Business Management

China Q&A: Technology, Marketing & Chinese Business

As the Alibaba IPO has reminded international businesses afresh of the vast potential in China, we catch up with Tait Lawton, who hails from Canada but has been working in People’s Republic for over a decade. He founded the Nanjing Marketing Group  to help Western companies get into the marketplace and provides some insights into tech, marketing and Chinese business culture.

Following the highly publicised Alibaba IPO have you noticed an increase in Western clients looking to target China?
We've noticed a steady increase overall, but not a large jump around the Alibaba IPO necessarily. Tough to say.

Has the attitude of Western clients looking to target China changed in the time you have been based there?
I've been helping Western clients with Chinese marketing for five years. I'd say they have the same basic concerns, but are more willing to accept our advice when it comes to tailoring their campaign more to the Chinese market.

We prefer to plan the China marketing campaign anew from the ground up as opposed to using more of a one-size-fits-all globalization strategy, and more people are willing to accept this now. Tough to say if it's because of a change in the overall mind set of Western marketers or it's just because we have more people that have been reading our articles on our blog and other websites.

How does the way Chinese consumers use technology differ from the way technology is used in your native Canada?
They haven't gone through the same process of adoption. Since China developed so quickly, lots of people in China have just skipped whole stages of technology that Canadians, Americans and other Westerners are used to. For example, some years ago I was surprised to see that my girlfriend's family never used a VCR and instead just went straight to using DVDs. Now, of course, people may be skipping VCRs, DVDs and even streaming on laptops and just go straight to streaming on mobile devices.

What's most relevant for our digital marketing efforts is that there are plenty of internet users that started using the internet on mobile devices. Mobile marketing is essential. Sometimes people ask me "do you do mobile marketing?", and I'm like "well, ya. 100% of the marketing we do is relevant to mobile. All of our SEM, SEO and social media services are relevant to mobile."

People in China also use QR codes a lot. You'll see QR codes for Weibo and WeChat campaigns on subway ads, restaurant menus, everywhere.

What do you think Western businesses most misunderstand about China?
For one, they may underestimate the competition and the amount they should invest to be successful. China is very competitive and for most market entry cases we see, there are Chinese competitors that are entrenched and willing to invest much, much more than the foreign company planning to enter China. Chinese companies are very confident in their business opportunities and willing to invest in branding.

And Chinese advertising is not cheap, nor is marketing talent. Great Chinese marketers can make as much money as great marketers in USA or other places.


What are the main business differences between doing business in China and North America?
That's a big topic! Here's a big one - trust. For example, one of our Chinese account managers was really surprised when somebody asked me for a reference. She thought "They just ask for a reference, call that person and trust what they say?" This was a foreign concept for her. In general, it takes more time to build trust in China.

In digital marketing, to build trust we use methods like adding real-time customer support to websites, emphasizing social media and making locally well-known trust symbols are used online.

In business, trust can be built with face-to-face meetings, sometimes lubricated with some good ol' Baijiu. Luckily I love Baijiu and can drink an amount that always impresses Chinese contacts. If you can get drunk and still express yourself well enough and let people see your personality, that's a useful tool.


The marketing landscape is pretty developed in China, are there any areas you are lagging behind Europe and North America? And are there any areas that you think the Chinese do particularly well?
One area China is behind - I strongly believe that paid search marketing in China greatly lags behind the West in terms of sophistication. Of experienced paid search marketers, very few make it through our interview process and even then only half make it through the trial period. Paid search is run by most with a factory worker mentality.

They think "we'll choose appropriate keywords and monitor click through rates." It should be run with a marketing mentality, involving proper research, planning and analysis based on metrics like cost-per-acquisition, return on investment, return on ad spend, etc. Not to say there's nobody doing that in China, there is. But there's also far too many paid search "marketers" that I see as being mere salesmen and factory workers.

One area China is ahead - Social media. I think China's social media platforms and usage is very innovative and exciting. Weibo used to be considered a "Twitter clone", but years ago it surpassed Twitter in terms of usability and just pure fun in my opinion. I find Weibo to be much more engaging than Twitter, and it continuously innovates. We've done some cool special campaigns on Weibo that would not have been possible on Twitter.

As another example, Weixin (WeChat) is a totally innovative tool. It's a mobile-first social network and instant messaging tool. People use it like they would use Facebook and WhatsApp combined. I think Western companies should be looking to China to find new ideas for social marketing and social platforms.


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect


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