Why do you need good branding in China to succeed?

Branding in China

Chinese consumers love well-known brands. Although we can see a swift in consumer behavior in the West, with more people buying second-hand clothes or products from small, local brands, in China most consumers will always go for domestic or global brands that already have strong branding in China.

In the eyes of consumers, these brands are symbols of reliability, quality, and social prestige. For these brands, it means more sales and more success. Therefore, a successful branding strategy is a key marketing move that all foreign companies should focus on in order to win Chinese consumers. Fortunately, there are practices that can help you with branding in China. In this blog post we will explain to you why branding is so important in China and what can you do to become a well-known brand in China.

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Why should you work hard on your branding in China?

Chinese consumers are looking for reliability when purchasing online. They are well aware of counterfeit and poor-quality products and this leads them to buy in a smarter way. In China, there is something we like to call queuing phenomenon. If you have the chance to visit China you might encounter people queuing for hours even just to buy ice cream. Why is that? If a place is busy, it must be good, and the longer the queue is, the longer are people willing to wait.

It works in the same way with brands. Sales lead to more sales and this gets more consumers paying attention to your brand. Having people talking about you is key to success, as long as they generate a positive impact. A well-known brand is often associated with quality. As we said, Chinese people are looking for better quality over quantity nowadays. They are more concerned about the health and the environment.

Chinese consumers tend to care about their Mianzi

Another very important concept associated with branding in China is the social concept of Mianzi. Mianzi, in a highly hierarchical and collectivist society like the Chinese one, is the reputation of each person, as well as the prestige that they possess in the places they frequently visit, like work, school, and home.

This can be achieved by getting good grades, excellent work results, and a prominent economic position, but also by owning a valuable car, designer clothes from a popular brand, or a good-looking wife. In this regard, it is a real humiliation for the Chinese to make a mistake in public. “Losing face” (diu mianzi) is a source of great embarrassment and shame.

This means that a non-Chinese who relates to Chinese culture must always keep in mind the importance of avoiding any word or attitude in your marketing campaigns and branding that could lead to the loss of face. Each brand carries values and a specific identity that Chinese consumers will consider when buying. This is also related to the Mianzi and the way people want to be seen.

A successful branding strategy comes with benefits

Not only being a well-known brand will get you huge profits but it will also open some doors for you. You’ll soon discover that to sell in China you need retailers. Retailers won’t be willing to work with a start-up or new brand simply because they know the risk of being a total stranger on the Chinese market. Therefore, the more recognized on the market you are, the more guanxi you will need.

Branding in China
One of GMA case studies, where we worked on introducing the brand to Chinese consumers and building a good branding strategy

Guanxi – the art of building relations

Having a good reputation increases your mianzi but also helps you build bigger guanxi, which can be understood as a network of business and private relations. Having good relations is at the center of the Chinese business model and will help you to get the best deals and new clients. Unlike the way of conducting business in the West, which is usually very formal and focused on work, in China to have a fruitful business or institutional relationship you must first establish a personal relationship based on mutual knowledge, respect, and trust.

Well-known successful brands get invited to all kinds of events where they can promote themselves to Chinese consumers in many different ways. And it’s not that easy, as not everyone can organize an event for themselves for good branding in China. If no one knows your brand, no one will come. Indeed, walking into an event organized by another unknown brand among 1000 other brands does not have the prestige of being invited to a Gucci event for instance. Time is a resource that can’t be wasted.

Talking about prestige, giant global brands often get discounts on their rents and sweet deals with local businesses. In this way, they are going to have priorities over small brands and get the best spots. All of these are due to good guanxi on the Chinese market.

How to build your brand a name in the Chinese market?

Now that we’ve explained to you some of the most important reasons why you need to focus on branding in China, we can introduce you to some of the most efficient methods to do so.

What is most important is that your marketing efforts should be focused on the digital world if you want Chinese consumers to get to know your brand and your values. They are extremely digitalized and have a habit of checking most brands on social media or in search engines before they make a purchase.

Invest in a good Baidu SEO&SEM strategy

The first thing is to create a website in Chinese. It will have to be hosted in China or Hong Kong. These two details may be taken for granted, but they are extremely important for your SEO ranking. Another important thing for search engine optimization is to do link building: the activity aimed at increasing the number of inbound links to a website, which in this way gains greater authority in the eyes of the search engine.

The most used search engine in China is Baidu. It covers more than 70% of the users’ queries. In short, you won’t be able to rank if you have a foreign-language website hosted on a foreign server. To get a China contact, you need to be China-related in any way.

