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Does your business have a China Search Marketing Strategy?

Search Engine Marketing is a potentially powerful strategy for US companies doing business with China.

There are 298 million internet users in China – more than any other county in Asia (Japan is second at 94 million users). And next to English, Chinese is the most widely used language on the internet. Asia also comprises the largest percentage of internet users worldwide at 41.2%

And the number of new internet users in China grows by nearly 240,000 per day.

But how do you optimize your website for Chinese internet users and build a solid China search marketing strategy?

The following guidelines are recommended by the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO)’s State of Asia 2009 report:

“Having the same content on sites with different ccTLD’s [country code top-level domain] is not considered duplicate content according to Yahoo! and Google”

  • The ccTLD for People’s Republic of China is “.cn”
  • For example, the Nike website in English is located at, while is in Chinese
  • Helps search engines determine how your site appears in country-specific search results

“If possible, break into the markets with English first and then localize your content into the markets that prefer to use their native language.”

  • This keeps resources under control, so you can focus on launching instead of translating
  • You will still have visibility – many people in China speak English
  • You can still gain initial traction as your team learns how to best tune your website to the native language(s)

“Do not translate web site and page content. Localize it.”

  • Simply translating your content using a translation tool may not be sufficient for communicating with your audienc
  • Be sure that your content is specific to your target area; don’t assume anything
  • Collaborate with your Chinese colleagues

“Conduct keyword research in each market instead of translating the keyword list used in home market.”

  • You may miss opportunities if you simply translate the same keyword list used for your English language website
  • Solicit input from Chinese search marketers (they know more about Chinese internet users than you do)

Success depends on your willingness to reach out to your Chinese counterparts and work with them to execute your China search marketing strategy. Remember that seeing the results of any search campaign takes time – patience and collaboration will help you reap the rewards of the growing population of internet users in China.

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Interested in marketing to Chinese businesses? Start with an email.

Email is the best method for initially contacting Chinese business executives.

In a recent China Prime research report, nearly 1 in 2 Chinese business executives surveyed (44.9 percent) rate email to be the best way of initial contact. The next highest reported method of preferred initial contact is by telephone (27.7 percent), comprising under one-third of respondents.

As there are literally millions of businesses in China finding the right partners, customers or contacts can be daunting. Email is clearly the best – most preferred, most targeted and most cost effective – way to get in front of those you’re trying to reach.

Picking up the phone and calling is second-best; and don’t bother with direct mail to reach businesses.

Nearly one-half of the Chinese businesses surveyed (44.9 percent) report that email is the best way for interested parties to make initial contact. The next highest reported method is by telephone (27.7 percent), comprising less than one-third of the results.

Traditional in-person methods of initial contact including In-Person Visits (15.3 percent) and Conference or Exhibitions (6 percent), were rated much lower, followed closely by Mail (5.7 percent).

B2B companies are more likely (46.4 percent) to prefer email as the initial contact method than companies with a B2C focus (37.3 percent). Companies with a Government focus followed closely behind B2Bs, with 44.7 percent preferring email over all other methods.

By title, CEOs and Presidents are slightly more likely (59.8 percent) than others to prefer initial contact by email, followed by Vice Presidents (45.6 percent), Managers (44.1 percent) and Legal Representatives (42.9 percent).

Questions for your organization to consider:

  • Do you currently market your business by email?
  • Do you understand your market? (Email is a good method for conducting research, as well)
  • Do you have access to current data lists for Chinese businesses?

For those with a business strategy that includes marketing to Chinese businesses, get access to current data lists for Chinese businesses, and simply begin with an email.

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Car Owners: A Growing China Consumer Market

For most of us in the US, cars have always been a part of our lives. We grew up with the family station wagon, or perhaps with a minivan, for those who are a little younger.

Heck, even our grandparents had a car.

It’s a different story in China, where nearly every driver on the road is a “first generation driver” – with less than 10 years of driving experience. And In the last six years, China’s car ownership has reportedly grown a whopping 300%!

While the US is currently the world’s largest car market, China is closing in on that gap: Passenger car sales in China rose 10% in March 2009, thanks to government subsidies and tax cuts.

And here’s what’s happening in rural China:

“In farmlands throughout China, the vehicle of choice appears to bemicro-minivans such as those made by Wuling and Changan. Sales of thesevehicles, called mianbao che because they’re shaped like a loaf of bread, rose 60% in April and are up 40% for the first four months of the year.

Starting at about $5,000, these boxy vans, with tiny engines buriedunder the front seat and small wheels, are to Chinese farmers what pickup trucks have long been to Middle America.”

