Due to factors such as its market size, buying power of its inhabitants and technological advancements, China is becoming increasingly appealing to international businesses. If the scene was until now dominated by large multinational corporations like KFC, Walmart, or Toyota, more and more DACH based businesses are also becoming interested in broadening their horizon and capitalise on this growth opportunity.
Success in the Chinese market might also open doors to broader regional markets as businesses strategically position themselves in the dynamic landscape of digital advertising. In this era of technological connectivity, the power of digital advertising cannot be overstated, and in China, it takes on a unique dimension shaped by the country's distinct digital ecosystem, consumer behaviors, and regulatory environment.
China's vast population, coupled with its increasing affluence and digital adoption, presents an immense opportunity for businesses seeking to establish a presence in the global market. With over a billion active internet users and a thriving e-commerce sector, the Chinese consumer base has become a focal point for companies aiming to expand their reach.
In this article, we will explore how foreign businesses can penetrate the Chinese market by leveraging digital advertising.
Understanding the Chinese Market
For any company looking to enter the huge Chinese market and build a successful digital advertising campaigns, they need to understand the market
The Chinese market is characterised by a number of unique features, including its size, diversity and cultural nuances.
Size Matters in China
With over 1.4 billion people, China is the most populated country in the world. In this huge potential market, foreign companies have both great opportunities and enormous challenges. On the one hand, the number of potential consumers is a tempting market to expand the business. However, reaching and appealing to such a large audience requires a carefully crafted digital advertising strategy that can effectively reach the different segments of the Chinese population.
One Country, Great Diversity
China is a country of immense cultural diversity, encompassing a multitude of languages, customs and traditions. This heterogeneity requires that any digital advertising strategy tailored to the Chinese market takes into account the different preferences and behaviours of consumers in different regions. If this diversity is not taken into account, the campaigns may only resonate with a fraction of the potential market, which would reduce the overall effectiveness of the advertising measures.
Cultural Nuances and Different Behaviours
Chinese culture, with its rich history and deep-rooted traditions, exerts a profound influence on consumer behaviour. Understanding these cultural nuances is critical to designing marketing campaigns that resonate with Chinese audiences. For example, the concept of 关系(guanxi), the importance of personal relationships in Chinese business culture, requires companies to prioritise building strong community and fostering trust with potential customers and partners. In addition, the concept of 面子（mianzi), saving face, emphasises avoiding actions that could embarrass or discredit individuals, so companies need to exercise sensitivity and diplomacy in their advertising messages.
China's Digital Revolution: Internet Penetration, Mobile Usage and E-commerce Supremacy
With an internet penetration rate of over 76%, China represents a powerhouse for businesses seeking to expand their global reach. This extensive internet usage means that businesses will have much more chances to engage with potential customers, reach different kinds of audiences, introduce products and services, and increase brand awareness.
98% of internet users in China are accessing the internet via mobile devices. This trend underscores the importance of creating mobile-friendly advertising campaigns, tailored for Chinese consumers on the go.
Last but not least, China has the supremacy as the world's largest e-commerce market, with online sales exceeding $2 trillion in 2022. This enormous e-commerce landscape provides businesses with a direct channel to reach millions of online shoppers.
Our team possesses a deep understanding of the Chinese market, allowing us to craft advertising strategies that resonate with local consumers. We offer valuable insights on market entry, from content localisation to platform selection, and have established a local presence in Beijing to facilitate smooth market entry for our clients while navigating regulatory requirements and cultural sensitivities. Contact us if you want us to guide you for your next exciting journey.
Exploring the Digital Landscape in China
China's digital world is a dynamic and constantly evolving ecosystem where a variety of platforms, trends, and regulations exist and keep changing. Getting familiar with this complex landscape is essential for foreign companies looking to build a successful online advertising strategy in China.
Digital advertising in China involves leveraging the platforms provided by the three tech giants - Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, collectively known as BAT. Each platform has its unique strengths and user base, so advertisers need to tailor their strategies accordingly.
Here are some digital advertising strategies for each of the three giants:
Baidu Digital Advertising
Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google, is the country's leading search engine and holds over 69.52% market share in China compared to other search engines. Advertising strategies on Baidu include:
Baidu Search Advertising:
- Optimize for Baidu's search engine, which dominates the Chinese search market.
- Use targeted keywords relevant to your business to appear in search results.
Baidu Display Network:
- Utilize Baidu's display network for banner ads, rich media, and video ads to reach a broader audience.
- Leverage Baidu's audience targeting options for precise ad placement.
Baidu Brand Zone:
- Consider investing in Baidu Brand Zone for high visibility and brand exposure in search results.
Alibaba Digital Advertising
Alibaba is the world's largest e-commerce company and operates two of China's most popular online marketplaces, Taobao and Tmall. The company also owns Alipay, the most widely used platform for mobile payments in China.
