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Email marketing in China

The board of your company have made the decision to enter the Chinese market. There’s a lot of people and businesses there becoming more prosperous, and your company is not in that market. The board assume you are missing opportunities and perhaps your competitors are already in China. So either through representation, market visits, setting up a local office or via a website, your company looks to do business in China.

To do business, you need customers. To get customers, you need to let them know you exist, what you do and how your services or products will benefit them. You need to engage in some marketing in China. Marketing is a numbers game, right? Or at least that’s what many say.

A common strategy adopted by companies – and this applies equally to very large corporates as well as SMEs – is to consider the activities undertaken in the home market and attempt to replicate these in China. There’s a predisposition amongst Western-managed firms to simply replicate a Western strategy in Chinese – the same is often true even when the firm has already established it’s own local office with Chinese staff. Marketing activities decided upon by the board, both business-to-business and consumer focused, often include some form of email marketing. It’s a known quantity, with the right amount and right quality of data, surely it’s a members game? The percentages of the domestic campaigns are good.

Internet usage differences

As far as email marketing is concerned, the results in China are usually very poor and companies are disappointed, sometimes deciding that there’s no interest in what they do in China. So why is this?

“Kai Fu Lee, formally of Microsoft, Google and Apple, now heading his own China-based company Innovation Works, states that it’s important to be aware of cultural differences between China and the West. “There is a general false assumption that the whole world uses the Internet in the same way”, he says, but this is not the case where China is concerned. This is especially true for email marketing.

Email is not used to the same degree in China as the West, with chat being a far more popular medium. This is not just amongst friends, but B2C and B2B as well. Business via email doesn’t happen in the same way. Many Western boardrooms are totally unaware of the predominance of chat and the different usage patterns with email, and simply rely on what they know of the home market, even of other export markets, to make their decisions.

In addition, “trust” is everything on the internet in China. “Can I trust you?” “Can I trust what you say and claim?” “Once I’ve bought, will your after-sales service be non-existent?” People, including business people, feel so much more secure dealing with businesses that are well known, who’s track record is well known or with those they have already had some significant contact with. Cold emails are just not to be trusted and certainly not to be acted on. Whether the aim of the sender is to sell, generate enquiries or simply to create branding awareness email opening rates are extremely minimal.

That’s not to say that email doesn’t have it’s place. E-commerce, for example, uses email marketing well. In a scenario not too dissimilar from Amazon in the West, campaign including offers, new products and enticements to buy work well. But there’s a fundamental difference here – these are targeted at people who have already engaged with the company, who have already signed up or otherwise been in touch. There’s already a trust which has been developed.

One of our roles is to give our clients an understanding of the local market and adopt the appropriate strategy for their business in China. For us, the moral of the story is don’t consider wasting time or money on data for email campaigns of any kind, unless directed at those who have already had some contact with your firm.

How to start?

So in that case, how best to start? Benchmarking market research is hugely beneficial. There will be some companies in the market already presenting themselves very effectively from whom you can learn. There will be others who you can steal a march on, as you have the capacity to exceed their offerings or market approach. But your company will need firstly to be aware of this in order to take advantage. Getting to know the local market in this is an excellent way to begin. Or if your budget allows, using a marketing company with an excellent track record and genuine proof of success can help fast track your entry into the market.

 
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