Even General Motors optimistic about China. CEO Fritz Henderson said that GM’s business in China continues to grow at a “torrid pace.”

And now that many Chinese consumers are experiencing the fun of “pleasure driving”, there are even hundreds of car clubs in Beijing.

Since the majority of people don’t usually care for their cars alone, businesses tailored to car owners may present new opportunities for serving the needs of Chinese consumers:

  • Car wash
  • Tire rotation
  • Oil changes
  • Engine repair
  • Collision repair

The bottom line is that for businesses planning to expand into the China consumer market, car-related enterprises could be a new frontier.

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Do you have a strategy for understanding the Chinese market?

The competitive battleground of the next decade:

Who can do a better job understanding real customer needs – and addressing them?

At China Prime, we talk with Chinese business executives on a regular basis – for ourselves, as well as our clients and corporate partners. In one recent survey we conducted, when asked to rate various factors for their importance to successfully marketing and promoting their companies, (50 percent) of all Chinese businesses surveyed report that “a better understanding of their customers” is the most important factor to their future success.

Of interest, this does not vary to a meaningful degree by business focus or job title. The next most important success factors cited are better or more effective marketing and promotion (30.2 percent), better or more effective branding (12.7 percent), followed by a better understanding of our competition (6.7 percent).

In China as everywhere: The stronger your brand and the better your marketing, the farther ahead of the competition you’ll be.

Next on the list of priorities? Marketing and branding. In fact, just under one-third (30 percent) rated having better or more effective marketing or promotion of the company as most important, followed by better or more effective branding (12.7 percent) and a better understanding of the competition (6.7 percent).

While this does not directly translate to views of the West, the implications are significant. First, for those Western companies that can prove marketing prowess or brand building skills, the potential to position with Chinese business executives and partners is obvious.

And for all companies, the recognition that a better understanding of customers is so important means that you’ll need to do your homework as well. Any organization that can prove their expertise in these areas will be well ahead of the many competitors – both international and domestic – with whom you will compete.

Here are some questions for your organization to ask:

  • Do you have a strategy for understanding the Chinese market?
  • Can your expertise at marketing or branding help to win over Chinese business partners or customers
  • Can you offer insights to your prospects that will show your understanding of the market and its needs?
  • Can you leverage Western marketing and research skills to offer insights to Chinese customers?

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Microblogging for Business in China

Companies planning to do business in China or who wish to expand their Chinese presence would do well to take notice of microblogging’s popularity in that country.

With several microblogging platforms currently available in China (in addition to Twitter) and new ones continually emerging, microblogging is a business communication tool that makes sense.

There are reportedly more than 50 million bloggers in China, a number that continues to grow because “more and more Chinese want to express their own views.”

Several Chinese microblogging platforms appeared after Twitter, sharing a close resemblance to Twitter in appearance and functionality.

Although Twitter is “the choice of China’s more internationally-oriented digerati”, there are several popular homegrown platforms:

douban broadcast

A group of less well-known contenders includes:


And then there is digu (reportedly still in Beta).

The Chinese government has taken notice of microblogging, too. Plurk, “a social journal for your life” has apparently been blocked by the authorities.

If that’s not enough to convince you that microblogging is big (and getting bigger) in China, it seems that yet another platform is emerging:

“In reports on, quoting an unnamed insider Sina (Nasdaq: SINA) it was said that Sina was planning to offer a service similar around the June timeframe called ‘Sina Friends’.”

Today, the question for companies doing business with China is not “if” your business should implement microblogging in China – it’s a matter of “when.”

And the answer seems to be “not soon enough.”

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China reached more than 1 billion telephone subscribers in Q1 2009

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) just reported…

  • China’s total telephone subscribers exceed 1 billion.
  • Mobile phone users reached 670 million, which is nearly double the fixed telephone subscribers.
  • Alone in March, the net increase of mobile phone users nationwide was 10,551,000 – a new monthly record.
  • Q1 2009 telecommunication industry turnover: RMB 587 billion (US$ 86 Billion), + 10,8%.
  • Q1 2009 mobile & data communication revenues grew by 10,4% & 7,7% respectively.

The MITT, established in March of 2008, is the state agency of the People’s Republic of China. This agency holds responsibility for the development and regulation of communications, broadcasting, wireless and Internet to name just a few.

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Marketing to China: Online advertising is a key component of your mix.

Despite the reduction of advertising budgets as part of a global economic slowdown, businesses marketing to China may wish to consider increased investments in online advertising.

Not only does China boast the greatest number of internet users in Asia, the Internet Committee of the China Advertising Association is moving to standardize technical specifications of online ads to comply with worldwide formats.