Taobao and Tmall Advertising:
- Leverage Alibaba's e-commerce platforms for product listings and targeted advertising.
- Utilize display ads, native ads, and in-feed ads to showcase products to relevant audiences.
Alibaba's KOL (Key Opinion Leader) Collaboration:
- Partner with popular influencers on Alibaba's platforms to endorse your products.
Tencent Digital Advertising
Tencent's WeChat is the most popular social media platform in China with over 1.3 billion monthly active users. The company also owns QQ, another popular social media platform, and Tencent Video, one of the leading streaming services in China.
WeChat Official Account Advertising:
- Set up a WeChat Official Account for your business and utilize advertising options within the platform.
- Leverage WeChat Moments Ads for targeted and native advertising.
WeChat Mini Programs:
- Develop WeChat Mini Programs for a more interactive and immersive user experience.
- Use in-app ads within Mini Programs to reach a highly engaged audience
- Explore advertising options on QQ, Tencent's instant messaging platform.
- Utilize QQ's display ads and sponsored articles for brand exposure.
The Great Firewall of China: Impact on Digital Advertising and Strategies to overcome Censorship
The Great Firewall of China is an internet censorship system introduced by the government that restricts access to certain foreign websites and online services. This poses challenges for foreign companies looking to promote their products and services to Chinese consumers. However, there are ways to go around the Great Firewall, for example by utilising Chinese advertising platforms on their daily-used apps.
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN): A CDN is a geographically distributed group of servers that caches content close to end users. This means that it can help your content to be distributed faster and more reliably to users in China. This can help reduce the likelihood of your content being blocked by censors.
- Use a Reverse Proxy: A Reverse Proxy acts as a go-between forwarding multiple client content requests to different servers spread across the internet. This way you can bypass the censorship blocks.
- Use Chinese Social Media: Social media is the fastest way to reach Chinese consumers. However, Chinese social media are also subject to censorship. To use social media effectively, you need to tailor your content to the Chinese audience and comply with censorship regulations.
With the strategy above you can make sure that your target audience can see your advertising content and interact with it.
6 Myths you Should Not Believe about Digital Advertising in China
1/ Baidu is like Google.
Compared to Google, Baidu has many more advertising options when it comes to ad formats (text, multiple images and video) and other extensions. This is also the reason Baidu is a complex platform to manage and requires expertise.
2/ WeChat and Baidu are the best channels to advertise.
It is certain that not every company with every type of product and service is suitable for WeChat or Baidu. The Chinese digital world offers many other platforms and social networks that businesses can use to their advantage (Douyin, Little Red Book, Toutiao, QQ, etc.).
3/ Translating everything is enough.
Different language, different culture, different content. The same content doesn’t work for different audiences. Therefore, merely translating into the local language isn’t enough. Instead, you need to adapt your content and message to the target group.
4/ Your entire website has to be in Chinese.
Sure, having your entire website in Chinese can help build trust and credibility with your target audience, but it’s also true that you only need a few landing pages to showcase your products and services.
5/ You need a big budget to advertise in China.
With the emergence of so many new advertising channels and platforms, $2000-$5000 is enough to gain a foothold in the Chinese market.
6/ You will make money in the big cities.
It's not the consumers in the big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, which are Tier 1 cities, that have the most spending power. Instead, customers in the smaller, less significant cities are spending more and more money. There are many more opportunities to grow your business here.
Use the Power of Social Media for your Advertising in China
Social media has become an indispensable tool for businesses of all sizes. Its influence is particularly noticeable in China, where platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, Little Red Book and BiliBili have transformed the way of doing digital advertising. These social media giants offer businesses unique opportunities to engage with Chinese consumers, increase brand awareness and, ultimately, drive sales.
WeChat: The All-in-One Ecosystem
WeChat is the most popular social media platform in China. It has evolved into a comprehensive ecosystem that includes social networking, mobile payments, e-commerce and much more. This versatility makes WeChat an ideal platform for businesses to be the first tool to reach Chinese consumers through its different advertising options:
- Moments Ads: Moments ads are like Instagram Stories, they appear when users are seeing other users Moments. You can target your advertising to specific user segments based on demographics, interests and behaviours, ensuring their messages reach the right audience.
- Banner Ads: they are at the bottom of an article on your Official WeChat Account and are a call-to-action, directing users to a landing page with additional information about the content promoted.
- Mini Program Ads: Integrated within Mini Programs, these ads are designed to promote specific functionalities or products within the mini app ecosystem. They can include banners, cards, or interactive components.
- WeChat Search Ads: They appear at the top of WeChat's search results, ensuring high visibility when users search for relevant keywords.
