Ernie Diaz
Ernie Diaz 27 January 2015

Build Brand Recognition in China

In China when consumers lack faith in domestic brands, Western brands have a huge advantage.

There are few left denying it – western brands have a huge advantage in China, where consumers lack faith in domestic brands’ authenticity and quality.

It’s true! Besides phones (Xiami) and ecommerce platforms (Alibaba), you’d be hard pressed to find a category in which a Chinese brand tops out over western (excluding traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese liquor). Things are at the point where honest Chinese dairy farmers are dumping milk in the fields, since the newly milk-loving nation demands overseas provenance.

It’s always startling to China noobs how many western brands are household words here, and how many erstwhile boutique brands are finding their way into the right Chinese conversations, online and off.

If you’re starting off as an unknown company in China, your options for reaching the right audience are more likely than ever.

We’ll leave the ponderous question of how to localize your brand for China, although agency-proven practice shows that remaining authentic, rather than Sinofying for the market has better results. Just look at Burberry’s recent Chinese scarf fiasco as an example.

So let’s turn away from the message, to how to amplify it along the right digital channels.

Baidu Knowledge Properties
Not sexy, not new, totally effective, amazingly underutilized by western organizations. Baidu is China’s Google, but also its Wikipedia, Quora, and Google Docs. Virtually any term you search for on Baidu is therefore going to at least one link to those properties on the first result page.

Uploading the right information to the right Baidu properties - Baike, Zhidao, Wenku, and others – means that any one searching for your keywords has a high probability of discovering you through those platforms. Getting good rankings for those keywords on your own site takes much longer, and costs more.

Focused Portals
Established brands may justify spend on broad-based platforms to expand already healthy reach. For the new brand in China, ‘focus’ is the mantra. If you’re selling blood testing kits, for example, (the equivalent of Yahoo or MSN’s home page) is hardly the place to start. And those being advised that social media is a fun, free way to drive engagement are about to be sold a bridge.

Social media can be an effective channel, but for a non-established commercial brand, especially an unsexy one, it’s a bitter slog requiring copious content and deep discounts. Instead, find the platforms where people go to find out about your product at point of interest or need. This can be as simple as translating some keywords with Baidu’s , then entering them in the Baidu search bar. After the knowledge properties mentioned above, you’ll start seeing the big, focused platforms that have millions of members, and tens of thousands of pages to earn them their high rank.

In the case of the blood testing example, such a site would be Like all such focused B2B portals, this site has latest news and reviews, BBS, leads, and sponsored microsites where companies can feature their story and products over multiple proprietary pages. Deep cooperation with such a site offers content marketing, banner advertising, search results, and more, at prices far lower than better known, but less focused platforms.

“You Said ‘Two’”
A quick clarification – the foregoing are not the only effective ways to build your brand online in China. Email marketing can still work, search engine marketing is a modern miracle (in the right hands), and who knows but that you have the right stuff to engage on WeChat.

Instead, Baidu properties and focused portals are the two methods that most effectively leverage the way Chinese consumers behave online. By contrast, most Chinese hate unknown emails too, use WeChat to consume friends’ trivia, while search engine marketing in China takes serious skill, best outsourced.

China’s is the world’s biggest market. As a western brand, your target audience is out there waiting. Get focused about finding them, not free-spending, and you’re on the way to sustainable brand building in China.


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