Take advantage of Baidu SEM tools

Similar to Google Ads, Baidu also offers its users different advertisement formats to reach Chinese consumers through the search engine ranking pages. There are 4 types of Baidu SEM campaigns that you can use for branding in China:

  • Based on PPC (pay-per-click) – works pretty same as in Google
  • Brand-zone campaigns – it’s possible to buy a list of keywords and pay monthly. This type is usually used by big brands but it’s also suitable for smaller companies. Brand zone campaigns allow more freedom because there is an option of personalizing the ads and they take almost half of the screen of the search page. They are also strongly focused on-brand content.
  • Baidu Tuiguang – the Chinese equivalent of Google Adwords, the platform dedicated to SEM activities. Consisting of a search part, and a display with about 600,000 sites affiliated with the Baidu network.
  • Baidu Display Network Advertising – an advertising banner service offered by Baidu that allows you to invest in ads that appear on external sites and earn money based on the number of clicks on the ads.                                                   

Investing in Baidu ads might be out of reach for a new brand, but when you start growing, it’s a good way to reach out to new customers and companies that might be interested in your products, but never saw you on any marketplace or in their social circle on Wechat or RED.

E-reputation in China is essential

Chinese consumers are rather suspicious and they are not that loyal to brands, changing their purchasing decisions easier. They are easily influenced, especially by their family, friends, or favorite influencers and they rely on recommendations, opinions, and reputations of brands they are interested in, especially global brands.

If they want to buy something, they check brands online, on their official sources like a Chinese website or Wechat Store, but they also go to social media platforms, like WeChat, Weibo, Little Red Book, or Douyin, to see how other consumers are rating these products and if they would recommend it to others or not. They don’t trust official sources as much as they trust word-of-mouth marketing.

Baby infant formula brand reputation on Baidu

You can use this to your advantage by being everywhere your audience is looking for information. You can work on your marketing strategy for all the platforms mentioned above, but also take care of good PR of your company online, show your products on Chinese marketplaces like Tmall and JD or if you’re a smaller company, you can just create a store on WeChat.

There are many options to choose from to attract new customers to your brand. Let’s see some of the most important ones;

Leverage the power of social media to build your branding in China

There’s no question that social media is an incredibly powerful tool for building your foreign brand in China. By creating a strong social media presence, you can connect with Chinese consumers in a way that’s meaningful and relevant to them. You can also create a more personal connection with your target audience, which can help to build trust and loyalty. Here are some of the most useful ones;

WeChat will help you engage with your followers’ base

WeChat is one of the most popular apps in the world and in China, with 1.26 billion active monthly users as of 2022. It’s one of the Chinese super-apps, where they check news, companies’ profiles, and services they use in daily life, they also check updates from their friends, but above all they communicate.

WeChat has many great features, that help domestic and foreign brands reach their Chinese consumers in many different ways, like through public accounts and newsletters, videos, ads or shops, and mini-games. It can be used for shared content, as a CRM, or as an e-commerce platform.

WeChat CRM

WeChat CRM is a great tool to communicate with your followers and it can be used as a newsletter. With a well-set Wechat CRM, you can answer automatically any questions your followers may have, welcome new ones, offer special discounts, inform them about any e-commerce events, etc.

WeChat mini-programs

Another important feature for brands’ and marketing purposes is WeChat mini-programs, which are a kind of “sub-application”: an app inside another (in this case, WeChat). Mini-programs can be compared to “mini-apps” built into the WeChat app itself. As a result, users will no longer have to use or download new apps to do the shopping because they can find everything on WeChat.

WeChat stores

The most relevant feature of those programs is Wechat stores, where brands can sell their products to consumers without the need for a big investment in e-commerce presence.

Wechat is a great tool for branding in China as it is a social media and quality content can go viral very fast bringing you a lot of traffic and potential customers. However, branding on Wechat is a real effort and takes time. This is why it’s good to work with a China digital agency, that will help you navigate through the WeChat ecosystem and prepare the best branding and marketing campaign for any small or big brand.

Weibo is good to increase brand awareness and going viral

Weibo is one of the most popular social media platforms in China, it is similar to Twitter. It offers many services: from traditional social activities to creating micro-blog, sending messages, following brands, Kols, and trends, live streaming, and gaming activities.

