Ever since I published my B2B Marketing book, I have received many questions about how different B2B marketing is in the Asia Pacific Japan (APJ) region, where most of my experience is derived from. The key fundamentals I detail in my book still apply here, of course, such as effective research strategies for targeting buyers, crafting killer content, using video to engage your audience, aligning sales and marketing, continuously tracking and measuring results, and so on. These fundamentals apply all over the world!
However, to thrive in Asia Pacific Japan, we need to understand the clear cultural and behavioral differences from country to country. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing here.
In this first article of the 5 part series about B2B Marketing in APJ, I will share my experience marketing in China, Japan, and Korea as I want to cover the most complex markets in APJ first. We’ll start by exploring the B2B fundamentals that apply to all three geographies before we dive into the specifics of each country, including market background, key marketing platforms, and unique country-specific considerations. In this part, we will focus on China, and next week I will cover Japan and Korea. In the following articles, I will cover other parts of the region, including Southeast Asia, ANZ, and other emerging markets.
B2B fundamentals that apply to China, Japan, and Korea :
- Establish a local presence: Without a local presence in these markets, doing business, let alone marketing, can be counterproductive. In the past, I’ve experienced situations where marketing efforts generated interest but left a bad impression when there was no one locally available to provide proper follow-up. If possible, it’s recommended to set up your own office with local employees. If this isn’t feasible, consider working with a well-trained and reliable local partner as a sales agent or delivery arm.
- Have a strong local partner to help with marketing: If you do not have a dedicated in-country marketing staff or team, you can work with a strong partner to help you in your marketing efforts. When you have neither, you can work with a trusted local marketing agency. (BTW, they are not mutually exclusive, you can work with all three!) .Marketing in these countries is extremely unique and complex, so it is critical to work with locals that have experience and expertise in running effective localized campaigns. Partner with agencies that have worked with similar companies targeting the same audience as yours, with a proven track record. To be on the safe side, I generally like to start small and slowly build long-term engagements – although nearly all agencies will push for annual contracts, and they do have valid reasons for that.
- Have a fully localized website: This is non-negotiable. A local website is much more than just translating your English site, as we’ll discuss in the next point. Having a localized website and keeping it up to date takes a lot of time and effort, but it is a worthwhile endeavor if you are serious about China, Japan and Korea. In the past, I have used automation tools, engaging with agencies, and even hired local interns to fulfill this complex, ongoing task. More on specific localization by country will be discussed as we go to the country details.
- Localization in China, Japan, and Korea is more than just translating from English to the local language. You must do your research and take the extra step of considering buyer needs and behaviors, ways of doing business, platforms, and user experience. Look at each country individually as there are no two markets with the same landscape – in fact, they can be vastly different.
- Build a foundation with Public Relations (PR): Developing a company, product, or brand’s image and reputation with PR is one of the most cost-efficient and effective forms of communication in these markets. Although similar to marketing agencies, most PR agencies encourage annual contracts, start by engaging with them on a quarterly trial basis as you test the market. Having positive coverage regarding your brand and your commitment to these markets will earn you the trust of your target audience – customers or partners. It really is a shortcut to having a digital presence while you wait for your content to rank high in these markets. Aggressively purpose and republish the local coverage on your own channels and in your outreach.
- Rely on data and analytics to constantly refine and optimize your campaigns: This is of course relevant in all markets, but it is especially important in these complex territories. The digital landscape is very dynamic, so you have to continuously test, learn, adapt, and test again to achieve success.
Let us now examine China.
Not surprisingly, China’s B2B market is massive and has been increasing by 30% annually. According to experts, the market is expected to reach a staggering $350bn in value by 2024, as businesses adopt digital technologies to drive their growth. It’s not just China-based companies that are thriving in this B2B market, but also numerous international brands. However, expanding into China is not only an intensely competitive field, but it is also a complex market to dominate.
Chinese people are super connected. China is home to the largest digital community in the world (bigger than India and the US combined), with about 1.07 billion netizens as of 2022 – although because of their rural areas, the country’s internet penetration rate is relatively low at 76 percent, compared to South Korea and Japan, which ranged over the 90 percent mark.
When it comes to B2B – as highlighted in my book- buyers do their own online research and have mostly made the buying decision before engaging with a sales representative. In China, the buyers fully control the buying journey. Therefore, it is critical to have information about your company available online across the various unique platforms in the country.
Platforms You Should Know in China
Here are some key places to start:
Localized website: To target the Chinese market, you should have a website that is optimized for mobile devices and available in Simplified Chinese. It is advisable to host the website in China (.cn) or nearby to bypass Great Firewall. Also, if you plan to advertise or host the website in China, you must apply for an ICP license from the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). It’s essential to display the QR code for your Official WeChat Account on your website, as QR codes are very popular in China. See the next point.
An Official WeChat account: WeChat is an all-in-one platform that combines the functionalities of Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, and Skype. You can launch an official account on WeChat, which allows you to host a mini-version of your website and engage with followers through weekly posts. Companies generally post several articles in one push every week. You can also use WeCom, a corporate version of WeChat for internal and external communications with clients and customers.
Baidu: Baidu is China’s equivalent of Google. You need to apply and set up an account to run Chinese-language keyword advertisements on this platform. To get the best results, you should use Baidu Webmaster tools, create unique and relevant content, and be patient as it takes time for Baidu to index new sites. Also, platforms such as Zhihu (known as “Chinese Quora”) can be used to get faster results in search rankings.
Weibo: Weibo is a popular microblogging site in China, similar to Twitter. B2B brands can engage users with various types of multimedia content on this platform, specifically on Sina Weibo, which targets a more professional, high-end user base. B2B marketers can follow thought leaders and prospects and gain valuable insights into creating engaging and on-trend content. You should include appropriate keywords and hashtags (signified by “# #” instead of one #) in your posts to make them easily searchable.
Forums and Wiki sites: Posts and articles on user-generated forums, such as Zhihu- “Chinese Quora” for specialized content campaigns, will help your SEO and brand awareness. For Zhihu, a great start would be to run Q&A Campaigns, Zhihu Live for online interactive presentations on specific topics or in-depth articles.
Important Considerations for China :
- It’s important to avoid using any services connected to Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and website hosting platforms that could be blocked in China. Even small elements like Google Maps or fonts connected through the Google API can significantly slow down or prevent your page from loading.
- Data in China is highly regulated, similar to GDPR in Europe. Buying marketing lists is not recommended, and corporations must strictly control the data they collect in China.
- Direct translation is rarely effective, and it’s important to have content that is fully localized in Chinese.
- It’s essential to keep in mind that some basic behaviors of Chinese users, such as their preference for WeChat over email marketing, make some common Western workflows irrelevant.
Stay tuned for the next article as we go through Japan and Korea!