Everything you need to know about entering the Chinese market

Pieter Van Hulst and Angell Zhang


International

We are about to enter the Chinese New Year, which this year is the Year of the Rat!

You may be wondering why the Chinese New Year is celebrated on a different date to other parts of the world. Whereas in the western world, the Roman calendar is used to determine the days, months and years, China uses the Lunar calendar, which means the cycle of the moon (as well as the Earth’s cycle around the sun) determines these days. A month in China is always 28 days, while the year varies from 353 to 355 days.

This year, the Chinese New Year is on Saturday 25th of January. Festivities in China happen over multiple days, and include decorations, traditional dragon dances, fireworks and gift giving. The New Year period ends on the 15th day – a day which is marked by the Lantern Festival.

It is not just New Year that distinguishes China from other countries around the world. The market here is completely different to many other countries, which means different business opportunities and a need for a different digital marketing strategy. In this blog, we will look at opportunities in China, as well as some of the main differences you need to be aware of.

Business opportunities in China

Last year, China overtook the USA as the largest market in the world. For every popular western mobile app, China has its own version – and one which is tailored to the unique needs of the Chinese market. Furthermore, companies like Wish and Ali Baba are successfully expanding into western markets which means more customers and more profits.

At first sight, breaking into the Chinese market can seem like a difficult task, especially as ideas and products can be taken, revamped and released into the Chinese market before businesses have even begun to think about entering the market themselves. Thoroughly researching the market is essential if you want to successfully launch your business or product in China, and you need to ask yourself some essential questions before beginning to even think about expansion here.

  • Is there a similar product already on the market? Breaking into the Chinese market is not an easy task, and this is even more so for brands who are not already internationally well-known. Having a unique product or USPs can help to distinguish you from other brands and sellers.
  • Where do you want to launch? Launching in China isn’t as simple as launching in China. The country contains multiple mega cities, each with their own dialects, customs and cultures. What works in one mega city may not work in another, so conducting research to find out which market is best for your brand is essential.
  • What difficulties will you face implementing your business plan in a foreign country? While this is true for any international expansion, expanding from a western country to an eastern country can come with its own set of challenges. Working with local businesses, consultancies or market experts can help you to navigate the differences in cultural customs that you may not know about otherwise.

Numerous companies have tried and failed to break into the Chinese market; Amazon, Uber and Home Depot are just some of the big-name brands out there that were unable to successfully expand into China. With so many products and services available in China already, failing to successfully adapt to the market’s unique culture and demands means brands of all sizes will be drowned out and ignored.

Market growth in China

Almost every market in China has seen immense growth over the years, but it is the technology sector that is really skyrocketing. Where China used to be known as the production capital of the world, it is slowly evolving to become more technology focused. Major Chinese players like Ali Baba, Tencent and Baidu are heavily invested in digital growth, multimedia platforms and even AI.

If you have a unique idea for an app or online based service and there isn’t currently a Chinese counterpart yet, there can be a huge business opportunity in expanding to the east. If you do not have the resource or expertise to expand, selling the idea to a big Chinese company is a viable option.

Different cities for different services

Because of China’s sheer size, its cities have specialised in different markets over the years; Beijing is the banking capital of China, Shenzen is known for both its hardware and technology, Shanghai is the commercial centre of China while Guangzhou is known for its manufacturing. When setting up in China, understanding which city has the best market and suppliers for your business and ensuring you are in close proximity to this area can go a long way in making sure you succeed.

China’s search engines and social media

In the western world, we take names like Google, Amazon and Facebook for granted but the search and social landscape in China is completely different to what we have here.

The predominant search engine in the Chinese market for both organic and paid search is Baidu, which has over a billion active mobile users. Many western websites are blocked by the Great Firewall of China and linking to these websites compromises your Baidu ranking. This means most businesses need to create a local website for the Chinese market, rather than simply creating a sub-domain.

Baidu ranks websites differently to Google; there is a bigger focus on the homepage, and paid listings are prioritised over organic listings. This is consistent with the belief among Chinese consumers that if a business can pay for advertising, it is more likely to be reliable.

One website which is banned in China is Facebook, and in its place as the biggest social platform is social media and messaging app, WeChat. WeChat is multifunctional and can be used for messaging, payments, games and wealth management. The digital one-stop shop also allows businesses to create mini apps within the app, so consumers can access services like taxis and food delivery within the one platform. Having an active WeChat presence is essential for any businesses who wants to succeed in China.

 

Translation and localisation for Chinese markets

You have a business idea and the research suggests it will succeed in Chinese markets. Ensuring your content is translated to account for cultural and linguistical nuances is crucial if you are to gain loyal customers within the market. With so many competing websites and apps in China, the littlest mistake can quickly see consumer trust drop.

Using translation software can cause a lot of problems with translation in general, but this is especially so when translating to a complex language like Mandarin. Common problems include:

  • Missing out on cultural context or getting context wrong. Chinese words can mean a lot of different things and straight up translation via an automated software means you may miss contextual references or even get them wrong. This applies to both direct translation of words, and of metaphors, catchphrases, and slang.
  • Grammatical errors. While translation machines have gotten better over the years, they are still unreliable when it comes to correctly inputting grammar. Having grammatical errors on your website looks unprofessional and is a complete turn off in such a competitive market.
  • SEO optimisation. Baidu is a Mandarin only website and uses Chinese search terms and keywords to influence its ranking. Directly translating content, rather than conducting market-specific keyword research, means you miss out on the queries people are searching for, as these tend to differ from the translated queries.

The best way to translate your content is to use a mother tongue digital marketing expert who understands the local culture and can translate your content and message in a way that is adapted to both Chinese consumers and Chinese search engines.

The Chinese market is enormous and still growing – so it is of no surprise that new businesses are popping up and trying to take a share. Succeeding can offer a huge return on investment, but successfully launching and expanding into the market is a difficult task. Balancing the enormous amount of research needed to crack into the market, and launching before a similar product or service emerges, is a hard line. Working with local experts can make this process much easier and gives you the best chance of success, both for initial launch and ongoing growth.


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