According to Internet World Stats:

• China tops the list of internet users in Asia at 298 million, with Japan a distant second at 94 million users.
• While English is most widely-used language on the internet at 452 million users, Chinese is second with 321 million users.

That’s not the only good news for online marketers and businesses marking to China: Previous barriers to entry for online advertisers are expected to be reduced by the standardization of internet ad specs.

With more than 170,000 different sizes of internet ads, the development of the digital advertising industry has been hampered in China. It was simply too complicated and cumbersome to easily enter.

But not any more.

Internet advertising standards are being rolled out this year in an effort to streamline the fragmented internet ads to a comparatively efficient 199 standard formats that are currently used worldwide by online advertisers.

These standards will make it less expensive for ads to be produced, thus simplifying the selling process, which may mean potential growth for the digital advertising industry in China.

And considering the sheer number of internet users in China, online marketers have a reason to be excited about the future.

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Growth within China most important success factor for Chinese business

How can you help Chinese business compete and grow at home, and abroad?

In China Prime’s second quarter 2009 survey of Chinese business executives, about 60 percent of respondents rate expansion within China and access to Chinese business partners as the most important factor to future success. Unsurprisingly, the majority of Chinese businesses are looking to their own robust economy as the primary source of future growth for their business.

While access to partners in the West rated significantly lower (15.7 percent), these findings are still impressive. Combined with those who rate expansion in the West as most important (10.4 percent), that’s 26.6 percent of respondents – or nearly 3 million companies in The China List database alone – for whom access to partners or expansion in the West is believed to be the most important factor to their future success.

Expansion in the West is important, too. But Western companies can help Chinese company’s success no matter where they are.

Expansion within China is rated the most important (33.6 percent) to future success of Chinese businesses. Access to Partners in China is rated second (26.8 percent) most important. Nearly 16 percent of respondents surveyed reported access to Western business partners is the most important factor in their future business growth and success. Access to Capital (11.2 percent) and Expansion in the West (10.9 percent) were rated of great importance to future growth and success within Chinese businesses.

B2B oriented businesses are significantly more likely (17.7 percent) than B2C companies (8.9 percent) to indicate that access to partners in the West is an important factor in their future growth and success.

Gaining access to Western business partners is of notable importance to Vice Presidents (21.1 percent) and of slightly less importance to CEOs and Presidents (15 percent), Legal Representatives and Managers (15.7 percent).

Questions for your organization to ask:

• What can you offer Chinese businesses interested in moving West?
• How can your product or service help a Chinese company to better compete on their home turf?
• What questions might you ask to better understand what needs exist that you can serve?

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How do Chinese Companies and Chinese Buyers View Your Firm?

We saw results from an interesting survey of Chinese business executives recently. According to the research, conducted by B2BInternational China, Chinese buyers have very different views of suppliers from different counties. Where might you fit in – and how might you overcome these preconceived notions?

France: Friendly and better than other Western companies at building relationships with Chinese businesspeople. Some criticism for “lack of efficiency.”

Germany: “Serious, precise, methodical with a real emphasis on quality.” A perceived weakness is attachment to procedures, which is in conflict for Chinese requirement for flexibility.

United Kingdom: Both proactive and good with follow through. Thorough and professional, and flexible, as well. Weakness might be an unwillingness to discuss business outside the workplace, “which makes UK companies seem unfriendly and hinders relationship building.”

Unites States: Efficient and working at “a fast pace.” Serious about quality. Some feel that American companies “are more inclined than other Westerners to exaggerate their own capabilities.”

Of course, understanding – and overcoming – perceptions is a key to success in any business. And succeeding in China is no different. But without the “table stakes” of something valuable and worthwhile to offer, connecting with and appealing to Chinese companies and Chinese buyers may prove to be an uphill battle. Bottom line, without the ability to prove your worth, you’ll have trouble anywhere.

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Chinese Economy Viewed as Moving in Positive Direction

It’s not just the view from the outside that says China’s doing well.  The Chinese, too, see their lot as pretty good and getting better, according to The 2008 Pew Global Attitudes Survey in China.

For example, compared with 48 percent in 2002, 86 percent of Chinese are satisfied with their country’s “direction,” making them number one in among 24 countries examined The Pew’s 2008 Global poll. On the Chinese economy, 82 percent feel their “economy is good” compared with 52percent in 2002 (also a number one ranking.)

However, based on 2007 survey work, the Chinese ranked 34th (among 47countries surveyed) in job satisfaction, and 32nd in satisfaction with family income. This is an interesting statistic, running counter to recent research that seems to prove that money really does make you happy!

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