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Comment: China - A big opportunity which requires an experienced guide

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By The Drum Team | Editorial

November 11, 2011 | 4 min read

Ben Peng from Bite Digital an agency that specialises in digital marketing in China for Western Brands, as well as helping Chinese brands build a presence in the UK, discusses the growing significant of the Eastern marketplace to marketers and the mistakes being made in entering the market.

Western marketeers have a growing interest in the Chinese market and rightly so considering the country accounts for 20% of the world’s population (UN Data 2010) and has a middle class of 240 million which is growing fast. However western marketing professionals often make some simple yet fatal mistakes when trying to communicate their client’s brand in the country according to Ben Peng, Chinese digital marketing executive at Bite Digital.

“The most common mistake made when marketing brands within the country is forgetting the geographical size of the country. China takes up 9.6 million sq km - which is 40 times bigger than the UK. This ultimately means that there can be vast differences in areas, from climate through to culture and even language.”

“For example one major chewing gum brand found out how regional differences can hamper even the most creative of campaigns. The brand was launching a new chewing gum featuring Xylitol (a component for healthy teeth) into the Chinese market. The advert was launched in Hong Kong - a city that predominantly speaks Cantonese - and played on the similarity in the pronunciation of the word Xylitol and the word for camel, with the humped animal being the main focus of the advert. Following the campaign’s success in Hong Kong, the ad agency tried to replicate this in other regions including northern China. However here it failed to make an impact as Mandarin speaking population missed the clever play on words which was lost in translation!”

“This may seem like a very simple error but it is one that commonly occurs. Aside from the language barrier, a key aspect of marketing to a Chinese audience is ensuring that the brand you are working for has a strong story to tell. The Chinese, more so than westerners, buy into the story behind a brand. It is quite common for marketeers to forget this which can mean a brand goes unnoticed. A leading British clothing brand for instance opened its flagship store in Beijing, hoping to generate a lot of buzz, however the team failed to explain the history behind the brand. This resulted in Chinese customers preferring local stores, which stocked similar items at discounted prices and so the brand was largely ignored.”

“Other significant differences include a lack of national advertising campaigns and a poor response to TV advertising - owing to the low viewing figures for the national television network CNTV. However, mirroring the west, social media is booming. But instead of Facebook & Twitter, in China Sina Weibo is the most popular social network.”

“Ultimately there is no universal key to building a brand in China, however these guidelines will give you a head start:

• Ensure you have a story to tell and to build this through PR, social media and internet marketing.

• Understand the political differences within the country, whether a campaign is big or small, companies and brands need to develop relationships with local government.

• Be aware of the local differences in language and culture, landscape and climate.

One thing that is certain, is that prior to launching into the country you should seek advice from either a specialist marketing agency with experience of the region or the advice of the product distributors.”

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