Thinking of growing your business? Expanding your presence internationally? With the rapid changes in technology, emerging markets are becoming more accessible. Once you’ve completed a market entry strategy assessment, China will most likely be close to the top of your list. In China, the online ecommerce landscape is experiencing massive growth, and it’s not just internal. Chinese consumers continue to purchase from overseas websites at an increasing rate led by China’s growing middle class. Cross-border ecommerce purchases by Chinese consumers grew 86% to 219.8 billion yuan ($31.99 billion) in 2016 from 118.43 billion yuan ($17.22 billion) in 2015, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics. While SMS marketing has typically dominated in the region, the rising Chinese middle class are starting to use email more as a way of connecting to business and brands. In the West, you might see a lot of gmail.com addresses in your database, but in China, the leading email providers are:
- Tencent QQ (qq.com or foxmail.com)
- Netease (163.com or 126.com)
- Sina (sina.com)
- SoHu (sohu.com)
See if any of your customers have these email address extensions, and while you’re at it, go ahead and create a segment so you can better target and track those customers in the future. Aside from familiarizing yourself with the most popular providers, let’s have a look at some of the main points to consider when expanding your business to China using email marketing.
Traditional Ecommerce Platforms Aren’t Your Only Option
Tmall global, Alibaba, Kaola, VIP and JD Worldwide are the major ecommerce platforms for overseas sellers, but it can be expensive to go that route once you factor in all of the costs and massively reduce the margins of selling your products in China. Additionally, with these options, sellers often risk their products being placed alongside counterfeit goods, which can jeopardize brand reputation. Other major ecommerce malls, such as VIP.com and JD.com (JingDong), dominate the ecommerce landscape in China when it comes to marketing global brands and products to the Chinese consumer. However, more recently, a number of major brands, such as Amcal, have gone another route. Rather than using the existing Chinese ecommerce platforms, they chose to launch a Chinese website. This is a growing trend that can help you increase your brand’s presence in China and grow your targeted email marketing list.
The Prevalence of Mobile
The Chinese market is very different from Western markets in terms of how people have communicated since the rise of computing. Mobiles have been more accessible to the majority of people in China, compared to desktops in the West. Due to the popularity and accessibility of mobile, the main communication platforms in China have been mobile and its associated applications, such as WeChat, Weibo and QQ. Brands can have accounts, buy ads and run campaigns on all of these platforms.
Remember: China censors the internet and blocks access to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, so these other social networks are great places to start building your brand’s presence and then migrate your subscribers to email marketing. Now that many companies in China are moving toward enterprise email platforms, communicating via email is becoming more of a common practice, especially for B2B-type businesses. But as you explore these options, it’s important to keep mobile front and center, not only in your marketing strategy but in your design as well. Mobile commerce already accounts for just over half of all online sales in China. And with smartphones making up over 90% of all new phone sales, this trend is likely to continue. It‘s imperative that brands design messages from a mobile-first point-of-view as that’s how a majority of customers will first view your message.
The Importance of Imagery
One of the most important factors for any brand’s design is their color palette. And when a company designs for an international audience, specifically China, certain considerations need to be taken into account. In many ways, the understanding of what colors represent can be completely opposite from one culture to another. For example, on the financial front, red denotes a rise in stock prices in East Asian markets but reflects a drop in in North American markets. So sometimes, brands decide to change their colors to suit the local Chinese market. In addition to color, it’s important to consider your plan for image hosting. Hosting images via cloud services, such as AWS and Azure, can affect load speed. To ensure that this does not affect your brand, it’s recommended to use local providers to host images to improve in-country image loading.
Location, Location, Location
A common misconception is that your brand’s audience will only be located in Tier 1 cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, assuming that’s where most customers reside. But China’s growing middle class are now looking to use their disposable income to try out overseas shopping. There are many opportunities to be had in Tier 2 cities, where the ecommerce landscape is maturing and becoming more sustainable. Look to target subscribers from key cities such as Suzhou and Ningbo. And when crafting your messaging, it’s important to think local. Do not treat all areas as one region. Segmentation is key, even from a high level. Should you use simplified Chinese or traditional Chinese? As a general guideline, use simplified Chinese when targeting mainland China and traditional Chinese for Hong Kong and Macao.
Be Mindful of Regulations
Before diving in, be sure to check the current Advertising Law of the People’s Republic of China, which has been in place since September 1, 2015. If your brand is unsure of the law and regulations, seek in-country counsel. Additionally, be sure your messages comply with the law and do not include any banned words. Always review your campaign messages for Chinese audiences and run them through a program that identifies banned words, such as http://www.jinyongci.com/, to be sure your messages are compliant.