Challenges of Navigating China's Digital Landscape

[Insights from SDG’s Founder] Challenges of Navigating China’s Digital Landscape

Global businesses aiming to expand in China often face a common dilemma: how to navigate China’s intricate digital landscape.

As someone working closely with these local platforms, I’ve witnessed firsthand the unique opportunities they can offer to foreign brands. However, these perks don’t come without challenges. They require a deep understanding of the country’s dynamic market and cultural nuances.

In this article, I’ll share my professional perspective on the difference between Western and Chinese digital marketing platforms and discuss how these factors helped shape SDG’s approach to assisting international businesses entering the Chinese market.


Western vs. Chinese Social Media Platforms

To say that the Chinese social media landscape amazes me is an understatement. In China, these digital platforms are well-integrated into everyone’s life, much more than their Western counterparts.

Personally, WeChat has become my go-to app not only for my social media activities but also for financial transactions, bookings, and other day-to-day uses. Digital platforms in China also have well-integrated e-commerce and social commerce functions, making business operations more seamless and less time-consuming.

The ability to transition from reading a social media post to purchasing a product in mere seconds clearly indicates that Chinese platforms have better integration into our daily lives than their Western counterparts.

And because China is a “Mobile First” market, I believe these platforms have become pioneers of new consumer behaviors by innovating unique mobile experiences. Unlike most Western apps, local social media channels like Douyin have embraced live streaming as a major feature that drives a higher user engagement rate.


Douyin Live streaming features

Douyin Live streaming examples


The gamification of content creation and user engagement also led to the surge of User-Generated Content (UGC) on Chinese social media platforms. Local users are more willing to produce and share personal content, forever changing content consumption and creation in the country’s digital landscape.

Having handled several digital marketing campaigns over the years, I can say that China has an optimistic attitude towards development and innovation.


Chinese apps are not “afraid” to innovate, especially in the fintech sector.


The speed at which local platforms deploy and test new technologies is unprecedented compared to Western alternatives. This exposure makes Chinese users adopt new technologies, trends and behaviors much faster than in other countries.


SDG’s Content Creation Process: Messaging Tone & Style

When creating content for Chinese audiences, our primary goal is understanding the local culture and its intricacies. Although our team mostly works with foreign businesses, we can’t just translate every existing social media content and hope it’ll gain traction in the Chinese market.

Effective social media content must resonate with its target audience. SDG bridges the gap between foreign brands and local consumers through localization, culture integration, and creating background stories.

However, it doesn’t mean we can neglect the brand’s actual values. Remaining true to the business’s identity will set the brand apart from other competitors. This authenticity will lead to a positive perception from the Chinese audience.

Nevertheless, the content needs to be adjusted with the right amount of cultural touch. Through this, we can create a true sense of trustworthiness towards the brand and the products we promote in China.

Another content creation trend I find very effective in the Chinese market is mixing the brand’s culture with the local culture. This technique includes creating special products catered specifically to the Chinese market.


Nike Air Jordan 1 CNY Edition

Nike’s Air Jordan 1 CNY edition campaign


Nike’s Air Jordan 1 CNY edition is an excellent example of this trend. It demonstrates a balance between maintaining the brand’s identity and a level of localization that captures the connection with Chinese consumers.


Local customers are eager to support brands that can insert the rich cultural Chinese heritage into their DNA and understand their culture.


Without this connection, the campaign can quickly turn into a disaster.


China’s Unique Regulatory Landscape for Advertisements

The strict censorship in China isn’t new to me and my team. We know that failing to abide by these regulations can result in obstacles in our ad campaigns.

Although China has many digital channels where you can launch advertisements, SDG ensures to conduct thorough research on industry-related keywords, product names, and complementary products to understand where potential keyword restrictions may overlap.

One of the instances we faced such situations was while launching Baidu ad campaigns for Mammotome, a brand of Leica Bio System Group. Since this company is part of the medical field, a set of keywords are banned due to industry regulations.

To work within these constraints, we had to conduct background checks and collaborate with platform providers like Baidu to ensure that the copywriting elements were comprehensive and adhered to the regulations.

