTML5 and other technical innovations won’t make an impact; in fact it won’t even work at all for users of IE6.  It’s important to keep this in mind when building a website for China.

Another hurdle faced by brands looking to start up in China is the government’s censorship involvement and what has come to be known as the Great Firewall of China.  Websites that aren’t physically hosted within the geographic confines of the country experience a severe loading delay; can you imagine waiting a full thirty seconds for a website to load?  It would diminish the experience, and for luxury brands, experience is an important part.

Digital Luxury Group (disclaimer: the author’s employer) took a recent look at luxury watch and jewelry websites in China and noted that some did better than others at loading quickly.

Photo Credit: Enovate

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