Last Updated on June 5, 2023
Brand localization encompasses a wide range of factors that go beyond mere translation, including language adaptation, cultural sensitivity, and aligning with the attitudes and preferences of the target buyers. It is essential to recognize that every market requires a certain degree of localization. However, when it comes to entering the Chinese market, understanding the unique characteristics becomes even more crucial due to the vast information gap that exists. To successfully navigate brand localization in China, it is imperative to gain in-depth knowledge about the market. Let’s explore the key aspects you need to know about brand localization for China to maximize your chances of success in this dynamic market.
Why localize your brand for the Chinese market
China is the largest consumer market and the second-largest economy in the world. Brands that understand this market’s demographic trends stand to profit from expanding to this country. But if they want to tap this growing consumer market, they need to understand Chinese consumers.
Chinese consumers buy goods for very different reasons than Western consumers. They buy them on the basis of credibility and authenticity. That’s why the most successful brands in China are brands that clearly localized themselves for the Chinese market. In other words, brands that hit home with their messaging and branding activities.
Global mindset doesn’t thrive in China as people are more connected to their roots and traditions. They want brands to speak their language (quite literally) if they wish to do business with them. And because the consumer group here comprises of the affluent and the flourishing middle-class segments, who have excellent buying potential, brands have no choice but to cave into this fundamental demand.
Benefits of adapting to local digital channels
The world might have become smaller post-globalization, but China still seems to be a closed book. From having a unique culture (more on that below) to communicating using a set of dedicated platforms, the Chinese market is a different ball game altogether.
China has more than 1.03 Billion active social media users and the consumers also prefer online shopping just as much as the rest of the world. So, it makes sense to invest in digital marketing strategies that can actually reach the intended audience.
In addition, internet censorship a.k.a. “Great Firewall of China” is a real thing, so you need to build your digital strategies for the local digital channels.
We have already created an in-depth guide to the Chinese social media network that you can use to navigate the market better, but here’s a quick rundown of where you should be focusing your money and marketing efforts:
- WeChat – An all-in-one super app with more than one billion active users perfect for promoting your brand.
- Douyin – Known to the rest of the world as TikTok, Douyin can particularly be used for content marketing and live streaming.
- Weibo – A micro-blogging platform that’s ideal for e-commerce brands looking to share newsworthy content and sell directly to consumers.
- QQ – A WeChat alternative with a large youth user base, perfect for brands looking to cater to a younger audience segment.
- Youku – A platform for posting long-form video content; brands can increase their visibility by using this platform to educate their target audience.
- Baidu Tieba – A Reddit-style forum platform where 49.89 million monthly active users, as of December 2022, discuss topics of mutual interest, Baidu Tieba is great for targeting niche audiences.
- Toutiao – Brands can leverage this news platform for advertising and lead generation purposes.
- Little Red Book – A highly interactive platform, Little Red Book thrives on UGC (user-generated content) and boasts more than 80% of female users and 72% of millennials. If any of this applies to your target audience, you can benefit from this platform.
- Meituan Dianping – An app that connects consumers with local businesses, such as restaurants, hotels, and movie ticket bookings, Meituan Diaping is perfect for brands seeking a location-based advertising channel in China.
- Tencent Video – Tencent Video is an extremely content-centric platform, so brands can use it for influencer marketing through live streams.
- Zhihu – Referred to as the Chinese Quora, the articles published on Zhihu gain bragging rights when it comes to ranking on search engines. Brands can post long-form articles here and leverage Zhihu’s SEO to increase their authority.
- Meitu – With an 81% female user base, Meitu is ideal for lifestyle and beauty brands targeting specific groups of female buyers and looking to increase brand visibility through product reviews.
- Bilibili – A technology-heavy platform, Bilibili allows brands to connect with the younger Chinese market segment as 90% of its users are under the age of 25.
- Kuaishou – With over 200 million active users, Kuaishou receives high engagement from its users due to a robust algorithm, making it perfect for building better relationships with your target audience.
