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Marketers: Don’t do China unless you’re ready to work

What could be more tempting to a marketer than an untapped population of more than a billion potential customers? No, you’re not dreaming. China is that place. But while it may be an alluring proposition, it’s not for the faint of heart. Or the lazy.

China is just one of three major emerging markets making Western brands’ mouths water right now. There’s also India (with a population of roughly 1.2 billion) and South America (with about 390 million residents in total). Next to India, China is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, which makes it a natural focus for large brands looking to expand their digital presence. All well and good—just make sure you’re prepared, says Kevin Conway, global director of consumer brands at cloud solution provider Savvis, which recently unveiled virtual hosting services for China.

“If your idea of setting up a website is putting the networking in Singapore or Hong Kong and connecting it in China and just letting it run thinking you don’t have to worry about it, then you’re not thinking about it right,” Conway says. “It’s an ongoing process and it’s going to continue to change.”

So, what do you need to know before you consider hitting up China or another country in the region for some of that sweet, sweet revenue? The to-do list is lengthy.

Take a deep breath and here we go: What’s your strategy? Which specific country do you want to enter in AsiaPac and why do you want to go there? What specific set of capabilities will you need in that country? What does your distribution look like? What about government compliance and regulations? Will you be hosting your content in-country or in a neighboring country? What are your business drivers? Will you have in-country support? What kind of website do you want to deploy—content only or commerce, too? How will you handle payment processing? What are the in-country requirements for reporting financial data?

And then there are those other old bugbears: the potential for hacking, protecting your intellectual property, network latency, and overall infrastructure.

“In a lot of cases, it’s not just the website; you also need a content management system, and a lot of the time you’re also trying to tie that into other existing back-end systems and integrating with other third-party processes,” Conway says. “One of the things most people overlook is maintenance because they’re so concerned about the development side and implementation they forget about or don’t spend enough time on the operational side.

Another prerequisite for doing web business in China is something called an ICP (Internet Content Provider) license, which is both pricy and difficult to obtain.

Not to mention the “Great Firewall of China,” a series of proxy servers that the Chinese government can use to censor Internet content at any time.

But getting a foothold in China isn’t that difficult; you just have to be strategic and stay organized.

“It all starts with a client’s vision and the strategy they have with their business, and then you drill down from there,” says Conway. “It’s amazing how many businesses want to go to China, but they don’t know why they want to go there beyond the fact that there’s a massive group of people who can buy stuff from them.”

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