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How to market in China (without WASTING money on ads)

Marketing in China is one of the most difficult things to get done right.
But it has an enormous potential, being already the world’s biggest consumer market and steadily growing. Still, to have your brand seen in a positive light – or seen at all, you’ll need to know specific tips to market yourself in China. The most important thing is in the title. It is not the kind of market – if there are any – where throwing money at ads companies will make you rich.
What to do, then? Well, for starters, here is a guide in five points to let you know how to market yourself in China:

1. How to properly market in China when it’s so huge?

Advertising in China is like throwing a drop of water in an ocean. Every day, everybody sees hundreds of ads. They are big and small, flashing or hidden, loud or mute, well positioned and completely out of place. Advertising is on apps, social media, websites, on the walls of a building or even inside your apartment’s elevator.
No matter how much you spend, you will still be just a tiny piece of the viewers’ ordinary day.
Even more than in any other country, be original. And, of course, at the same time, do not be original just for the sake of being seen. That can destroy your brand. Find a way to be original that fits within your market and that people will like.
Do not throw money at advertising platforms. Organic advertising can be enough if you know what you are doing, and paid ads may not even pay itself if your content is bad to begin with.

how to market in china: stay updated and re-invent yourself

2. Know your socials

Don’t expect to market your company on Facebook and Twitter and get lots of attention in China. Although some Chinese will see your content, it will be much less likely. Chinese social media are made with the purpose of stimulating business. Use them at your advantage. Lately, everybody is livestreaming, but WeChat is your most stable starting point. Others may come and go, but WeChat stays.

3. Think quality, not quantity

Many do the mistake of thinking that advertising in China can attract the eyes of 1.4 billion people. True, advertising in China can affect potentially more people than in other countries. But that alone doesn’t mean anything. You don’t want millions seeing your ads without making purchases.
What you want, then, is a good conversion rate. Online this means a good % of people who check your content will actually choose to spend money in your website.
Offline, it means that people will actually be influenced by your advertising to purchase.
As we stated in point one, urban Chinese are daily invaded by advertising in any kind of form and function. It is already hard to make them notice that you are actually advertising something – convincing them to buy from you will require a really great idea that can set itself apart from everything else they have seen.

4. Don’t just get consultants and let them do everything

While you will probably need a consultant for your business in China, you need to make sure they can actually promote well your business. Study China by yourself and use a consultant to confirm your views instead of letting them dictate every step of your company from the beginning to the end. Of course, if your consultant is an expert of your field, then you should trust their points of view, but do not give your brand in their hands entirely, at the beginning. Early on, they cannot have the understanding of the brand that your own employees have. Even when they’ll be ready to handle things on their own, ensure they have the full support of your team and try to make them feel they are part of the team. The more they communicate with your team, the better and faster they’ll understand your brand’s values and how to promote them.

5. Re-invent yourself constantly

If you think that once you get a good idea, you can just milk it until the end of time, you are going to regret it. Your idea is going to be copied, imitated and even improved. You’ll have to accept it. Chinese businessmen are extremely flexible and do not mind trying something new if it gives them a chance to make more money. Of course, you cannot be always original, you’ll have some good ideas and some bad ones. Do not change content every hour, but do expect a shorter life-cycle of your marketing material and content.

Ok, now I know all about how to market in China!

No. Be humble is our final advise. We already discussed how culture can influence things you won’t even expect in other posts. Better companies than yours failed here.
Even experienced people who have worked in China for long time can make mistakes.
A cool idea could be to let a small portion of your Chinese public (or better, Chinese employees if you have a team, or even external consultants) take a first look at your advertising ideas before publishing them. It’s something that sounds crazy simple, but for this exact reason it is often overlooked. If one person in that group misunderstands your ad, it is very possible that also lots of your viewers will, and this could generate a mess. Better to be safe than sorry. That applies tenfold in China, where a foreign company messing up can get serious consequences for its brand and make every successive misstep weigh more and more.

Ads by Balenciaga for 25th August, Chinese Valentine’s Day. Source: Balenciaga’s Tmall store through

Balenciaga’s recent example is just one of the many.

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