Digital marketing strategies in China: Navigating the landscape

When the digital age took the world by storm, it promised to alter the way in which we consumed (…and marketed) data forever. At the forefront of this change, was the marketing industry who looked to be proactive in their efforts to control the new and exciting ways advertising was not only being seen, but also what new possibilities for content came with newer, more flexible platforms. No where has this shift been more pronounced than China, with companies constantly searching for the best way to reach the right people in this expansive and unique market. With China releasing its most recent 5 year plan in 2016, there was a clear message from the powers that be that resources will be allocated to developing IT innovation, new media and ‘the internet of things’, with the government set to potentially open up these fields to privatization.

Fast forward to 2019, and the figures paint a familiar picture of both opportunity and challenge in the worlds most populace nation. The truth remains however, if you can understand consumer trends, you give yourself the best chance of reaching those consumers with intelligent digital marketing strategies. Below, Bowen Li, formerly of Baidu, discusses the intricacies of the online market in China.

Bowen Li, formerly of Baidu, discusses the intricacies of the online market in China

Local Marketing agency Marketing to China, released its report for 2018 stating the following trends that will guide decision making for marketers domestically during the year of the dragon:

Feeling ‘Appy‘ – The average Chinese mobile user is downloading 69% more apps than the global average with the big player here being WeChat. This increased ”nose in phone culture” sweeping the nation means more and more consumers are distracted by their device, forcing digital marketers to zero in on effective strategies.

Generally Gen Y – Companies continue to site millennial’s (Gen Y) as their biggest source of growth, and more brands are looking to prepare for the inevitable Gen Z tsunami that will hit the market soon. Whilst sharing many parallels with their Gen Y counterparts, the more curious and independent Gen Z’ers may be poised to shake up the game in coming years.

Gen Y vs Gen Z
Gen Y vs Gen Z

How much!? – Online advertisement figures almost broke the 500 Billion RMB (yup… billion!) mark last year, with growth showing no signs of slowing down. With the majority of this figure deriving from the mobile phone market, it is expected that this will continue to be the main window for companies to display their wares.

Go Shorty – Mini video apps or Short video platforms are huge in China with as many as 500 million active users being seen using these types of apps monthly in 2018. The biggest fish (…think TaoBao) are circling around this style of media share as a means to meet their market, on their terms.

WeBuy – As many as 70% of young people in China are thought to use platforms such as WeChat and Weibo to do their spending. The ability to search and ultimately buy at stores or through websites are slowly becoming a thing of the past in China, as digital marketers look intent on finding customers through SocMed.

KOL me maybe – Love them or hate them, what KOL’s (Key Opinion Leaders) say and do has a big sway with the public and how to effectively market to them. This direct, non-formal means of digital marketing has seen a huge surge in popularity with consumers wanting to emulate their favorite stars with specific spending, and companies are starting to get in on the unpredictable action.

Yeti Out Logo

So, what do we think we will see working in the future? I spoke to Yeti Out founder, Thomas Bray, to find out how his company finds its audience online in China, and what the future holds for digital Marketers. Yeti Out is one of the biggest players in the underground music scene in Shanghai, but can also be found hosting and playing events at big name locations in (to a name a few…) Hong Kong, London, Japan, Paris and even recently getting themselves on stage at the hugely popular Coachella, in LA.

Thomas Bray, YETI OUT

Thomas says, ‘In China, we use mainly our official account’s WeChat to speak to our audience. By curating specific content posts, this acts similar to a blog post where we can share a concise amount of curated content in one place via one link.’. When comparing China to the other markets he promotes in, he said: ‘This strategy is different from other countries, purely because WeChat is the main social media platform used in China while it’s not widely used anywhere else’. Its plain to see that Digital marketing strategies present challenges to reach audiences, but also that regionally the goal posts shift and it’s the job of Digital Marketers to adapt accordingly.

It’s clear that if you don’t have endless resources available to you, then targeting your best ‘bang for buck’ platforms are the easiest way to see tangible results, but also to remain versatile as to what that platform is, given the volatility of the internet.

As always, the aim of marketing is not only to guide consumers but predict their habits. So how does Tom see the game changing in the Chinese market?

‘In the future I believe this will still be effective but the posts will have to be shorter and more digestible, similar to tweets on Twitter.’

So, what does it all mean? Well, for those looking to stay on top of digital marketing in China, the name of the game is to follow the crowd and don’t complicate the message. As consumers get more and more crowded by information, the key to success remains selecting the best communication channel to get some ‘face time’, and then condensing the desired message in to its most polished form. Right now, this means that WeChat remains the go to, but as the market for following influencers grows, this is increasingly becoming the best non-threatening way to reach consumers, on their terms. Companies also need to be ready to re-target their customers. With attention spans dropping, so are dwell times. That’s why its so important to capitalize on re-targeting methods such as Pixel, that can capitalize on initial interest to propagate a tangible result. One thing is for sure however, when it comes to digital marketing, being ready to pivot with the market is key.

If you are in Shanghai (or indeed most places in the world!) and would like to attend one of Yeti Outs great up coming events feel free to head to their events page for a look at what’s coming up on the calendar.

If you are free this weekend, head down to DADA Shanghai to catch artist Orlando playing dancehall sounds from London via New York on May 31st.

Event Information


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