Avoid 10 mistakes when marketing in China

The Chinese market is incredibly attractive to Western brands, with a huge audience of sophisticated digitally-savvy customers, and an economy that continues to rocket. With many Western markets reaching maturity, China offers remarkable potential – if you can get your marketing right!

All too often Western brands make the mistake of thinking their Chinese marketing strategy can just basically mirror what they do in the West! But this will quickly lead to expensive mistakes and a damaged brand. Here are some of the common mistakes which Western brands should take care to avoid when marketing in China.

1. Not carrying out research

If you don’t truly understand your target Chinese customers, or informed view of the Chinese political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal landscape via PESTEL analysis and other models, then it’s important to gather this rich data from primary and secondary sources before you even think about marketing in China! Remember, good data supports good decision-making and vice versa.

2. Seeing China as one market

Linked to this, it’s important to truly appreciate the scale of China as a country and market, and recognise the vast differences that exist between its different regions, its tiered cities, and its communities. You may find that you need to segment your Chinese target audience using different parameters to demographics you would consider in the West, so again, do your research carefully.

3. Not localising digital assets

Yes, your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds are doing great in the West – but these social media platforms aren’t used in China. You will need to rapidly get your head around WeChat, Sina Weibo, Douyin, and Little Red Book. Equally, your website will need to be expertly localised and optimised for Chinese visitors, hosted locally, and linked with Chinese eCommerce platforms, social media, and payment platforms.

4. Not understanding cultural nuances

From the now-famous failure of the #BurberryChineseNewYear, featuring sad-faced models at a family gathering, to Pepsi apparently attempting to ‘return ancestors from the dead’, Western brands can easily miss the mark with their marketing campaigns – causing anything from amusement to complete offence. If you don’t yet understand the importance and multitude of Chinese cultural symbols – such as colours, numbers, dates (Double 11, Singles Day, and Chinese New Year, for example) and other symbols, then it’s vital to learn about them – or use a Chinese digital marketing agency that can help you to overcome these obstacles.

5. Cheapening your campaigns

Some brands have made the mistake of thinking that localisation means a drop in aesthetic standards. For example, Dior launched a campaign for its famous luxury saddlebags without any of the artistic merits of its Western campaign. Customers complained that it looked like a budget advert for a Taobao discount promotion. It’s vital to see Chinese customers as the sophisticated, affluent consumers that they are – even when you are marketing to lower-tier cities. Segment your audience, target it carefully and show respect, understanding, and nuance. Chinese customers love quality Western brands so you’re already in a good starting position!

6. Not understanding the political and social climate

Mercedez Benz made the mistake of quoting the Dalai Lama in a global advertising campaign that was shown in China – causing an uproar. The political, cultural, and social landscape of China must be taken seriously. For example, the Chinese authorities have strict rules about the types of things that can be said or shown in adverts, removing references that are overly violent, sexual or political for example. Again, a Chinese marketing agency can assist with this area to ensure your resulting campaign is successful.

7. Overusing traditional images

Yes, Chinese symbols such as dragons and the colour red are extremely important to Chinese culture and traditional references. But many Western brands have made the mistake of applying these obvious elements in a clunky and unappealing way which turns off Chinese audiences. As an example, Victoria’s Secret launched a dragon-themed lingerie range in China, which was viewed as tacky and ugly – showing that the brand was out of touch, and didn’t understand its Chinese audience.

8. Not integrating digital assets

China is ahead of the curve when it comes to digital technology, and Western brands must be ready to invest in a digital ecosystem like never before! From seamless mobile apps that link perfectly with Chinese social media apps, eCommerce platforms, and shopping apps, every channel must work holistically together without a hitch.

9. Not using KOLs

Chinese Key Opinion Leaders are hugely influential in China – and more so than equivalent influencers in the West. There are KOLs for all kinds of markets, products, interests, and budgets, and brands should work hard to find one that links well with their company and offer. A KOL partnership can be a fantastic way of reaching your target market and building brand awareness and engagement.

10. Not realising that Baidu advertising campaigns are managed in Chinese…

In a world in which everyone seems to speak English (China included!) – it’s often a shock to Western brands to find that systems such as Baidu and other social media platforms are managed entirely in Chinese. This means that Western brands need to find expert Chinese digital marketing support to help them formulate campaigns… which takes us on to our bonus tip below!

Use a Chinese marketing agency!

A Chinese digital marketing agency can help you to overcome all of these obstacles by providing you with ready access to everything you need – from native language skills to advanced and expert Chinese digital marketing expertise. A specialist agency will offer support across the full digital marketing spectrum, from booking online advertising to managing KOL relationships and ePR campaigns.