More and more companies are realizing the potential of marketing in China. It is now clear that thinking of accessing the Chinese market without a good marketing strategy is like throwing a drop of water into the ocean, and hoping that someone will collect it. When we talk about marketing, we mostly mean “digital marketing”: China offers one of the largest audiences for social media marketing with over 800 million users connected to the internet, and has the highest level of digitization globally. Although the need for a good marketing strategy is evident, there are many mistakes that are still made by Western companies, making any return on investment impossible. For example, China is “attacked” as a single country, despite having a different demography, where consumers use different social media platforms and have different buying habits. Failure to understand these differences leads to the inability of many foreign brands to enter this market.
Here are 5 common mistakes that brands often commit when trying to market their products in China and how to avoid them.
1. Don’t focus enough on the consumer.
A big difference between Western and Chinese consumers is the value they give to the customer’s experience. Over 89% of Chinese consumers believe that any interaction with brands should be tailored to their specific needs. In other words, don’t think that sending a generic post will work. Consumers in China want individual interaction, meaning that their posts and questions need to be answered. Social media is a unique form of marketing as companies and consumers can interact directly with each other, so take advantage of it and create connections with your consumers.
Another factor to keep in mind is how often you publish your content. Very often we tend to think that “the more posts are produced, the more they generate interaction”. In reality, just like it happens in the West, publishing too much on Chinese social media can annoy the public by pushing it to stop following you. Publishing too little can make the audience forget about you. Brands must find the right medium and the winning formula is different for each platform: in general, we recommend that you publish 1-4 times a day on Weibo and 1-3 times a week on WeChat (WeChat business accounts allow you to publish a maximum of 4 posts per month).
2. “Translation” does not necessarily mean translating.
Italian and Mandarin belong to two distinct worlds, not only because Mandarin is not an alphabetical language and writing is based on the use of characters, but above all for the intrinsic meanings – phonetic and literal – that these characters can take. In other words, the literal translation of names or phrases from Italian could not only be ineffective, but even carry negative meanings. Marketing and copywriting to the contrary, are based on an emotional language, which certainly does not appear in a badly translated text.
One of the most famous flops in this sense – and a practical example to understand the risks of it – is certainly the Pepsi one. The famous beverage company literally translated the slogan “Pepsi brings you back to life” on the Chinese market, unfortunately the literal translation had a meaning more like “Pepsi brings your dead ancestors back to life”. A slogan of impact in any case …
When it comes to making translations, is it names or entire brochures, you can rely on professionals or native speakers.
3. Use in China the same strategy that works in the West.
China has a completely different audience than Europe or the United States. They interact differently, have different expectations and use different platforms. It therefore makes sense that even the contents that are created for promotion and the marketing strategies put in place are different from those that you implement in the West.
The communication channels are extremely different. In the West TV, radio and billboards are still popular, but it would be enough to walk half an hour through the streets of Shanghai and notice that everybody have their eyes glued to their smartphones. While they are doing this, they are not using Facebook, or Google, which are blocked in China, but WeChat and Baidu. The message is: if you want to do promotion in China, be sure to use popular channels among Chinese consumers, not Western one.
4. Do not use QR codes.
QR codes are not very popular in Italy and in general in Western countries, on the contrary, they are everywhere in China. QR codes are in supermarkets, on products, in art exhibitions, in taxis, even street vendors use them. By scanning QR codes with their mobile phones, consumers can instantly connect with brands, access online promotions or exclusive offers, creating an effective bridge between offline and online marketing. QR codes can be easily integrated into any product or promotional material and using them in the right way can really improve your marketing performance in China.
5. Underestimate the power of the brand.
The brand is the key to success in China, and too often Western companies – especially those of small or medium size – underestimate this factor, marking the accent exclusively on the product. The product certainly plays a fundamental role in the success of a company, but, if your consumers do not feel the desire to buy it, or as it happens frequently, they decide to buy from one of your competitors because they are “impressed” in their memory and above cause it carries positive value according to their own cultural standards, it means that you have completely forgotten to take care of your brand. Branding is the art of combining what customers think of a company with what the company wants them to think. It is important to understand what consumers want or what they need and to determine whether or not your products or services meet their needs.