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Marketing to China – more complex than you may think

George Osborne and Boris Johnson have both travelled to China recently to promote UK business, build trade links and encourage Chinese investors to consider the UK. For companies that are looking to trade in China, marketing is an important tool to build brands and generate sales. However, many marketers underestimate how sophisticated Chinese consumers and business buyers have become. Here is some guidance for companies looking to succeed in the country.
 
1. China has a huge netizen footprint.
China has more than 1.35 billion citizens. Of these, more than 570 million regularly use the Internet. This means that marketing over online channels should be a significant portion of any investment, whether it's a B2B or B2C campaign.
 
2. China is led by mobile
Chinese people access the Internet differently to the West. While there are a large percentage of Internet users that have access to PCs, tablets and laptops, many more use mobile Internet alone. Around 464 million people use smartphones as their main access point to the Internet, representing 74.5% of all Internet users in the country. Two new mobile Internet users are coming online every second. China has seen huge investment in its mobile networks, while cheap smartphones provide an easy way to get online.
 
3. China is a land of opportunity for creative marketing
Chinese companies and consumers are exposed to huge amounts of advertising, both through traditional channels like TV, radio and billboards through to online. When combined with the importance placed on face-to-face transactions and the Chinese expectation for high quality service, this means that marketers need to focus on being more creative in their approach.
 
When you couple high levels of marketing activity with the need to address local issues rather than general ones, any marketer working for a business entering China will have to do their homework before launching any campaign.
 
4. Social media platforms have developed their own culture - and they are growing rapidly
The uptake of mobile has gone hand-in-hand with social media channels being adopted. Chinese social networks like Weibo have grown rapidly, and mobile access to these is a big part of their success. Just like Twitter in the West, new ways of communicating have sprung up and new trends can catch the imagination of millions. Even the Chinese Government has taken to social through new accounts on Tencent Weibo, WeChat and xinhua.net generating great interest from citizens.
 
5. Integrated approaches to marketing are more successful
For companies to be successful when it comes to social and marketing, understanding the local market is an essential part of any campaign. From mobile apps like WeChat and Weibo through to branding and creative development, there are numerous opportunities to use local themes across different channels.
 
For B2B organisations, understanding how to integrate content, channel and creative ideas is the best option to consider, rather than running separate campaigns for web, mobile and social. The social or mobile marketing channel might be the lead one, but any campaign should then branch out into others that can be aligned with the main theme. Thinking through the context is important as well.

For companies looking at China as their next growth market, understanding the country and its cultures around social platforms can provide great opportunities.