Just like the rest of the world, digital channels in China are hugely influential, as well. They allow you to get yourself in front of your ideal customer directly – something that traditional media doesn’t. For this reason, using local digital channels is extremely important for brands entering the Chinese market.
Understanding the cultural differences
As mentioned earlier, the Chinese market is quite different from the typical Western market. For instance, in China, people prefer opting for genuine products even if it means they have to pay a premium price for them. Not so much the case in many other parts of the world where consumers seek cheaper alternatives of their favorite products.
Furthermore, Chinese consumers believe in making collective purchase decisions more than individual choices. Their purchases are influenced by their social circles, which is why it is so important for brands to appeal to a collective rather than an individual.
Finally, it is imperative that you maintain a positive reputation more than anything else in China. Of course, a good image is important for doing business in any country but it is rather crucial in China as people actively prefer their brands to be associated with good PR.
Dolce & Gabbana made a huge mistake with their “DC Loves China” marketing campaign in 2018, with videos showing a Chinese model — wearing a red D&C dress — struggling to use chopsticks to eat giant-sized portions of a pizza, a cannoli and spaghetti. Chinese social media users labeled the videos as racist and disrespectful to Asian women. The backlash was so severe that it lead to a “Boycott Dolce” campaign and products getting removed from a wide range of platforms.
Not all Chinese consumers may be willing to experiment with brands or invest in brands with a hit or miss record. So, brands can greatly benefit from focusing on reputation management to avoid turning away consumers due to a few bad reviews.
What to consider for brand localization in China
The potential for China’s consumer market is massive. When creating strategies for establishing your brand in China, here are some tips to bear in mind:
When entering a foreign market, it pays to rebrand a company and launch with a native identity. That’s true for the Chinese market, too. For instance, Puma is recognized as Biāo Mǎ in China while Rolex is known as Láolì Shì. Both these brands have fared well in the Chinese market. So, you can consider adopting a Chinese brand name as part of your core rebranding strategy.
That being said, it sometimes pays to stick to your foreign identity, too. The Chinese markets are notorious for counterfeit goods. Consumers with spending potential would rather import goods directly than buy from local outlets if they are concerned about quality. So, whether to adopt a Chinese name or maintain a foreign identity ought to be a brand-specific choice.
Coca Cola’s logo displayed in Chinese on cans in China
Dialect and transcreation
Mandarin is a blanket term for the language spoken by the people of China. In reality, there are seven different varieties of the language, namely Yue (Cantonese), Xiang (Hunanese), Min, Gan, Wu, and Kejia or Hakka. Each dialect comes with variations in grammar and a distinct set of vocabulary.
While different regions are familiar with different dialects, they are comfortable with both Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. So, if you wish to communicate with your target audience, you need to study your audience and design your communication to suit the people of specific regions. As general advice, it is always wise to use Simplified Chinese for mainland China and Traditional Chinese for Hong Kong and Taiwan.
So, when you translate your brand communication, make sure that you truly study your target audience to get the most out of your investment.
You can’t launch a brand in China without focusing on your branding fundamentals – one of which is establishing an online presence. Because they have a completely unique digital world, the website strategies that work for the rest of the world may not work for Chinese consumers. So, you need to adapt to China’s digital strategies and localize your website specifically for this country. Check out our guide to website localization in China to learn how.
Entering the Chinese market requires thorough research
Since China is such a closed market, it is extremely difficult to gauge what is on the inside, especially if you have no experience with the market. To fast-track your brand’s success and simplify the launch, consider working with an experienced digital agency that knows the ins and outs of branding in China.
Located in China, Sekkei Digital Group has been helping brands establish their presence in China since 2008. Not only do we know the people but also understand the common pitfalls that come with the launch. If you would like to benefit from our knowledge and expertise, reach out to us and we will begin strategizing for you right away.
RWS – Seven Things to Consider When Localizing for China
Statista – Number of active social media users in China in 2020 and 2021
Sekkei Digital Group – Chinese Social Media Platforms in 2021