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Doing business in China: a content marketer’s take

Many brands grapple with the complex nature of doing business in China. How do you succeed?

Many Australian brands grapple with the complex and ever-changing nature of doing business in China. Our MD, Bobbi Mahlab, offers her take on what marketers need to succeed in this competitive – and sometimes confounding – marketplace.

“I like Australians, but there are two things I don’t like: You think you are a little bit superior, and you don’t know how to control yourselves when you drink.”

As our business moves into Asia, I added this observation – which was offered by my incidental coffee shop companion, a Turkish man who has lived in Shanghai for 30 years – to the long list of things I am learning about doing business in China. This includes how Australians are perceived.

For a content and media junkie like myself, it’s a shock when you first realise our daily fare of Google, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are blocked. It’s hard to think that unless you have a VPN, they’re not accessible at all.

The biggest realisation, however, is that when it comes to the internet, China is a parallel universe – and in many ways a better one.

In China’s social media kingdom, WeChat is the emperor. With 697 million users, including 100 million outside China, WeChat is a combination of social media with free messaging and calls. My Australian smartphone holds a swag of apps that do what WeChat can do in one swoop. Once you are in the app, you can find a taxi, make payments, read the news and access millions of other apps. When I signed up, I discovered hundreds of WeChat users within 300 metres of my Sydney office.

For some businesses, WeChat makes the need for a website redundant, or at least moves it down the priority list. Meeting in Shanghai with one of our Chinese clients that was launching a new brand locally, it became quickly apparent that a WeChat strategy was the priority. A website simply wasn’t a must.

Here are some facts to shape your thinking about the internet in China.

  • China has the highest number of internet users in the world (more than double the US).
  • Social media has more reach in China than anywhere else in the world.
  • Smartphone penetration is higher than anywhere else in the world.
  • China’s online users spend more than 40 per cent of their time on social media.
  • The Chinese government recently announced it was spending USD$22 billion to expand broadband to less-served areas.
  • About 80 per cent of the country’s ruling elite have engineering backgrounds.

What does this mean for Western content junkies and marketers? It means you assume similarities at your peril, and you must understand that the digital life of China is not only different, but often it is better.

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Pharmaceutical Society of Australia