We faced the same dilemma while working with ÉLEVANT on their Tmall flagship store. Our team did a complete revamp, customizing the brand’s customer experience and journey in this e-commerce platform.


Elevant Tmall flagship store


However, that’s not the most challenging part of this project because their products contain a component called NMN that is banned in China. While keeping these details in mind, SDG used different content creation techniques to promote the brand without mentioning the component.


Launching ads in the Chinese digital landscape isn’t as straightforward as in the American or European markets.


Foreign marketers must have an excellent of the local regulations to avoid legal issues, account blocking, and ad campaign interference. Encountering these problems will ultimately lead to a waste of time and money.


User Behaviors and Preferences

As I mentioned before, the user integration of Chinese platforms is more ingrained in the average consumer’s daily life than in Western applications.

Besides their preference for live-streaming content on WeChat or Weibo, the major players that drive purchasing decisions in the local market are influencers or KOLs. Their reliance on expert-backed content is often called “Impulsive Purchasing.”

For example, content on platforms like Douyin (the Chinese counterpart of TikTok) differs from its Western counterpart. With the latter being more geared towards fun and personal content creation, Douyin tends to be more educational and less entertainment-focused.

Even with these simple user behaviors and preferences, it’s easy to see that the Chinese social media experience is centred on integrating a complete user experience, from brand discovery to discussions and, ultimately, purchasing. This full cycle is what sets it apart from Western online marketing channels.


Staying Inspired and Motivated Through Constant Market Change

Personally, I stay inspired and motivated because the Chinese digital ecosystem is ever-changing. Each month brings new trends and apps, giving me and my team a dynamic and engaging environment to discover and explore. It may seem tiring for some, but it’s this constant change is what I like about this business landscape.

In this field, we’re not bound to do the same thing over and over again. However, collaborative teamwork and open communication within the agency are crucial in our work. Through this, we can freely share and discuss new trends, new content ideas, and new platforms.

The goal is to keep an open mind since there’s still a lot of reading to do and content to watch. We also follow inspiring content creators in the field, like Ashley Dudarenok from Alarice/Chozan, David Sadigh of Digital Luxury Group (DLG), and Domenica Di Lieto.



Learning new things constantly and having fun are two of my constant reminders to my team. It’s the reason why I still feel warmth and passion for the work we do. As long as we keep striving to improve, I don’t doubt that we’ll continue to work better!


On Guiding Foreign Brands in China

Every time we start working with a new company entering the Chinese market, our initial process is fully comprehending the brand’s vision and mission. We must understand the business proposition the brand can offer if we want to create a successful localized digital strategy.

Depending on the brand or product’s maturity towards the Chinese market, we conduct market research and competitive analysis to provide valuable insights based on the accurate data points of the current industry landscape.

Our team also conducts social listening to gather live insights from online channels, helping us to define brand positioning and perception.

Once all of these elements are laid out, we proceed to guide our clients with an actionable digital strategy. It covers different channels, including social media, content marketing, and search engine optimization.

Each brand will be presented with defined content pillars with a solid focus on engagement, user-generated content and conversion tracking. During this process, we ensure the local cultural codes are not overlooked to avoid conflict with Chinese consumers.


Maintaining a positive reputation is a localization strategy that’s very important in the Chinese market.


Local consumers favour authenticity, so it won’t matter if products come with a higher price tag as long as they’re sure it’s genuine.

Since consumers can be wary of imported products, brand collaboration with Chinese companies or artists can work well in favor of a foreign brand. This strategy can show how willing the brand is to connect with local customers.


The Future of Digital Marketing in China

There’s always a new challenge in China. Whether it’s a new platform to discover, an emerging trend to explore, or a brand-new story to tell, all these things keep me motivated, besides developing new services for our clients and seeing how Sekkei Digital Group grows.

I envision new opportunities and new ways of creating content thanks to the use of AI technologies in China. As we look to the future, I believe these advancements will help brands improve customer experience and journeys through social channels.

As for SDG, we’ll ensure that these innovations are seamlessly integrated into our operations, allowing us to discover new content creation and engagement strategies.

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