The 5 best tips for marketing your business in China

If you have ever considered expanding your commercial territory to China, you must know how competitive the market is. Boasting a huge consumer base, China is a fast-changing market bursting with endless energy. With the development of different e-commerce platforms in the past decade, it has become more mature, and also more saturated.

Staying ahead of the game requires a good understanding of the market and media trend. Here are 5 trends to look out for whether you are just getting started or need to re-calibrate your strategy for China.

Trend 1: Lower tier cities- your next frontier?

China is a big country and consequently uneven development among different cities and regions. As China globalised in the last 10 years, what is known as the ‘1st and 2nd tier cities’ have experienced significant growth both in terms of population size, commercial activities and spending powers. They are also more exposed to Western cultural influences. Not surprisingly, these cities are the priorities for a lot of companies entering China for both economic and cultural reasons.

While the top tier cities should not be overlooked, it is time we looked at the huge potentials brewing in the lower tiers cities, who are quickly catching up. Among others, cities like Hefei, Wuhan and Chengdu have seen rapid GDP growth, resulting in people earning higher incomes and desiring a wider range of premium products. Moreover, expats residing in these cities
are helping spread the word of international brands and creating demands.

Accordingly, e-commerce platforms that are targeting lower-tier cities are also experiencing an increase in growth. Pinduoduo, one of China’s most popular e-commerce networks is a notable example of this.

These cities could be the next frontier for companies that find top tiers cities to be too competitive. It is worth noting that consumers differ in their cultures, mentalities and behaviours from region to region, and they might not be as familiar with your brand or its category. Throw your assumptions out of the window and research your new markets well.

Trend 2: The rise of short-form videos

While the advent of videos as a popular communication format is nothing new, short-form videos have never been so popular.

In a market where consumers are bombarded with numerous promotional messages every day, short and snappy videos surprise, delight and entertain impatient consumers. Let’s face it, short-form videos generally have to be more creative to tell the same story as its longer-form siblings. Delivering short-form video content isn’t easy. Mastering the abilities to provide a powerful message about your product in 15 seconds requires not only a creative brain, but also the relevant cultural insights.

When it comes to making any video assets, it is important to encourage two-way conversations with your audience and give them the opportunity for interactions (through comments for example).

To get started, check out popular apps such as Douyin (also known as Tiktok) and KuaiShou.

Trend 3: Use your social platforms strategically

Just like in other markets, China’s various social media platforms are not created equal. Make sure you understand the role each of these platforms play in your social eco-system to hit your strategic bull’s eye.

An easy way to think about the various platforms is to classify them as homes for your owned/paid/shared media, then design the user’s journey so they can receive your brand story holistically.

WeChat is probably the most widely known and understood Chinese social app in use right now. Starting as an instant messaging app, it now provides a wide range of features including ordering food, booking tickets and taxis, social networking and playing games. There is a reason why WeChat is known as the Swiss Army Knife of apps! Brands use WeChat to publish owned media content, as well buy promotional articles and space to reach more users.

However, outside of WeChat, options exist to engage users through micro-blogging (Weibo), videos (Youku and Bilibili), review sites (Little Red Book), Q&A (Zhihu), community (Tieba), and so on.

Trend 4: Measure to understand where to upscale your advertising spend

With over 800 million internet users in China, it should come as no surprise to know that most advertisers choose to increase their digital marketing spending year on year. China is also a highly mobile society with over 90% of internet users accessing the internet on a mobile device.

Social platforms (69%), mobile video (50%), industry vertical media (37%) and e-commerce platforms (37%) are among some of the most favoured formats for mobile advertising.1

Over 50% of advertisers choose to mainly focus on KOLs (Key opinion leaders), short-form videos, live-streaming and content on own official WeChat accounts. 2

Where you choose to upscale your spend (or not) depends on the nature of your product, your branding message, your growth strategy and your investment ROI on various channels.

Trend 5: Long live long-format content

Even though short-form videos are trending, long-format content still has its place in China’s marketing landscape. At the end of the day, what matters is not really the length of the content, but the engagement factor.

Take this communication piece from McDonald’s for example. Instead of simply pushing out an ad, the brand uses a unique story-telling format that, at first glance, has nothing to do with what it’s selling. This type of content, defined by the co-founder of Fred & Farid as ‘mis-directional content’, is gaining popularities with brand owners as a way to buy consumers’ attention in a busy world.

This type of content will undoubtedly take longer time to conceptualise, create and produce. But if done right, can produce amazing results in a market that requires strong cut-throughs.

We hope the tips above have provided you with enough food for thought to get started, or pivot your marketing strategies in China.


  1. 2019 China Digital Marketing Trend Report, AdMaster in collaboration with Top Marketing, published at GDMS Intelligent Growth 2019
  2. 2019 China Digital Marketing Trend Report, AdMaster in collaboration with Top Marketing, published at GDMS Intelligent Growth 2019