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China is the world’s largest e-commerce market – projected to reach $1.7 trillion in two years. For Kiwi export firms wanting to engage in that market it’s a daunting prospect requiring a long-term strategy and professional help.

Held in Auckland on March 13th, the NZTE-organised China Digital Marketing conference highlighted a number of facts about the China e-commerce market – primarily that it’s vast in size and complexity and constantly changing. What worked last year, may not necessarily work this year.

As one of the keynote speakers remarked: it’s time to rethink “China made easy”. Often it’s better for brands to target lower-tier cities where there is more opportunity to disrupt the market and succeed. First-tier cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou can be fiercely competitive and expensive to work in. Smaller cities are generally more cost-effective and, surprisingly, have a greater number of luxury spenders.

Thinking ‘big’ doesn’t always work when choosing social media platforms either – there are thousands of social media apps, and one million users is often the starting point on a single ‘smaller’ platform. 

Mobile apps are certainly where the big consumer numbers are in China. As one speaker at the conference pointed out, in China more than 95 percent of Internet users go online using their mobile device; that’s the equivalent of 695 million people – more than twice the population of the US. ‘Big’ just doesn’t describe it.

At the conference it was also pointed out that the biggest brand you’re up against in China is the “China brand”. China-made is promoted everywhere – in the subways, on TV, in neighbourhood announcements. Young people especially are incredibly proud of the country’s achievements and supportive of home brands. 

So it’s no longer enough just to take a supreme product to market – you have to bring your total A-game. Think of the intersection between what the Chinese e-consumer really wants and what your brand does best. It’s good advice.

Most of all, engaging with China’s e-commerce market requires a long-term strategy – and should be budgeted for accordingly.

An experienced Beijing-based digital marketing consultant NZBusiness is in contact with explains that China is far from an ‘impulse buy’, it’s vital that you do your research and find experienced contacts. Then talk to them and visit the country at least twice. “China is littered with ‘quick entry corpses’,” he says. 

He also reminds us that the Chinese have always been clever traders and business people, and today they are also well educated, knowledgeable and highly demanding consumers. Remember this when you’re looking to establish your brand in this market.

And remember, too, that the culture in China is built on relationships, having friends who can advise or help. Over the centuries colleagues, peers or superiors have been relied on for advice.

You could say social media was invented for China, and WeChat, which has around 3.5 million accounts, has simply amplified this.

Chinese consumers use their WeChat circles for shopping advice. If their friends rate your product highly, they will buy it too and become loyal supporters. If not, you could be wasting your time and your money.  


Full service, results driven 

Originally founded in Fujian, South China, Orange PR is a ‘full service’ marketing and public relations company with an office on Auckland’s North Shore servicing Kiwi exporters wanting to access the China market.

‘Full service’ means everything from product design, marketing strategy and analysis to social media measurement, KOL and celebrity marketing, word-of-mouth marketing, e-commerce strategy and execution, livestreaming and event management – to reach consumers not just the mainland China market, but also the local New Zealand China market.

Marketing director and co-founder Rae Ling has more than ten years marketing experience based in New Zealand; while accounts director and co-founder Janet Chen has more than a decade of e-commerce and online experience in China. 

They fully understand Chinese consumers and the social media/e-commerce landscape in China – therefore eliminating time wastage for Kiwi clients.

Rae and Janet’s ‘do’s’ for companies looking to establish their brand in China’s digital marketplace include focusing on:

• Search engine optimisation (SEO) – to optimise your brand’s Baidu ranking (China’s Google).

• Chinese consumer behaviour – understanding tastes and preferences (with packaging, for example, using less words and simple colours such as ‘pearl white’).

• Social media – WeChat and Weibo (China’s Twitter and Facebook). An effective e-commerce strategy requires strong exposure on these ‘native’ platforms aimed at your target customers.

• Digital marketing – especially if your budget is limited.

As for the ‘don’ts’:

• Don’t go it alone. Poor translation of content can cast a negative light on your brand.

• Don’t overlook e-commerce holidays in your planning – such as Alibaba’s 11.11 shopping festival.

• Don’t treat China as a single market – there are 23 provinces with major differences.

The best approach to China is a long-term one, explain Rae and Janet, because ROI doesn’t happen overnight. And if you haven’t got the necessary budget to launch – then wait. 

“We’re up-front about how much has to be spent to get a result,” says Rae.

Don’t focus too closely on competitors either – note what they’re doing, but be yourself and be creative.

Getting results is what Orange PR is all about: one campaign on a single Shanghai-based social e-commerce platform for a New Zealand skincare brand resulted in more than 1000 units being sold within three days. Rae and Janet put that success down to the right marketing strategy, marketing resources, execution and budget.

Orange PR is in tune with the forces shaping China’s future e-commerce landscape and is well-resourced and skilled to deliver maximum impact for Kiwi firms – offering an exclusive database of 1000-plus active ‘daigou’ based in New Zealand, as well as more than 4500 Chinese mothers living here. 

The daigou connection is vital, says Janet, because consumers in China want to know that a brand is authentic and can be trusted.

Photo:  Janet Chen and Rae Ling. This article was supplied by Orange PR. 

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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