For international brands, establishing a presence in or breaking into the China market in the digital era can be both exciting and risky.
On the one hand, besides being the world’s second-largest economy, China is set to surpass the U.S. as the world’s biggest consumer market this year. For any global business that wants to stay relevant in the foreseeable future, a China strategy is no longer a “nice one” to have. Rather, it’s a “must-have.”
On the other hand, while marketing in a foreign culture and building a robust relationship with overseas consumers is generally challenging, the task is particularly daunting in China, where the digital landscape is so different from other countries’ and is evolving constantly.
Although a string of popular online services in the West, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, are unavailable in China, the country has cultivated its own social media ecosystem, led by the all-encompassing social app WeChat, which boasts more than 1 billion monthly active users globally, and the micro-blogging platform Sina Weibo, which has more than 600 million registered users. According to Jimmy Robinson, co-founder and director of PingPong Digital, an award-winning full-service Chinese digital marketing agency, despite their popularity, the two major online services are different in many aspects. “WeChat has a greater potential to engage consumers, but Weibo has a greater potential to reach out to customers,” Robinson says.
To complicate things, there’s been a new wave of social platforms having a big moment in the country, such as video-sharing app Douyin and ecommerce site Xiaohongshu. Robinson believes that by offering new social functions and catering to a millennial-based audience, these apps successfully differentiated themselves from premier channels such as WeChat and Weibo, presenting new opportunities for global marketers.
The Chinese consumer market is so complex that the learning curve could be extremely deep even for well-established global brands. In recent years, a series of international luxury fashion houses and apparel brands have come under attack by Chinese consumers for being culturally insensitive or disrespectful. Commenting on these foreign companies that learned their lessons the hard way, Robinson thinks that if a brand comes across as insulting or perpetuates stereotypes when approaching Chinese consumers, it is very likely to have a culture problem in its marketing strategies. “That’s not to say they are racist or malignant, just that there needs to be room for employees to check one another. For there to be room for employees to tell their bosses or co-workers that a first idea might not be a good one, especially if it’s insensitive,” Robinson says.
Given the complexity of China’s digital marketing sector, it’s nearly impossible for foreign brands to kick off and maintain a strong and effective online presence without guidance from experts. PingPong Digital is here to help. Having multiple locations in New York, London, Birmingham, and Shanghai, the firm features a truly global team with a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and experience that Robinson believes really adds to their work. He says, “When companies go to the big players, they often don’t get given the best minds on their accounts. With an agency like ours, the great minds who helped you sell also work on your accounts. You get the very best from a young, fresh agency.”
Interested in exploring more marketing opportunities in China as a foreign business? Robinson is set to moderate a breakout session at SupChina’s NEXT China Conference, which will take place on Thursday, November 21, in New York. Grab your tickets today before they are gone!