Grapeshot China diaries: What does this button do? Tackling tech as a business in China

Contending with a world of new technology can be challenging for companies coming into China – as Grapeshot has learned first-hand.

As COO of a global tech company, I’m fairly proficient when it comes to getting a handle on new technology – at least, that’s what I thought, until I went to China and tried to hail a taxi. It was 5pm in Shanghai in July, the hottest part of the afternoon on one of the hottest days of the year. I’d just finished a meeting and was, to say the least, eager to get back to my air-conditioned hotel. Plenty of taxis were driving by, but none stopped. Finally, after waving my hand in vain for 20 minutes, I walked the 2km back to the hotel, dripping all the way.

I later learned, thanks to my helpful (and thoroughly amused) local colleagues, that I needed to download a local taxi booking app like Didi Chuxing or Kuadi Dache (one third of online Chinese do this regularly) and follow the Chinese instructions in the app if I was to have any hope of zipping around the city by cab.

This experience brought to life a key lesson about doing business in China – in order to thrive, you need the right technology.

When a business comes into China for the first time, it must contend with a unique, often enigmatic technology landscape. It’s not necessarily complicated, but it takes some time to learn the ropes. China has its own set of home-grown media and apps which practically everyone uses to communicate, shop online, read the news and get around town, but many of these are unknown to newcomers. What’s more, China is dedicated to technology innovation, meaning it’s all constantly changing at breakneck speeds – so how can a foreign company keep up?

We’ve discovered first-hand that a full immersion into the local tech culture is key. Download the latest dining app, shop on the most popular ecommerce platform, and if all your colleagues are chatting via a hip new messaging service, make sure you’re using it too. By doing as the locals do, business leaders can get a deeper insight into what technology is most important to real people in China, and where it’s headed next. Don’t discriminate. Even if you’re in the logistics business, download that new music app everyone’s talking about; because this is China, and an entertainment platform today could easily become an online retail platform tomorrow.

As well as adapting to the technology used by local people and businesses in China, companies should also ask – what can China teach us about doing business in other places? For example, Grapeshot has always been strong in leveraging real-time programmatic to help advertisers get more value from display ads. In China, however, the team saw that display was losing ground to new media related to mobile and video. So, we took a big step forward in video context programmatic solutions, which has already won the

company new business in the United States. In building a local solution in response to the technology landscape in China, we ended up with a global opportunity.

What’s more, the importance of listening in to what’s happening locally cannot be overstated. Businesses should work closely with local partners and aim to recruit a local team who are experts in China, in order to drive the right strategy in the face of fast-changing technology. With the right people on board who understand what’s happening close by and across China, businesses will be able to build up their own arsenal of advanced core technology, in order to remain innovative and adaptable.

When working with local partners, heed their advice and don’t be afraid to ask questions – whether you want to know the best way to digitally engage with clients and consumers, or simply how to hail a taxi.

Kurt Kratchman is COO of Grapeshot. He can be found tweeting @kurtkratchman. Read earlier installments of the Grapeshot China Diaries here.

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