Marketing in China vs. the West - where are the Differences

Marketing & brand communications are often different in China, because the approach is very different: 

What would Western marketers do if they were told to drive immediate awareness without using traditional advertising—no radio, TV, digital, billboard, print, or other common channels? This is where many in China start. They believe that virality through socially engaging content is faster and cheaper and yields better results than advertising.

There are also four areas where the structure of China’s market fundamentally differs:

  1. Media Giants - three companies (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent - short BAT) are totally dominating the media market. What does that mean? “Imagine if Amazon, Bank of America, Google, Facebook, Activision Blizzard, CNN, and ESPN were all owned by one company!”

  2. Closed-loop data - “the BATs’ vast data ecosystem allows an integrated view of customers’ lives across all channels. With this holistic understanding, the marketer can create programming that ties shopping, gaming, news, reading, video-watching, and celebrity-following habits into smarter, more contextually relevant engagement.”

  3. Mobile-First / Mobile-only - “China’s mobile-centric platform has enabled marketers to focus on content-based experiences that will connect with consumers and change behavior quickly. “The Chinese approach starts with thinking about content, information, and knowledge that could be engaging and shared,” (…) It isn’t about advertising and price promotions.”

  4. Focus on speed - “The speed at which they work is intimidating,” (…) “It’s hard to comprehend how big of an impact it has.”.

This analysis comes from a very interesting article by Kimberly Whitler in the current issue of the Havard Business Review. Her advice for western brands:

  • Adopt a mobile-first mindset.

  • Go all-in on a social, viral approach.

  • Move from promotions to content-based engagement.

  • Shift from channel management to cross-platform integration.

  • Question the value of planning versus speed.