How to Win over Chinese Consumers



With China being the most populated country in the world, featuring the fastest-growing consumer market, international businesses who are seeking presence in China need to understand what these consumers really want. That said, in the past several years, you might have heard about enough horror stories of failed business ventures, or disastrous PR campaigns. What did they do wrong? How do international businesses interpret the black box of the China market? To answer these questions, last Thursday, we attended a highly informative and insightful panel talk featuring branding experts Tasmin Smith (Vogue Business in China and Jing Daily), Marie Tulloch (Emerging Communications) and Alicia Liu (Singing Grass) to unveil the dos and don’ts for international brands to win China’s rapidly growing middle class market. Here are our take-away’s:


Have Chinese staff at all levels of the business, and listen!

This may sound really obvious, however the lack of involvement of native staff in the decision-making process is shocking. We know businesses probably have regional offices or sales representative on the territory, but to what extent do they involve them in shaping a business strategy? 

Poor communication can take its toll. Lots of international businesses will be familiar with the situation where local offices complaining about the HQ not being supportive, while the HQ have little idea about what their local staff are doing. Businesses should really value the first-hand experience of their staff and build up a foundation of mutual trust and authenticity when it comes to conversation. Listening is the crucial first step – not only do businesses need native staff and local offices, they also need listen to what these branches are saying, and incorporate that feedback into their strategy.


Dig deeper to understand these customers

Gone is the time when consumers were satisfied with a generic marketing solution trying to cover all of the niche segments – especially when dealing with a market as big and diverse as China. International businesses should understand that the idea of a unified ‘China market’ is, at large, an imagination that smoothed over various aspects of internal differences within the demography. These companies need to dig a lot deeper than this and find their own niche market within this imagined community.


Stay up to date on news – but think twice before following hypes

It is crucial to keep the public sentiment in mind when businesses convey messages to the public at a specific time. The coronavirus outbreak is the biggest headline in China starting from late January, which coincides with the Chinese New Year, the most prominent festival and public holiday period in China. When an emergency like this happens, businesses should know that this is a time when all the festivities and celebrations need to make way for warm compassion and encouragements.

Also, to outperform local competitors who have advantage in terms of time zone, international businesses need to be one step ahead – keeping abreast of what is going on is crucial to not miss out on opportunities. Coronavirus outbreak has led to not only millions of employees in China working from home, but Chinese students studying from home as well, attending classes and handing in their homework online. In the time of crisis we have seen a surge in the cloud services and EdTech sector – businesses who are sensitive to change and are able to reflect fast enough will be reward by the market.

However, staying up to date on news does not mean we should follow every trend. WeChat, the undeniably top-one Chinese instant messaging and social networking application, is probably also the biggest hype when it comes to the China market. It is true that companies can find basically all their Chinese customers on WeChat, but before diving head first into a platform they know nothing about, businesses need to ask themselves these questions: Do we know how to find people on WeChat? Do we know how to attract our target customers to our WeChat account? Do we have a dedicated team producing tailored content for WeChat? If the answer to all three questions is no, maybe businesses should reconsider investing onto some other platform instead.


“Customers – they don’t care about what you say; they care about what you say about them.” To have your customers understand you, you need to understand your customers first – the same goes for almost every line of business including publishing. We believe that publishing should be an industry that keeps learning, and we hope to see more and more publishers demystifying the China market in the future.