Western companies operating in China are increasingly recognising the importance of developing an effective online marketing strategy for the market. With China’s online population having already passed the half a million mark (already double that of the U.S.), a shift in the way in which businesses of all types communicate with their customers in China is rapidly taking place. A growing cohort of businesses are abandoning traditional marketing channels, such as print advertising, direct mailing and exhibition promotions, in favour of online campaigns integrating online advertising, social media, e-mail marketing and a well-developed website.
As Western consumer brand-owners compete to target China’s new burgeoning group of tech-savvy middle-class consumers, the internet has played a vital role as the principle medium through which to reach this target audience. From relatively early on, suppliers of luxury FMCG brands, such as P&G and Unilever, have invested significant resources in using the company’s online presence to communicate with core customers. As well as a well-developed Chinese website, most consumer brands also use tailored online community groups, typically accessed through popular social media sites, to promote the brand and create forums of consumer feedback and interaction.
Many Western marketing managers with little direct China experience make the mistake of assuming that restrictions on Chinese online media serves to curtail its use as an effective medium to communicate with Chinese audiences. However, while popular Western sites such as Facebook and Twitter cannot be easily accessed in China, this simply means that Western brands should look to target Chinese consumers through alternative local sites. In fact, social networking and micro-blogging are arguably more popular with the Chinese urban middle classes than in many Western countries. For example, Sino Weibo, the popular micro-blogging site, currently has 300 million registered users compared to 500 million worldwide Twitter users. Both Chinese and Western consumer brands have attempted to tap into this channel by developing their own sites, using consumer groups to circulate information on upcoming promotions, as well as gather information from consumer groups.
Growing internet penetration throughout China also means that online research, particularly in consumer markets, is more viable than it ever has been in the past. Online panels have gradually grown in size and reliability, with a greater proportion of the overall population represented, making online surveys more viable than was the case several years ago. As internet penetration continues to extend to less affluent cities and regions, the cost and effectiveness of online surveys will also continue to improve, making online research the preferred choice, particularly for consumer research. The explosion of social media also means that researchers have a much greater range of options in terms of capturing insights from bespoke online communities and mining data from social networking sites.
As in other markets, companies operating in Chinese business-to-business markets have been slower to scale up the role of online buy alprazolam from india resources in their integrated marketing strategies. However, as Western companies become more established in the Chinese market, a growing number of b2b companies are acknowledging the importance of online marketing strategies in improving customer experience and helping the company to stand out from its competitors. For example, a few years ago, Chinese versions of company websites were often put together as an afterthought rather than being seen as an integral component of a company’s China marketing strategy. Increasingly, many Western firms operating in China will employ a full-time specialist or third-party consultant to ensure that website design and content clearly communicates key corporate messages and brand values.
Developing an effective online marketing and communications strategy for China poses a significant challenge to many b2b businesses, especially to small and medium sized businesses which have fewer resources at their disposal. Language barriers, significant cultural differences and marked variances between different regions within China set particular challenges in terms of developing marketing messages suited to the target audience. Western marketing managers often lack the local understanding to ensure that corporate messages are localised in the right way, while locally employed marketing staff may lack the experience and expertise necessary to develop and execute marketing campaigns in a satisfactory way. Companies are often faced with the constant challenge of balancing global/corporate messages with localised messages, and ensuring that marketing campaigns are executed in a joined-up way.
In the face of such challenges, it is perhaps surprising that so little market research being conducted in China concentrates on developing effective marketing and communications strategies for the China market. The majority of business-to-business market research studies being undertaken in China continue to focus on assessing the size and nature of market opportunities, or to measure the needs of target audiences at a general level. Although many studies will touch upon the issue of marketing communications, this typically forms a relatively minor component of a broader market study and rarely provides the depth of insight around which to develop an effective marketing strategy.
As b2b markets in China become more mature in the coming years, it is expected that far less research will look to measure and quantify the Chinese market, and more studies will be undertaken with the aim of differentiating from the competition and improving customer experience. In addition to more customer experience research, there will be a growing demand for deeper insights into marketing communications strategies to target Chinese businesses more effectively. For example, research that explores how audiences search to find information on products and suppliers, user-needs research on the functionality of websites, and concept testing on new website design will all see an increase, as businesses strive to find ways to improve customer experience and maintain a competitive edge.