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Why Digital Marketing in China is a Different Ballgame
China, the world’s most populous nation, is a country where industries thrive and the economy blossoms. It’s an inviting location filled with multinational and multi-billion dollar companies, all trying to obtain a slice of China’s growing markets. But, over time, the vigorous local markets have become more and more attractive to Western eyes. The labor is cheap and the middle class is expanding. A report from First Biz said that consumer spending in China and another growing country, India, will rise to $10 trillion by 2020.
Of course, the logical move is to do everything possible to penetrate this market. However, it’s easier said than done. Advertisement, especially in the new age, is different in China than it is in other countries. Digital presence can be quite difficult to attain, and many companies fail to realize that. The truth is that marketing in China is a whole different ballgame.
Marketing on a firewall
First and foremost, social media in China is very restricted. Facebook and Twitter advertising strategies are basically nonexistent. The usual social media marketing campaigns performed in countries like the United States and Europe, as well as social media-crazy Asian countries like the Philippines and Indonesia will never work. More importantly, search optimization on the canonical Google engine isn’t exactly an alive industry. Just recently, China has bid farewell to the world’s largest search engine and there are no signs of the two reconciling their internet differences.
However, China is still a very social market. It’s just that the usual tricks are pretty much pointless. International companies seeking to build a significant presence in China should still employ social media and search marketing, but on a different platform.
Many pages from US servers are blocked from across the country. This might not only be because of political stances, but also because of how the internet infrastructure works in the nation. Weibo, a popular Chinese social media portal, is one of the most influential websites in the country in terms of marketing. If your company garners enough positive impact on users from Weibo, which has more Chinese users than Twitter, it’s a sign that you are doing something right.
Another obvious reason why Western strategies wouldn’t work in China is due to the varying culture of both worlds. The country in itself is comprised of 56 different ethnic groups, each has its own culture, traditions, and beliefs making it more difficult to create an encompassing campaign. On the other end of the spectrum, catering specifically to the the Eastern market may result in a problem with branding. Too much localization makes it difficult for the brand to stand out among the local competition which usually has a better grasp of the culture. This goes with every aspect of the business, not only digital marketing, but also finance, human resources, and logistics.
“Taking a brand from obscurity and turning it into a multi-million pound business does not happen overnight,” says Wise Marketing. According to the digital marketing agency’s blog, there needs to be a ‘connection’ between the consumer and the brand. It is this connection that gets lost in translation when companies attempt an ill-prepared marketing campaign.
Iron fist of censorship
Curiously, social media in China isn’t as strict as open pages. Sure, there are still blocked keywords when searching on the different portals in the Chinese web, but the social sphere is kicking with subtle activism and political freedom.
Bin Lee, a digital marketing specialist from Chinese agency Glougu, said that the social networks have become a sort of avenue for criticism of the iron-clad fists of the government. “Asians are all social media users,” he said. “The official newspapers never criticize the government, so people need to release some negative feelings…They criticize the government via social media,” Lee added.
China ranks among the top must-explore markets in the world. As businesses in the Unites States and other powerhouse countries expand, marketing on the virtual space in China is becoming a priority.
Internships in China wrote, “The opportunities are great in China, but once a competitor gains a strong hold on the Chinese consumer it becomes more difficult to take it back,” – a proof that there is high rewards for those who take high risks.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sookie Lioncourt has been involved with numerous non-government organizations across the globe, learning about the marketing and fund-generation side of the industry. Currently, she is conducting research on internet marketing effectiveness in Southeast Asia. Ask her anything on LinkedIn.