China is the second largest economy in the world and attracts many Western companies that want to sell to or buy from China. Israeli companies also see huge potential in Chinese markets.
In order to introduce a product into the Chinese market, different aspects of Chinese culture must be taken into account – whether social, national, traditional, or even seemingly inconsequential factors such as colors and numbers. Adopting the right cultural approach has a great effect on the success or failure of a foreign business in China. In addition, we cannot ignore the growing importance of the relationship between the brand and the individual consumer. Due to the popularity of social networks and digital media, individual consumers have become an integral part of the brand conversation. Both in China and the West, public and individual opinions are considered an active marketing tool.
Using symbols, colors, and language in the appropriate cultural context and geographic location, are also key parts of any marketing strategy. Sometimes, the challenge is so vast that we even have to change the brand’s entire value system.
Top tips for introducing a product into the Chinese market:
Avoid colors with negative symbolism
Presentation of your product and its narrative must be sensitive to cultural color codes. For example, the color red has a very positive meaning in China, compared to other colors. If you’re unsure about the meaning of a color it’s preferable to go for something neutral. Presentations should be written in black and white, in order to avoid other colors that may symbolize a negative meaning in the Chinese culture.
Use the right numbers
Numbers have great significance in Chinese tradition and culture. Therefore, it is worth paying attention to the numbers used to describe the product. Indeed, use of the right numbers is so crucial that one can even consider combining them with product branding.
For example, the number 6 is pronounced in a similar way to other words that signify positivity, and it is therefore frequently used in the Chinese business and marketing world. Number 8, in addition to its symmetrical shape, also sounds similar in Chinese to a word that means economic prosperity. For that reason, the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was held on 8/8/2008. In contrast, number 4 sounds like the word for death in Chinese and has a negative meaning. So much so that Chinese cellular companies are working hard to provide cellular numbers which don’t contain the digit 4.
Customize your marketing strategy
The Israeli marketer should understand that the selling and distribution tools in China are different from those in the Western world and should be treated accordingly. In order to stand out in China, you cannot ignore the influential power of the Chinese social networks, which are completely different from those we are used to.
Social media is key
China’s social media platforms are constantly growing, renewing, developing and are unique to the Chinese public. The various media platforms are run by local companies and are adapted to the Chinese culture, language, and the customers’ way of thinking. Today, if you do not exist in the social media, you have a very weak starting point.
For example, instead of using the WhatsApp app, one of the leading social applications in the Western world, it would be better to use the parallel WeChat application (a combination of WhatsApp and Facebook). WeChat has more than 700 million users in China and around the world – almost 90% of the global use of WhatsApp.
Blogs, microblogs and public influencers are important tools
Blogs and micro-blogs are also very popular distribution channels and there is great importance in using them for conveying messages and marketing products to the Chinese public. Weibo is the most famous example of this kind of blog. According to the data, 81% of Chinese blog users check the web before purchasing a product, 58.7% actually made purchase decisions based on online information, compared to only 19% in the US. In addition, we should also take very seriously the use of public influencers. They are an effective promotion tool, supporting events and launches and enjoying great credibility among the Chinese public. This tool is considered authentic and reliable.
Rename the brand
Another important point is about re-naming a brand with a Chinese name. Many large companies give their brands a Chinese name, such as Coca-Cola which made an adaptation to its brand name: Coca Cola to Chinese as 可口可樂 ke kou ke le. The new Chinese name sounds similar to the original name and it is also associated with positive meaning of joy and a delicious taste.
The Israeli marketer must know how to tell a story adapted to the unique characteristics of China, which are often completely opposite to everything he or she is familiar with. This is the secret to the success of a product launch in China.
To sum up, the success of a particular product or brand in the Chinese market is highly dependent on the degree of knowledge and understanding of the various media platforms, and on the active involvement of consumers. Therefore, international companies wishing to succeed in the Chinese market would be wise to initiate close partnerships with local media and PR companies, which can help them to promote their product by entering the consumers’ networks on the Internet.
The writer is Lior Varona, Founder and CEO of SilkRoad Group, specializing in public relations and marketing in China.