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Grapeshot China diaries: My advice to businesses entering China is focus on building connections

We’ve learned first-hand that advertising in China comes with its own set of opportunities – and challenges.

In part one of the series, learning the imperative of linguistics was shown to be both a personal and business challenge (and opportunity).

Earlier this year, smartphone users in China saw something a little odd on WeChat – a series of illustrated gifs, detailing the adventures of a group of astronauts landing on a fiery red planet. It was a branded post, but for what brand? Drawn in by the extra-terrestrial tale and intrigued by the enigma of the ad, users scrolled through 152 inches of story before the mystery was unveiled. The red planet was actually a gigantic chicken wing, and they were looking at an ad for McDonald’s.

This ad is just one example of how so-called “conventional” wisdom doesn’t always apply in China. While the rest of the world frets about shortening attention spans, advertisers in China are taking inspiration from the country’s own pioneering spirit of innovation to try something new. Indeed, China has its own way of doing things; whether it’s doing business by building “guanxi” or paying for street noodles with a wave of your smartphone. So it’s no surprise that advertising in China comes with its own unique set of challenges, opportunities, and best practices.

To start, businesses in China must become not just familiar, but intimate with the platforms where Chinese consumers prefer to spend their time. While people in many countries socialise and relax on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, Chinese consumers keep in touch and unwind with Weibo, WeChat and Youku. And, the digital ecosystems in China extend far beyond social media. Brands looking to make an impact in China must also consider how people pay (mobile wallets are the go-to method for 76% of metro Chinese consumers) and how they shop (online shopping is expected to double by 2020) in order to meet consumers across their most frequented touchpoints.

Of course, it’s not just about where ads sit, but what type of ads they are. As we’ve discovered first hand doing business in China, people here are voracious consumers of online videos; watching more than 5.7 billion hours of them every month. Maybe that’s why video ads are so effective in China. Deloitte has found that pre-roll video ads are the most likely to motivate Chinese smartphone users to make a purchase, and according to Nielsen, 56% of China’s internet users are persuaded to take action after viewing a digital video ad.

As video ads get more and more popular in China – they’re expected to overtake traditional TV spend by 2021 -- brands will need to be extra careful that their ads are relevant to consumers, to prevent fatigue. At Grapeshot, with our contextual targeting capability, it’s all about relevancy and accuracy. Most recently, we’ve been testing a video context solution with Vice Media that analyses and segments video content to improve video targeting and video brand safety. In other words – we are putting relevant video ads in front of target consumers, based on what they’re watching at any given moment, whether it’s in English or Chinese.

Entering the China market, we’ve had to work quickly to get a lay of the advertising landscape. Our own experience has taught us that consumers in China are hungry for great content, including advertising, as long as it’s relevant to their interests and engages them on the right platform. My advice to other businesses entering China for the first time is to focus on building connections – with long-term partners, with in-country collaborators, and of course, with the rising generation of middle class consumers who are hungry to learn more about brands that matter to them.

Kurt Kratchman is COO of Grapeshot. He can be found tweeting @kurtkratchman.

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