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China Checklist

1. Localization

2. Social Media

3. Guanxi

The world's second largest economy is hungry for foreign goods and services. President Xi Jinping pledged that China would open its economy and import US $40 trillion worth of goods and services within the next 15 years during the inaugural China International Import Expo.

International brands have been attractive present in China through online and offline methods even though many Chinese people travel internationally to acquire such products. However, brands looking to come to China cannot simply deploy their default strategy when entering a new market. The Chinese market is unique In a number of ways, including local interests and trends, popularity of domestic social media platforms (most international ones are banned), and the need to develop and maintain relationships with customers. These three factors form the China Checklist.

1. Localization: Some brands were positioned to succeed in China before they actually entered the market (e.g. Cartier: red box with gold inside). They did not have to completely reframe their products to the Chinese market, although they did have to localize their marketing translations and materials. On the other hand, many brands have to find a reason for Chinese people to purchase them, manifested in their marketing materials. Localization is not just the translation of content suited to succeed in the Chinese market, it is also the establishment of a .cn domain website, easily accessible to domestic users. Foreign websites can be tricky to access from China, therefore, a Chinese website with Chinese content shaped to local taste is imperative for your brand’s success.

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2. Social Media: Due to the Great Firewall and Chinese protectionism, Chinese internet companies developed in a domestic bubble with virtually no international competition. The impact of this is that some Chinese internet companies have become giants in China and subsequently world players. Their platforms, while loosely copying international platforms, are different and suit Chinese tastes. Today, two platforms dominate Chinese social media:

  • WeChat: With almost one billion users, WeChat is China’s go-to communication app. It is how people communicate with others in their network and keep up with brands and pages they follow. WeChat has sub-applications imbedded in the app called “Mini Programs.” These can range from online information portals to e-commerce platforms and are integrated with WeChat’s widespread payment mechanism, WeChat Pay.
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  • Weibo: With more users than Twitter, Weibo is the epicenter of the Chinese internet ecosystem and reflects the functions of Twitter and Instagram. Users can see and interact with what is trending on the entire platform--when something goes viral in China, it tends to do so on Weibo. Weibo can direct followers to a brand’s WeChat account through content or marketing efforts.
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3. Guanxi: Building relationships and establishing trust over time through the exchange of favors and reciprocity with one’s connections is fundamental to Chinese culture. In the Internet Era, this practice has moved beyond physical or in-person interactions to digital interactions with consumers. An international brand can build guanxi with Chinese users by deploying a promotion or giveaway through their official WeChat account.