4 Things I Learnt About Marketing in China

Last October, I packed my bags and went to live in Shanghai for two months. It would be the longest I’d ever spent outside of the UK and I had no idea what to expect when I got there. I would be living somewhere new, with new people and a new job. However, looking back, I’m so glad I went.  

In the days leading up to my 14-hour flight, I downloaded WeChat. I’d heard that this social network was the best way to communicate and prepared myself for a lack of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram since they’re blocked in China.

Of course, I expected cultural differences, but the contrast between how China generates business compared to the UK particularly surprised and inspired me. Here I’ll be talking about 4 things I learnt about marketing in China, and how us Brits can leverage such tactics locally or to penetrate the Chinese marketplace.

All-in-one solution

Prior to living in China, I would have likened WeChat to WhatsApp – yet it’s so much more! With 768 million daily users, WeChat (or Weixin, as it’s known in China) is a fundamental part of any mobile users life in China. The average user spends 90 minutes a day on the platform, in comparison to WhatsApp with an average of 28 minutes a day. And unlike WhatsApp that’s only just emerging as a professional comms tool, WeChat is fully there. If you’re going to be marketing in China, WeChat has to be at the forefront of your strategy. 

marketing in China

On WeChat you can message, make calls, post to a social feed, order food, buy products, hire a bike and pay for products and services. WeChat is everywhere in China. Street food vendors accept payment by WeChat rather than a traditional POS terminal. In restaurants groups of teens split their bill using WeChat’s ‘go dutch’ feature. Hotels such as Caesars Palace in Las Vegas even allow you to configure room settings such as lighting and temperature through the app. Instead of exchanging business cards, you scan WeChat QR codes.

Take a look at WeChat’s case study page to read some cool use cases, including how BuzzFeed sends personalised content to users through the social network and China Airlines allows users to book flights and track baggage.

The advantage of an app like WeChat, is that users never have to leave the platform, meaning marketers can use WeChat to assist the whole buyer’s journey. I’ll use the AIDA (awareness, interest, decision, action)  model to demonstrate this. 

marketing in China

Awareness: Use WeChat to push daily content to subscribers. We can also use QR codes in physical advertisements to direct users to our WeChat account (I’ll go more into this in the QR code section).  

Interest: Many big brands have set up campaigns to create personalised content or product suggestions. For example, Nike asks users to send their own photos to their WeChat account, they would then send them personalised custom shoe suggestions. (See video to understand what I mean)

Other brands are geo-tagging content. This means that a brand can send location specific content to users. Michael Kors, locates the consumer in WeChat and then sends subscribers a message saying “Are you in London? Come and visit our store for some Lunar New Year must-haves!” This helps to generate sufficient interest to encourage the buyer to start to research further.

Decision: Users can browse products within the app and access further literature and special offers. Such content helps the user to decide whether they have a favourable disposition towards the brand.

marketing in China

Action: With WeChat’s handy payment services and shopping facilities, users can easily purchase products within the platform.

marketing in China

I have no doubt that WeChat will either start appearing in the UK or that other social networks will leverage its all in one solution functionality in the near future. 

So, onto the next thing I learnt about marketing in China….

QR codes are everywhere

QR codes never really took off in the UK, however, in China they’re on almost every advertisement. WeChat’s QR scanner is used not only for new contacts, but also to learn more about a product, or unlocking a feature such as discounts, personalised content and videos within WeChat. QR codes are a convenient way for Chinese consumers to further interact with content.

marketing in China

Leading Innovation

As mentioned in our previous blog, How to Use Technology to Create an Amazing Customer Experience, China is leading the way in some areas of innovation such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, voice activation and more. McKinsey suggests that “China has become one of the leading global hubs for AI development”.


Whilst technology brands such as Apple and Samsung are present in China, there’s also a huge range of Chinese brands. Many of which you won’t have heard of, yet they’re big players in innovation, producing models that are on par or better than the likes of Apple. If you’re marketing in China, it’s pretty important to be aware of these brands and the kinds of products they’re bringing out. We’ll need to adjust our comms to ensure our brand’s campaigns are innovative, and appeal to this tech-savvy market.

The next big thing in tech might be coming from China, so I’d recommend using a media intelligence tool to track tech trends developing within the region.

marketing in China

Generation X are obsessed with their phones

marketing in China

Did you know that the Chinese city of Chongqing created a cell phone lane for those glued to their screen? Whilst this may seem extreme, I found it difficult to navigate around the masses of people constantly looking down at their phones whilst commuting in Shanghai. Of course, walking around any major city, we find those glued to their mobiles. The upshot of this, is that mobile marketing is an excellent way to engage prospects in China, as it is in the UK.


As western social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China, it is important to be active and monitor your presence on local social networks. Meltwater offers monitoring of Asian social media, such as Weibo and Wechat. Meltwater is also the only vendor that offers a global media monitoring solution in China.

marketing in China

Media intelligence provides an opportunity to listen to the market, something that’s crucial for those companies wanting a piece of the Chinese pie. By monitoring online editorial and social media, your business will gain important insights about the market and your customers. For example:

  • Media exposure (what type of themes are causing spikes in engagement?)
  • Sentiment of conversations (which messages are/ aren’t resonating with your audience)
  • Share of voice compared to top competitors
  • Top posters (do you have influential brand advocates?)
  • Top social networks fueling the conversation (are you focusing efforts on the most useful channel?)
  • Trending conversation themes (spot industry trends, understand what people like/ dislike about your company)
  • Geographic spread of social media conversations

So that’s it for my blog on what I learnt about marketing in China. If you’d like to learn more about using media intelligence to tap into this tech-savvy market, give us a shout hello@meltwater.com