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Digital Marketing 101 in China:

WeChat & Website Marketing (Part 1/3)

5 min read

A good marketing campaign is often considered the key to success in China. However the marketing tools used in China can be very different to the tools used elsewhere in the world.

In this 3 part series we'll be covering industry secrets and best practices in digital marketing to help your business make a name for itself in China.


China has 574 million active mobile internet users and 668 million internet users. Chinese spend around 50% of their total time on digital devices such as mobile phones and laptops surfing the internet. Given these incredible figures, the potential for digital marketing is huge and digital advertisement investments in China are expected to reach $48.51 billion in 2017 and is predicted to reach a further $57.24 billion in 2018.

Companies in all industries are realising the uncapped potential for digital communication to reach out to the masses and engage with them in new ways. While a similar phenomenon is taking place globally, what makes China stand out is its massive internet and tech savvy population who form a huge chunk of the digital market share.

The global trend for digital marketing is inching towards use of big data, indepth content creation, marketing automation and mobile marketing. Commonalities between China and the West’s digital marketing campaigns include the use of video and data visualization marketing tools and analytics. However in China, mobile and influencer marketing is expected to expand quickly. One such example of mobile marketing can be seen in the use of QR codes which are used extensively for commercial purposes such as following social accounts, downloading content and for online payments.

For foreign companies looking to capture a stake in the massive Chinese market, all these stats and developments seem daunting. However, this article is a 3 part article and will provide a lowdown on the 6 most effective digital marketing techniques to attract Chinese audiences. Additionally, this article will provide tips on how to utilise up-and-coming tools like live-streaming and influencers to market your product.

1. WeChat Marketing:

  • WeChat: the Super-App

WeChat which was launched as a messaging platform, transformed into a network of varied functions, for personal as well as professional uses. Amongst its basic social networking features such as a news feed and messaging system, WeChat also has a digital wallet, gaming center, and options for businesses to promote themselves among others.

  • It has 768 million daily logged in users, 50% of its users spend around 90 minutes on it per day, 65% are monthly active users.
  • 80% of Chinese WeChat users follow official accounts which gives mileage to businesses and allows them to send out photos, articles, videos etc. The one on one chat experience also gives an opportunity for personalized communication and customer service.   The WeChat Moments advertising allows businesses to upload paid advertisement for visibility, especially to users who are not following them.
  • Promotional offers and discount coupons are one of the ways WeChat helps businesses to catch users’ attention. Optimizing content through shares on moments, QR codes and word of mouth are other ways to get followers on WeChat.
  • Brands also create exclusive contests and games to interact and engage with followers.
  • There are three types of WeChat official accounts:
  1. Subscription accounts which appear in the main chat feed of the user,
  2. Service accounts are in folders and can send one message per day,
  3. Enterprise accounts are used for internal management of companies. Here is a guide to creating an official account for business and tips on WeChat Marketing.

Given WeChat’s long list of different functions and promotional uses, WeChat should be any foreign company’s first point of contact and main weapon in a digital marketing campaign aimed at Chinese audiences.

  • Best Practices For WeChat Marketing
  • Be Timely: People check their WeChat on the go, so it is a good idea to keep a tab on the time when users are active on WeChat, and optimise WeChat marketing campaigns for those times. Also make sure that the account is manned so you don’t miss the opportunity of converting leads into customers.
  • Interesting Snippets As Content Creation: A mobile content format for marketing usually works if the information is short, simple and to the point as the reading approach and attention span varies in effectiveness from user to user.
  • Connect Your Website To WeChat: It is a good idea to connect your mobile friendly or responsive website to your WeChat account. This will lead to automatic updates on WeChat whenever you post or update your website.
  • Take Time To Design Your WeChat Account: A customized account will add value as it will send your company’s message in a unique way. Although templates come embedded in WeChat, building your WeChat account is a better idea.
  • WeChat Marketing Campaigns That Have Had A High User Response

Several international companies have tried their hand at WeChat marketing and have achieved success in the form of high user responses on this social media app “super-app”.