Weibo: The Microblogging Platform
Weibo, often referred to as the Chinese equivalent of X (the former Twitter), is a microblogging platform and it is particularly popular for gathering news, discussion and sharing opinions. Companies have different kind of Weibo advertising:
- Display Adverts: You can showcase your brands and promote products or services directly on the Weibo home page and other high-traffic areas.
- Video Ads: With engaging video ads you can attract attention and communicate your message effectively. This type of ads can be embedded in user feeds or displayed on specific channels.
- Native Ads: they are well-integrated within Weibo user interface, so they are not too invasive ads.
- Search Ads: Appear at the top of search results, ensuring your brand is seen when users search for keywords related to your products or services.
- Moment Ads: You will reach users in their moments, the curated feed of content shared by the accounts they follow, providing a personalised and targeted approach.
Douyin: The House of Short Videos
Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, has taken the world with its short video format. Douyin offers companies a unique opportunity to reach a young and engaged audience. With low-cost ads, you can achieve better and long-term visibility. By creating appealing and creative short videos ads and using compelling music, you can introduce your products and services. You will make a lasting impression in only a few seconds!
- In-feed Ads: Showcase your brand and promote products or services directly in the Douyin user feed, appearing seamlessly alongside organic content.
- Brand Takeover Ads: Take over the entire Douyin screen for a few seconds, creating an attention-grabbing experience for users.
- Live streaming Ads: Integrate your ads into live streams that appear prominently during popular broadcasts to reach a wider audience.
- Smart Ads: Leverage Douyin's intelligent ad optimisation technology that automatically targets the most relevant audience based on user behaviour and interests.
Little Red Book: The Influencer Marketplace
Little Red Book, often referred to as China's Instagram, is a popular social media platform that focuses on product recommendations and lifestyle sharing. On this platform businesses can reach potential customers through influencer marketing and content collaborations.
- Information flow Ads: Seamlessly integrate your adverts into the Little Red Book feed. They appear as native posts alongside user-generated content.
- Video Ads: Grab attention and convey messages with engaging video ads that can be embedded in the user feed.
- KOL live streaming Ads: Integrate your ads into live streams hosted by popular KOLs to reach a larger audience and leverage influencer credibility.
BiliBili: The Hub for Gen Z
BiliBili is a video sharing platform popular with China's Generation Z. BiliBili offers businesses a niche platform to reach a young and passionate audience.
- Mid-roll Ads: Integrate your ads into the Bilibili videos and display them at strategic points to maintain attention.
- Post-roll Ads: Capture users' attention after they've watched Bilibili videos, reinforce your brand message and call to action.
- In-Feed Ads: Present your ads seamlessly in the Bilibili user feed, alongside organic content.
- Tagged Moments: Partner with Bilibili to sponsor popular moments, i.e. high traffic areas on the platform, to raise awareness of your brand and increase brand recognition.
- Up Next Ads: Display your advert before users select the next video. This allows you to attract users' attention and promote your brand.
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How Asendia, a W4 Client leveraged Digital Advertising in China
Founded in 2012 by La Poste and Swiss Post, Asendia is a global leader in simplifying cross-border trade. Operating globally, Asendia offers international expertise and a robust network that enables deliveries to over 200 countries and territories. Dedicated to simplicity, reliability and sustainability, Asendia is the first port of call for companies needing to manage the complexities of international logistics.
- Number of WeChat followers not satisfying: the client wanted to expand its reach to connect more strongly with its target audience.
- Need for precise targeting: Identifying and targeting a specific audience segment was critical to the success of the brand. The challenge was to ensure that the content reached people who were genuinely interested in the brand's service.
- Demographic precision: Using WeChat's demographic targeting capabilities, we accurately identified the age, gender and location preferences of the ideal target audience.
- Selected type of Ads: With Banner Ads appearing within the articles of their Official Account or other chosen WeChat places, captured the users attention, increased brand awareness, engagement by clicking on it and ultimately followers.
- Time-based targeting: Ads were scheduled to appear at the times of highest user activity to ensure maximum visibility and interaction.
- Follower growth: over the course of the campaign, the client saw an increase in WeChat followers.
- Improved engagement and reach: The strategic use of Targeting and Ads resulted in increased user engagement and reached people who were genuinely interested in their service.
W4 specialises in unlocking the full potential of digital advertising in China. Our core expertise serves as a guide for companies that want to be successful in mainland China. We specialise in navigating the complicated digital landscape and developing advertising strategies that resonate with different consumer segments. Our team in Beijing, well-versed in the latest market trends and cultural nuances, will ensure that your brand makes a lasting impression. From strategic planning to execution, we are your partner in harnessing the enormous potential of digital advertising in China and supporting your brand on the path to steady growth.