Last year sales from advertising in China exceeded 500 billion yuan (US $ 81.3 Billion). Yet those from traditional advertising fell by:
– 9.17%for newspapers
However, internet advertising saw an increase of 45.85% from the previous year, leading to a total of 63.8 billion yuan. (Source: People’s Daily, the 43rd World Conference of advertising) These figures show that the future of advertising is on the internet. Yet to break into this market one must be able to solve a number of problems.
Here are the 10 challenges an advertising company must tackle in China
Low international understanding among the Chinese staff, poor English and huge cultural differences
While the trend is globalization, the Chinese who can travel abroad to improve their English to a decent level and really open up to an international culture remains low due to its cost. Therefore, only a minority of Chinese have a sufficient level of English to be able to easily understand the content published in the language of Shakespeare.
So, all communication and advertising agencies wishing to be present in the Chinese markets need to adapt, but this is very difficult given the cultural differences and language barriers.
The table above summarizes the cultural differences between Western and Chinese communication. For instance, knowing someone is direct in the West is considered a quality, while in China it is considered to be very rude. You can easily understand the resulting problems.
Problem understanding the different consumers, especially wealthy consumers and campaigns with a generation gap
Due to the very sharp break in the history after the Cultural Revolution and the major economic rise of China, we are left now with a generation gap between those who have experienced deprivation and Maoist China and another type of Chinese, mostly made up of those born after the 80’s and 90’s, who are often called “little prince and princess”. This therefore makes it very difficult to correctly analyze the Chinese market to determine which target to choose and how to attract them because of this very important generation gap.
A very rigid protocol
Chinese have a very formal approach of business and hierarchy must be respected. This causes problems when you have to do business with Chinese companies. While discussing a business deal with your Chinese partner you must respect all the codes of good conduct to avoid problems that may cause you to lose a business opportunity because you could have offended the leader of the deal by doing something you thought was appropriate, according to your western standards.
Lack of communication training, staff must learn everything on the job
First, you should know that the Chinese have a very strong culture of investment, results, and achieving the lowest costs possible.
However, communication and marketing are disciplines whose results are often difficult to assess and quantify. As a consequence, these hold very little appeal to Chinese, so there is no real training in the field to allow the Chinese to gain expertise in these fields. Without proper training they have to learn everything on the job.
Secondly, although China has become a country where the internet has grown quickly, it is still very new, especially compared to countries like the USA.
Moreover, before the rise of the internet, media (TV and newspapers) were controlled by an iron hand by the state leaving little room for the possibility of communication training. Indeed, it is easy to communicate when there is only one message to be transmitted. With the rise of the internet, formation in communication started to make perfect only a little less than ten years ago. As such, Chinese communication and marketing experts are very few in number compared to westerners. These factors mentioned above have thus led to an acute shortage of trained candidates in communication
Issue to meet deadlines
Deadlines when signing a contract
In China, during the signing of a contract it is difficult to really be able to set a deadline that will be respected in Chinese culture because it is fashionable to do things last to test the patience of the opposing party.
Also, before you can actually sign a contract you have to build a relationship with the potential partner to build a relationship of trust. It is only after this that a contract can be signed … and after a period during which Chinese companies will try to test the patience of potential partner in an attempt to obtain additional benefits. This can be especially problematic when it comes to delegates in China employees must return to their country of origin at a specific date.
Deadlines for the completion of a project
The Chinese take their time to complete their projects, so with Chinese staff you can often find yourself encountering some deadlines not met.
Very little ability to process and analyze information
Culturally, when speaking to process and analyze information, we come quickly to the ability to solve a problem by confronting ideas, to find loopholes and flaws and ultimately solve the problem.
In a team of Chinese and Western employees (USA and much of Europe) this kind of thinking will create tensions. Why? This is simply because the Chinese do not see things the same way. Chinese people maintain a certain harmony, and undermining this harmony does not solve anything but only causes more problems. Where Westerners will seek to “take the bull by the horns,” the Chinese will try to solve the problem by seeking harmony.
Little creativity, especially in Design
The Chinese are culturally very good copiers and know very well how to improve what already exists. This comes from the Chinese education system that will greatly encourage copying characters that are copied dozens and dozens of times for the student to know, remember, and reproduce faithfully thousands of ideograms needed to write. This ability to store and reproduce faithfully has a deterrent effect on the development of creativity, an ability indispensable in design and advertising. Chinese culture does not encourage risk taking inherent in creativity that is why copying is more advantageous.
Also, where westerners see a flight of intellectual property, Chinese see this as a technological shortcut: why reinvent what already exists, why not just take it and improve it!
Yet with the democratization of sending children abroad where creativity is more favored there has been a change. This one comes slowly but surely with the return of these young Chinese to their homeland. That’s why what is true now, may very well change in a more or less distant future.
Not taking initiative
This is a very important cultural difference between the West and China. Where French and American hierarchies will encourage initiative, Chinese culture discourages it. This comes from ancient China where you had to submit to the decisions taken by those above you, and choosing to do otherwise could cost you your life. As a result, according to Chinese culture, an employee taking initiatives makes his boss lose face because it’s not him who found the answer he was supposed to have (bosses are supposed to have all the answers) not the employees. Losing face is a big deal in China and the consequence of such an event may be dire, from losing your job to losing a business deal or losing a friend.
The business is highly corrupted and is more about connection and bribery rather than real ability.
Corruption in China is everywhere and the marketing business, or e-commerce are no exception. Therefore, it’s all about networking, and the famous “guanxi”. With widespread corruption, it is not necessarily the best agency that wins the contracts, but those who know the right people. Therefore the quality of advertising in China is suffering, which reduces the impact. In addition, a commission system exists that allows (many) intermediaries to increase their revenues at the expense of the customer through the use of red envelopes (Hong Bao 红包). In order to compensate for the additional costs caused by the corruption price quality of materials used is greatly reduced to offset the price increase.
Problem of recruitment and turnover, wage explosion
For a position there will be a lot of demand s caused by a significant number of graduates having problem to find jobs, but it is very difficult to find qualified employees because they are of course very much in demand. With the rise of the middle class Chinese employees aspire to higher salaries and career prospects. They do not hesitate to change companies, if it does not show them enough opportunities. To find the right people and keep them, a foreign company must be very familiar with the Chinese job market. When companies just arrive in the Chinese market, it is a real challenge. Luckily solutions exist to solve that problem such as outsourcing your HR department
The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces/guest posts are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Chairman Media.
About the Author
Hi, my name is Thomas, French. Fond of marketing, I graduated this year from Bordeaux 3 university after four years studying applied foreign languages. I learned Chinese and marketing among other topics. After my first two years, I went to Xi’an, the historical heart of China where I studied Chinese for a year. And now here I am, at long last after graduation, in Shanghai the business heart of China, working in Digital marketing. I live in China and I’m more than eager to learn everything about it from its most remote places to cities like Shanghai or Shenzhen, vibrant with activity.