  • Forbidden City & Tencent launched an interactive historical campaign in which Zhu Yuanzhang, the emperor of the Ming Dynasty comes to life from an ancient painting, involving users by taking selfies, singing songs and navigating through various features of WeChat. This was in collaboration with Tencent for their promotion of a creativity competition.  Within two days, it had around 800 million downloads.
  • Uniqlo, the Japanese apparel designer and manufacturer came up with an online to offline (O2O) campaign. In the ‘Style Your Life’ campaign customers could try clothes in the store and get their pictures taken with different backgrounds. The campaign increased 30% of their sales and added more new followers. 
  • Swiss Watch brand Mont Blanc localised their campaign through their “Moon Phase” campaign which focused on the moon phases in the Chinese Lunar calendar. They included a dial on the watch which tracked the status of the moon phase. It also had an interactive feature on Chinese astrology. 
  • Nike, created a communication campaign through WeChat. To promote its running shoes, it asked users to take photos of colours posted on their WeChat account and get customized shoes.
  • Pepsi’s campaign used the audio text message system which is popular with the users asking them to record audio messages on Pepsi’s annual ‘Bring Happiness Home’ promotion for the Chinese New year.
  • Agencies That Can Help In Designing WeChat Marketing Strategy
  • Arzocreative for search & mobile
  • Greentomato for tailormade mobile strategy
  • Curiousity For WeChat marketing
  • Walkthechat For WeChat marketing
  • Velvet For WeChat marketing

2. Website Marketing

  • Get The Technicalities Right

First things first: to host a website a Chinese Internet Content Provider (ICP) license is necessary. These are issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. ICPs are only given to companies with an established Chinese legal entity such as a Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise (WFOE) or a Joint Venture (JV).

After this step, it’s important to register a “.cn” domain name with the Chinese Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) which is authorized by the Ministry of Information Industry. This domain name also gives an impression to your potential customers that you have a brand presence in China.

Lastly, register with Baidu, China’s online search engine for visibility; because you’re losing business if your customers can’t find you.

  • Best Practices For Websites In China

Mobile over desktop websites: Mobile and desktop websites have always been a different experience for users, and startups are often torn over which to pursue. But if you’re looking to maximise your chinese audience engagement, desktop websites are an optional platform. Most websites in China use a phone number instead of an email ID, and for users their phone number is linked to their e-commerce accounts, digital wallets, social network accounts among others; so it makes sense that a mobile website would be your first priority.

  • Localize effectively: Although it may seem like a big task to the average foreign company, translating your website in mandarin is not the “be and end all” but the beginning of customer engagement and market penetration. You need to know your customers, how they use the web and communicate with them through channels they are used to for better user experience. 
  • Designing a Website For The Chinese Audience

The next hurdle to cross in your efforts to reach the masses is to create a user friendly mandarin-based website aimed at Chinese consumers. For multinational companies, accurate translations are essential as Chinese audiences rely on websites for accurate information. Chinese audiences also prefer websites that are culturally approriated with localised visuals and animation.

In desgning your Chinese-language website it’s also important to consider the role of space. In most Chinese websites, the font size is large as there is no space between Chinese characters. If you browse through some Chinese websites you’ll also notice that the homepage is full of text links which is a design pattern that became commonplace in the dial-up days. The internet speed has increased a lot since then, but the users are used to this. However, the trend is gradually shifting towards a more spacious looking website.

Other important website design features involve choosing the right colours and symbols which appeal to Chinese audiences. A good example of this is Pizza Hut’s Chinese website. While Pizza Hut US does not have a red color background despite red being its brand color, the Chinese website uses red as the background colour as red symbolizes good luck and happiness. As part of their Chinese New Year promotions, Pizza Hut also used a rooster symbol in accordance to the Chinese calendar.

Although Chinese websites are not as fancy as their English-language counterparts, they have more text and updates on promotions and offers. The visuals are also different to keep it localised and these visuals play a large part in attracting Chinese consumers.

For example, Coca Cola US’s website homepage has visuals and videos but the visuals are nothing compared to its Chinese counterpart. The Chinese website It is also way more text heavy than Coke’s US website, giving information and news on Coke’s water plan, bottling business, its place in the 2016 Rio Olympics among other details. All in all, Chinese websites like to overload their audience with information.

  • Tools To Use
  • SXl and Strikingly can be used to design your website in China.
  • Agencies That Can Help In Creating Website For Chinese Users
  • Neat Interactive
  • Dash
  • Pacific Link
  • Qumin


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