China internet buzz
By the end of 2010, it was estimated that there were 457 million internet users in China, overtaking the USA as the world’s biggest online market. This staggering figure is supported with a strong increase in the online shopping category, which accounts for more than 23% of growth.
2009 Asia Pacific Interdisciplinary Research in Accounting report also tells us that Chinese consumers are more inclined to believe a company’s corporate profile of itself than consumers do in the west (McKinsey). For any foreign company actively pursuing a share of the Chinese consumer market, this means it’s time to get serious about internet presence.
While it makes sense to have an internet marketing strategy specifically for China, it is something that is often overlooked by new and smaller entrants, who are unfamiliar with the language and culture. In our business capacity, we see a large number of exporters head East without even having attempted to ‘Chinafy’ their website – meaning, translating it to Chinese and making it culturally appealing to their potential Chinese customers.
Social media, seriously
Of serious interest to those wanting product exposure online in China, is the social media channel. The numbers again support this notion: it is estimated that there are around 47million (2007) blog writers in China alone! (Chinese Internet Network Information Centre). What this is clearly suggesting is that social media is a great tool to promote your company if you use it properly and can provide an inexpensive mass marketing campaign.
To navigate the Chinese internet landscape you will need a good grasp of Chinese language and to be active you will need to have some understanding of the culture. That is why it is best left to the experts. To give you an example of what China netizens see when they are online check out the following sites;
QQ (Tencent): a Chinese style MSN and gaming company
TaoBao: A Chinese version Ebay
Renren: A Chinese version Facebook
Alipay: A Chinese version Paypal
Youku: A Chinese version Youtube
Sohu: A Chinese version Google
Fanfou and Sina Weibo: Similar to Twitter
Baidu: Internet search engine
Aside from using the internet for marketing purposes, companies are also utilising the web as a direct-to-consumer distribution strategy. This type of distribution strategy is more likely to be useful by companies that already have an onshore presence in China, as meeting the international challenge of sending goods to a Chinese consumer from Australia is complicated. If you are considering marketing to local Chinese consumers from the comfort of your home, it may be worthwhile first thinking about the following challenges;
Logistics and currency exchange too
To get products to consumers in China, the quickest option is air mail. While delivery times of two to three days are great, the costs are high.
Payment is a big challenge, mostly because getting money out of China is hard. Most
consumers do not have access to foreign currency, and only a very small percentage have
foreign currency credit cards. The only portal we know which will accept both RMB and foreign currency at this stage is Paymate. A Chinese payment portal making progress in this area is China Unionpay.
The Chinese Customs Bureau represents challenges for small and large scale exporters alike. Goods are regularly seized at the border for no reason. Similar to Australian Customs, there are also limitations to the quantity, type and value of goods a local resident can purchase from oversease for ‘personal use’ .
There are Western companies already in China using the internet to drive their brand message. One such Australian company is Prosales Appco Group, who’s website www.fw1.com.cn is a major component of their China marketing strategy.They drive customers to their partner sites and update them with regular news and feedback about their products and activities in China. Another example is the multinational, Michelin, www.michelin.com.cn . Their Chinese language website has been designed specifically to suite the local Chinese market. You will notice it looks very different from their home site.
The message is fairly clear, if you are taking your business to China and expect to engage the consumers there, get serious about how you present on the internet.