It is a one-to-many platform. Weibo is a great tool for reaching out to a bigger audience and gaining more consumers that you can later redirect to your brand’s website or WeChat official account. Although WeChat has more impact on call-to-action campaigns, Weibo is the best tool to reach out to new consumers and build brand awareness. It’s best to have an account on both of them, because the marketing campaigns and audiences are different on both of these platforms.

Weibo helps to increase brand awareness, ensure great visibility for events and promotions through ad-hoc communication with user-friendly content, insert external links to the brand’s e-commerce, and to lead to word of mouth. Thanks to hashtags, you can build a real community around your products and gain visibility in China.

Other social media platforms; Little Red Book, Douyin

Apart from the two main social media platforms in China, which are Wechat and Weibo, there are many more apps that can help you build good branding in China and reach out to Chinese consumers. When it comes to the ones most trendy among young people, we can choose Little Red Book and Douyin.

Little Red Book app is one of the most popular apps of recent years. It can be compared to our Instagram, but with more features, where companies can also sell their products through a built-in marketplace. Consumers use the app mainly for inspiration, and the majority of users are women. They share tips, check their favorite influencers and brands and many more.

Douyin is a social media platform in China that is owned by Bytedance, the same company that owns TikTok. It lets users create and share short videos with friends and other users on the app. Videos can be up to 15 seconds long, and users can add filters, music, and text to their videos. Douyin also has a live streaming feature that lets users live-stream videos to their followers. There is also a marketplace where companies can sell their products to Douyin consumers.

KOLs are the best option to advertise your brand on social media

KOLs (Key opinion leaders) are influencers on Chinese social media. They are well trusted by internet users and a partnership with the right KOL that shares your values could mean an immediate gain of popularity for your brand, even if you’re a small company. Nowadays influencers are a key factor to consider while planning a social media marketing strategy.

If you want to increase brand awareness you should consider working with KOLs, or, if you don’t want to invest that much (KOLs are fairly expensive in China), you can think of working with smaller influencers, so-called KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers), which are normal consumers that can promote your brand for less money or even for free, in exchange for gifts.

You can work with them through different social media and live streaming platforms, like Douyin, Little Red Book, and so on. Influencers will show your products live, entertain the users, and convey confidence in the products.

There are different ways to collaborate with influencers:
  • product reviews
  • product giveaways
  • exclusive promotions and discounts
  • digital events
  • creative collaborations
  • appoint a KOL as the company’s brand ambassador
  • invitations to events
  • work directly with them on the product

It will depend on both your budget and your products. Since there are many fake influencers, we can help you to find the best one that fits your needs. Our agency has the experience and a base of different influencers, depending on your industry and range.

Chinese Forums and blogs are the best places to educate your audience

Baidu Tieba, Douban, Dianping, Zhihu are only some of the Chinese forums where your brand could build branding in China… and the list goes on. These are places where internet users like to share their experiences and are looking for information about products.

There is an excellent opportunity for your brand to integrate these communities and communicate about your products, learn about what your audience is looking for as well as feed the dialogue. The more they speak about you, the easier it will be to find you on the internet as well.

You can answer questions about your field but also educate your target audience about your products in an undercover way. It is an excellent tool to increase your conversion rate and generate brand awareness.

Branding in China Sum Up

When planning your strategy for the Chinese market, never forget the power of a good reputation and branding. The word of mouth is the keyword to keep in mind. Getting one community talking about you on the Chinese platforms could mean the beginning of something much bigger. Be patient, and get your community manager to work hard to spread your value.

Contact us to sell your image in China

Do you have a business in China and are struggling to create an active community around your brand? GMA is the most visible digital agency on the Chinese market that helps foreign brand build branding and sell products in this lucrative market.

We are a team of more than 70 Chinese and foreign professionals with more than 10 years of experience in the Chinese marketing landscape. We help brands with entering the market, and building brand awareness. We create and maintain social media profiles and prepare strategies for all the brands that want to start selling in China.

Here are some of our success stories;

SEO Agency China, is specialized in helping brands grow in the Chinese market with a strong focus on Online Branding. Leave us a comment or contact us if you’re in need of a well-tailored branding strategy for your project!

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  1. I work for Lincoln, a talent management advisory firm. I am focusing on executive search mandates in the consumer, retail and luxury industries. I would love to exchange with you. Would you have time in the coming days for a call?

  2. I’m a student of Luxury Brand Management at Emlyon Business School; and a student of yours, for the Digital Marketing in China course. I’m looking forward to working in the Chinese market and for that, I would like to be tried for an internship opportunity with GMA starting in January. If so how best to I reach out to you?

    Kind Regards
    Vijay Abraham

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