The third in our series of articles on China from Shanghai based blogger Benji Lamb, looks at the special relationship between Scotland and China, and explores the business possibilities opened up by their huge online growth and adoption of social media seen in recent years.
The rise of the Internet in China has been unprecedented, there are now thought to be over 700 million Chinese netizens online, just over 50% of the total population. This has had a profound impact upon the growth and importance of effective digital marketing practices for companies looking to expand into the mysterious orient.
These developments bring both challenges and opportunities. The internet landscape is certainly different; a unique online eco-system has developed due to state censorship and restrictions and has resulted in the domination of domestic firms. All the major social networks, information sources and e-commerce platforms are Chinese companies.
This does not mean that western brands, products and ideas cannot be imported, rather that the way in which brand messages need to be communicated is different and more nuanced. A Chinese specific approach has to be taken because western products have to embrace the domestic platforms likely to be showcasing one’s products.
Despite state internet restrictions the net has thus inevitably helped bridge the divide between east and west. There is no denying that consumerism has taken hold in China with shoppers developing an insatiable demand for western goods, often a bi-word for quality, in a market where counterfeit goods widely circulate. The Chinese are currently captivated by a intense style of consumerism, a fusion of east and west. Embracing this fusion is how western companies are succeeding.
The importance for western firms is to seize this opportunity that has opened up alongside China’s staggering economic growth. With the internet serving as the central nervous system in this vast country a comprehensive, online marketing strategy is now required. The key area’s to focus on are social networks (Weibo, WeChat), Chinese forums and on building relationships with e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba’s ‘Tmall’ whom host ‘stores’ for western brands.
SEO strategies on Baidu (the leading Chinese search engine) are vital as Chinese in most cases will search certain keywords and not look further than the first page for links. Baidu Tieba is a content sharing platform where users rate posts, brands should aim to produce good Chinese specific content that will be up voted, the higher the ranking the greater the visibility.
The most promising news for western brands is that the digital solution is incredibly effective in China. The Chinese are strongly influenced by their immediate social circle and by the opinions of others in forums. What is shared and talked about on social platforms leads directly to results.
There are often complications for western brands surrounding language, cultural barriers and misunderstanding the type of content popular in China. Many western brands have partnered with Chinese firms who can provide this context specific knowledge. It is important for firms to tailor their strategies online and adapt products for the Chinese market; it is not simply a case of transplanting an existing marketing framework.
Boundaries are being broken down with Scottish companies expanding into China and forming successful partnerships. The Scottish Aberdeen-based technology company named ‘We.data’ signed two partnership deals with Chinese sports companies in Beijing on July 27th when the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon was on a trade mission in China. At the signing ceremony hosted by Ms Sturgeon, We.data signed a contract with China’s Shenzhen Darong Sports Ltd (a brand providing football equipment and football pitch technology) and Shenzhen Qiubao Technology (an online football platform founded by a former member of Tencent, China’s largest social networking brand). We Data aim to develop technology and software in the sport both physically on the pitch and in the virtual, online market.
We.data’s successful journey into China is one we expect to see repeated in Scotland, as the country continues to strengthen it’s business ties with China. Speaking at a talk with State Councillor Yang Jie Chiin in July 2015, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:
“We discussed China’s ongoing focus on innovation and how Scotland’s expertise in areas such as energy and technology, coupled with our educational strengths can be beneficial for both economies.”
The First Minister also held meetings with the State Culture Department where the two nations renewed the cultural Memorandum of Understanding, first signed in 2011, committing Scotland and China to further collaboration in the arts and creative industries.
Benji is a digital marketing and social media specialist in China, he is passionate about providing solutions for western brands looking to expand their operations in China. For more information see his blog.