These days, agencies more than often fail to mention that an overwhelming large number of international brands fall flat when marketing to China. With the largest middle class in the world, the Chinese market is massive, and for the right brand, it can be insanely profitable. The population has reached 1.4 billion and the online retail market is expected to double the size of the U.S. by 2022, so it’s completely understandable to think that expanding to China would be somewhat of a breeze. However, brands face many challenges and pitfalls in this diverse and sophisticated market, especially for those that do not have adequate knowledge of cultural and consumer norms.
Brands often use what works in the West, finding themselves unable to adjust advertising ads and campaign strategies to fit the local market. But it is necessary to clearly understand the dynamics of the Chinese market in order to cater to the unique, distinctive purchasing behaviors of Chinese consumers. If you want your brand to thrive in China, here are some crucial marketing mistakes to avoid.
Lack of Cultural Understanding
Foreign brands often make the mistake of not taking the appropriate time to understand the Chinese market and develop a localized strategy to meet the needs of Chinese consumers. China has developed culturally in a way that is completely different than what the West is familiar with. They have different expectations when it comes to online services and emphasis is often placed heavily on the customer experience.
ASOS is one of the largest British online fashion brands with great success in the UK and U.S. In 2016, the company shut down its local operation in China and one major reason why was that they didn’t fully understand their target consumer or the local market. They didn’t properly localize their e-commerce site resulting in a poor user experience and charged a relatively expensive delivery fee. Chinese consumers are already accustomed to the world’s cheapest logistics system and can receive a much faster delivery from local platforms like Tmall and Taobao.
Failure to Localize Content
Content localization is a term that is widely misunderstood and misused. Chinese consumers are an entirely different audience that use completely different social media platforms. Content marketing strategies need to be adjusted accordingly and be able to resonate with the Chinese user. The content also needs to be properly translated and directly translating Mandarin for the local audience can be a difficult task. Chinese is a contextual language and it’s important to have a translator that truly knows the target audience. Brands must understand the need to be flexible, and put the necessary effort in beforehand when planning a campaign to get a feel of what will work and what won’t.
The luxury fashion giant Burberry received quite a bit of backlash after releasing a special Chinese New Year scarf. The scarf featured a monogrammed Chinese character meaning prosperity. The ad was widely circulated with users leaving comments suggesting that the scarf looked like a knockoff. Burberry also incorrectly positioned the character, which is usually displayed upside-down during Chinese New Year. Chinese consumers are incredibly brand conscious, so the country’s long-held traditions and most recent trends need to be implemented for a successful campaign.
Culturally Insensitive Campaigns
Western culture tends to have a nostalgic view of Chinese society, which often times doesn’t align with the modern day Chinese consumer. It is crucial that brands bridge the gap and have an understanding that cliché strategies will most likely fall flat. Nationalism in the country is stronger than ever and Chinese consumers appreciate when brands respect their social progress and advancement. They are well aware when foreign brands’ campaign messaging is not authentic or has a negative undertone to it.
Dolce & Gabbana recently made a huge mistake with their “DC Loves China” marketing campaign. The video revealed a young Asian woman in a red D&C dress that appears to be having trouble eating Italian food with chopsticks. The ending concludes with a male narrator asking, “Is it too huge for you?”. Chinese social media users labeled the video as racist and disrespectful to Asian women. The backlash was so severe that it lead to a “Boycott Dolce” campaign and products getting removed from a wide range of platforms. The cultural attitudes in China are continually changing with consumers becoming more sensitive to brand behavior. To avoid cultural mishaps, brands need to consider collaborating more with locals for a more authentic user experience.
In order to gain traction and have a successful marketing campaign in China, brands must play an active role in making an authentic connection with their target audience. Chinese consumers can be easy to connect with as long as you market to them in the right way. They are eager to buy foreign products, so the first step is almost finished before planning even begins. Although, they still prefer brands that offer a certain degree of exclusivity and the most success marketing campaigns tend to offer personalized deals and discounts to followers. There are a number of creative ways and platforms that can be used to create an effective marketing campaign in China. Just keep in mind that understanding the local consumer attitudes and strategizing a campaign that’s culturally appropriate are the first steps to pushing your campaign towards success.