Preparing for a trade mission in China: Marketing Tips

We were recently invited to share marketing and advertising advice with a trade mission of foreign companies seeking business opportunities in China. We met very interesting companies in industries such as entertainment, education and technologies, who have a successful track-record in their home countries and want to explore ways in which their business can extend into what is soon to be the largest economy in the world.

Without going too much in the obvious importance of having a clear value proposition and competitive advantage compared to local players, our experience with some of these companies has inspired us to share a few simple marketing tips that can be easily applied and increase your chances of having a successful trade mission, whether you are looking for investors, business partners, or clients in China.

1. Adapting your content: language and context

Following an initial consultation, some of the companies shared their profile, and selected case studies so we/or potential partners could understand their value proposition.

Most of the companies interviewed achieved the baseline of having their website and marketing materials in Chinese and English. Risking to state the obvious, this substantially increases your chances of making your content understandable to Chinese business people, as English is still not a very commonly understood language. That said, having both is much better, since some decision makers may be expats as well.

However, we found that most companies had not considered the importance of CONTEXT in their translated content. Translating content is much more than translating word for word. When adapting your content to a foreign language such as Chinese, foreign companies should take into consideration what local people may know or not know about the context of their service, which may be obvious to readers in their homeland or in other countries. Therefore, make sure you select content translators that understand how to market your products or services. These translators should also understand your business goals, so they can really articulate your message to the readers.

(if it can be bad from Chinese to English, it can also be bad the other way around)

2. Make your content easily accessible/sharable

Another company we met offered an entertainment solution which we feel has a lot of potential in China. It was also a pleasant coincidence as one of our clients sprang to mind as a local business partner. We therefore organized an introduction via WeChat. The foreign company was pleased to share some photos of its services as well as a website link. The local partner responded with greetings and a link to their official WeChat account, which provides access to their solutions, past events, and products. The initial introduction brought many small challenges that could easily have been avoided.

Problem: The foreign company’s website is hosted on a server that is hard to access from China.

Solution: For a company establishing itself its China with function driver website, it will eventually be a good idea to have a Chinese Domain Name (.cn) and server. Having a server in China requires a local business license, (or working with a third party like us), and registering a ICP, with local authorities, which can take weeks. That said, for companies only exploring opportunities, or for which their website is only a front of their business, having a Hong Kong-based server can easily do the job, and this can be done in a day or so.

Problem: The videos and media content of the foreign company are hosted on platforms blocked in China (or not fast enough), such as YouTube or Vimeo.

(What happens if people try to access your Youtube video from China)

Solution: You’ve probably heard of the Great Firewall of China, and if you haven’t, well Google it (unless you are in China). Long story short, many social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube), among other things are blocked, or slower in China. Therefore, it may be frustrating for Chinese companies to try to access your content. Hosting video on local platforms such as Youku or Tudou may help them have a better experience when trying to understand your company. This goes hand in hand with creating an H5, or more locally adapted content.

Problem: When receiving the Official Account Link, the foreign company then asks for “an actual link”, not knowing that a WeChat Official Account is an app leading to all the content they need to know about the counterpart. Awkward.

Solution: Read Next Section

3. Understand WeChat’s basic functionalities

You can already find many WeChat specialized articles online, and if you are really serious about having a presence on this platform, you should consider working with a local agency (we know a good one), to help you create a strategy. But we also understand that you may not want to commit just yet. That said, you should at least have a basic knowledge about WeChat before coming to China.

WeChat is an all-in-one app: Think of Facebook, Skype, Apple Pay, What’s APP, all put together, on steroids. When we say on steroids, it basically means that through its mini programs, WeChat allows other companies to create built-in services (such as bike/car sharing, food delivery, e-commerce, etc.)

  1. WeChat is the #1 social and commercial communication tool. To a certain extent, it’s replaced emails as it’s used for file sharing, setting up meetings, sending locations for meetings and much more. It’s definitely the best way to stay in contact with people based in China.
  2. WeChat is widely used as a marketing and promotional tool, through WeChat Moments (Facebook Newsfeed’s equivalent), paid advertising, WeChat Groups, and WeChat Official Accounts. A WeChat official account is basically a web application built within WeChat. It’s almost fully customizable allowing you to link it to all available WeChat functionalities (payment, location, etc.)
  3. WeChat is a closed platform, meaning that it’s not compatible with other social media, or your website, and other social media.