Technology China Social Media

Tackling the China firewall : A handy guide on the Chinese digital platforms

By Eve Lo | Strategy officer



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July 9, 2018 | 6 min read

In the second of a two part blog Eve Lo, Isobar China gives an insight into digital platforms available in the country and what that could mean for brands hoping to succeed in the market.

How to tackle China's tricky firewall

Forget your carefully built reputation outside of China. In China you start from scratch. More than 98% of all searches are performed in Mandarin. Foreign language content, positive reviews and most Western platforms are not visible on the Chinese internet. You should view it as a separate internet region closed by the huge Chinese firewall. Companies without a Chinese entity can only open a store on a cross-border platform. In addition, Chinese third parties prefer to work with companies that have built a reputation. This requires a fresh approach to work on your visibility through various Chinese platforms. A recently released Ad spend report shows that online giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT) are expected to represent 80% of total ad spend growth, underlining their dominance on the market.

Here is an overview of the most important cross-border platforms:

Competition landscape in China, dominated mainly by the Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.

​ Tmall (Alibaba)

Tmall logo

Tmall is the most important platform in China, but is especially reserved for the most successful players. In most cases, Tmall brands are rejected. Tmall only selects brands that already have a strong image, reputation and substantial sales from China.

​ Taobao(Alibaba)

A lot of small and medium-sized businesses can be found on this B2C platform. So if you start with a small business, then Taobao is a suitable platform to start with.

JD (partly Tencent)

JD logo

This is the second e-commerce platform of China. The advantage of JD is that it has a highly developed own logistics, which store owners can use for compensation. JD (formerly 360Buy) was initially a pure online retailer of electronics, but has expanded in recent years thanks to its fairly well supported and regulated marketplace. JD is comparable with Tmall and therefore also for the larger brands in the market.

Wechat stores (Tencent)

Starbucks WeChat app

Another effective alternative to these platforms is the use of WeChat Stores. The WeChat store is the best and most effective tool. These are stores hosted in this app and linked to an official account.

Forget about Google, Youtube and Facebook. In China there is an alternative for each channel. These are not simple copy-cats, despite having similar logos. These channels are smart and innovative ecosystems and are forerunners, both in functionality and design.

WeChat (Tencent)

WeChat started out similar to Whatsapp and is integral to the lives of many Chinese people. It is a mega app that contains various platforms such as online stores, forums, you can also pay with this app. If you are visible as a brand on one of these platforms, it is important to know that entering into personal interactions with the consumer is an important way to create brand preference.


Baidu Goal

Like Google, Baidu has a huge reach in China with 75% of all online search traffic. Baidu is a portal to China. As a company, you must be visible here with a quality site, landing page, content and references from third parties that are displayed when searching on the basis of Mandarin character keywords. A combination of SEA and SEO can yield a lot of quality traffic.

iQiyi (Baidu)


Here you can stream video content such as documentaries and films. Last year iQiyi signed a collaboration with Netflix. These platforms are comparable, but have different revenue models - Netflix was built as a subscription model and iQiyi as an advertising model.

​Youku (Alibaba)

Youku Alibaba

Youku can best be compared with Youtube. It is a B2C and C2C platform where you can create channels and upload videos yourself. On this platform they use prerolls, which, unlike Youtube, are not skippable. It also offers the direct link with e-commerce. Advertisers can place their logo - only in their own video content - that link directly to Tmall or Taobao. The main difference between Youku and Youtube is the ‘see now buy now’ functionality. In the menu a link has been made with online stores. What you see in the video, you can purchase within the same window. Sina Weibo (Alibaba) is a combination of Twitter and Facebook where users can leave microblogs. Every day 100 million messages are left on Sina Weibo, thanks to the more than 500 million users.

The possibilities seem endless. But the disadvantage of working with Chinese platforms is that it is hard to retrieve data from them, in order to give you better insights into the behavior of your target group. Collaborating with a digital agency in China is definitely recommended. For example, at Isobar China we have access to all data from the B.A.T platforms and we work with data specialists who can convert your data into valuable insights about the behavior of your target group. These insights are crucial to unlock the opportunities in the Chinese market and form the basis of a creative marketing strategy. Especially in a fast-paced digital market like China it is important to bring branding and sales closer together. International brands that we have helped to join the Chinese market include: Cornetto, Coca-Cola, MasterCard, Estee Lauder and Volvo.

So take a deep dive in our market, do your research and increase your chances to successfully launch your brand in China.

Finally, an interesting video that shows why and how dependent the Chinese consumer is of e-commerce platforms and how they shop.

Eve Lo, chief strategy officer, Isobar China

Technology China Social Media

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Isobar is dentsu’s global creative agency focusing on building a differentiated offering around Strategy and Innovation, Product and Experience, Brand Design & Systems and Comms & Content.

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