A communication strategy is an essential component of any business’s activities, especially as they prepare to enter new markets. It outlines aspects like what you’ll say, how you’ll say it, and why it matters to your audience so that your messages to the audience are as impactful as possible from the start.
If you’re like most marketers, Q4 is the time to plan your initiatives and budget for the new year. And if you’re set on a China expansion in 2023, it’s never too early to start developing your marketing communications plan now.
So in this blog, we’re outlining some key considerations you’ll need to plan your marketing communications as a newcomer in this vast market.
5 Essential Elements for Your Marketing Communications in China
Understand Your Target Audiences
While you might have already developed detailed buyer personas before, chances are the target audiences in China might be completely different from those in other markets.
In addition, many global enterprises have more than one product line or solution, which may be available in different presentations and tailored to each market based on local demand.
For example, an RFID retail solution company might sell its retail store management software in the western markets while selling supply-chain management software to factories in China and Southeast Asia. As a result, you will need different messages tailored around your customers’ specific pain points and adopt the relevant communications methods and channels.
Besides, your target audiences may extend beyond customers to include stakeholders like employees and public or government officials, as these audiences could play a significant role in the success of your marketing endeavors. This means you’ll want to develop specific messaging tailored to these stakeholders as well.
All of this makes it critical to understand your ideal customers and stakeholders and align your communications with your business goal in China as you develop your 2023 communications plan.
To get a better understanding of your target audience, our recommendation is to consider investing in focus groups, surveys, and other detailed analyses of your Chinese customer, such as their needs and desires related to the product or service you are selling to them.
Some companies have the in-house capability to support such research efforts, and others may outsource the exhaustive process to a marketing or communications agency like Tribe China. Either way, you should not skip this fundamental step in preparing your communications plan.
Study Your Local and Global Competitors
When expanding into China, it is essential to conduct a thorough analysis of both your local and global competitors. On the one hand, your Chinese competitors are familiar with the Chinese market and may have already established a strong presence. On the other hand, your global competitors may have more resources and experience expanding into new markets.
In practice, there’s a lot you can learn from both. Studying their messaging strategy, promotional channels and communications tactics will give you an idea of what has worked out for them, thus including some of the best practices in your marketing communications plan and reducing the cost of trials and errors in the early stage of your China entry.
Besides serving as a guide in the process of developing your marketing communications plan, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors can give you a strategic advantage by allowing you to identify opportunities to differentiate and establish yourself in the market.
Plus, studying your competitors will give you a benchmark to set your goal for your communications efforts. For example, by looking at your competitors’ total share of voice (SOV), you can quantify the gap between you and your competitors, and work backward to set your 2023 goal for your communications campaigns.
Narrow Down Your Target Market
One mistake many marketers make early into their China entry is trying to cast a wide net and setting unrealistic goals, which often leads to an unfocused communications strategy.
When developing your communications plan, you need to be very specific about your target market and customer demographics. China is a huge, incredibly complex market made up of over 31 provinces and 600+ cities broken down into different tiers. There are over one billion Chinese netizens, and although people nowadays can readily access the internet, their media consumption habits, online user behaviors, and communications preferences may differ from region to region. Not to mention the cultural nuances and different business etiquette each region practices.
A rushed communication strategy can quickly turn south and cause endless backlash from which companies may not recover.
By narrowing down your target market in your communications plan, you can get your message across to your target audiences more effectively, with reduced risks. Once you have seen success within that target market, you can then duplicate the process in other markets with the experiences and learnings gained from previous strategies.
One example of having a focused comms plan is a biotech brand we are working with. The company plans to promote its products in major tier-1&2 cities in China through a multi-phase offline product launch. Instead of spreading their comms budget across these regions, we agreed to strategically focus on one market — Shanghai — and duplicate the successes (with adjustments in tactics) to other regions. This allowed us to double down our efforts on what’s working and abandon what’s not, leading to greater success and improved results for future campaigns in other target markets.
Tailor Your Messaging To Chinese Audiences
Once you have defined your target market and the characteristics of your target audiences, it’s time to develop your communications messages to them. The message is the core of every communications plan and will be adjusted and delivered through different mediums and content forms.
One mistake many communications professionals often make at the beginning of their China entry is translating global messages directly into Chinese. While this might work for some businesses, it doesn't work well for most, especially when customers’ expectations are different in China vs. in the west.
For example, your Chinese customers may care about your software product’s onboarding experiences, while customers in Europe prioritize customer support. In this case, replicating the same message for both audiences would make it difficult for each to connect with your offering, thus weakening your value proposition.
Instead of copying your global message, you should tailor your message around your Chinese customers’ unique pain points and interests, highlighting the product benefits that best resonate with them while weakening the ones that don’t.
In addition, you might also want to include different communications messages to other stakeholders, such as investors, governments and partners, to serve your overall business objectives.
Understand Different Communications Channels
The media landscape in China is complex and ever-changing, making it essential for communications professionals to have a deep understanding of the country's unique media environment.
With over 1 billion online population, China has the world's largest online population and is home to diverse media outlets. Traditional news media such as television and newspapers still play an important role, but they have now emerged with new platforms such as social media and news apps.
Additionally, you may know that most western social media channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Youtube don’t work in China, and WeChat is the most important social media in China. But it's also important to know how to best leverage it to effectively communicate with your target audience and achieve ideal results.
It’s also worth considering that some traditional communication channels, such as email and direct mail, may work well in other western markets but not in China. So you will need to invest in understanding your typical Chinese customer’s buying journey and online behaviors in order to develop an effective marketing and communications strategy.
Whether your business is in the stage of acquiring a business license or already operating on the ground, having a well-thought-out communications plan before kicking off your marketing efforts in China will help you establish a strong foundation and set your business on the right trajectory for future communications campaigns.
While easier said than done, developing such a plan requires significant research upfront and a deep understanding of the marketing landscape. As a newcomer, working with a trusted local communications agency like Tribe China can simplify this process and reduce the entry barrier with their market knowledge and experiences. Contact us to learn more about how we can partner with you.