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To Access China: The Right Product and the Right Channel

Technology moves quickly, sometimes driven by consumer need, sometimes in response to competition, sometimes both. But not everyone is operating at breakneck speed. Not everyone is on a 5G network, or living in San Francisco or New York. There are still plenty of people who like to do things in a traditional way. But those people are not going to be able to access your brand as easily, which means if you’re trying to drive brand awareness into an already saturated market, you may be completely out of luck.

But it may not always have to be that way.

China’s consumers are younger, savvier, and more digitally sophisticated than the average Westerner. Far more of them own mobile phones, and fewer of them are looking for discounts. They want new shopping experiences: new brands, new customer journeys, with a new reward at the end.

If this sounds like a marketer’s paradise, it kind of is: eCommerce retailer Alibaba services 700 million customers in China through its B2C mobile app Tmall —
that’s more than double the U.S. population. And Alibaba’s Singles’ Day, on November 11, is a consumer holiday that generates huge amounts of revenue: last year’s Singles’ Day generated $38 billion dollars in a single day. Chinese eCommerce companies have blazed a trail in terms of getting new brands in front of young consumers quickly and efficiently.

Okay, so you may be thinking, how do I get into this marketing Eden? I don’t speak Chinese and I don’t know the culture at all. Also, isn’t there a Great Firewall or something?

It’s true that gaining access to a foreign market has specific barriers and challenges, the logistics of which we won’t detail here. But we can say with a fair degree of certainty that the benefits almost certainly outweigh the risks. Allbirds, a shoe company that specializes in shoes made from all-natural materials, is expanding to Japan after selling on Tmall for nine months. When you look at Allbirds’ website, the shoes are modest, with neutral tones. But the flashiness didn’t matter to the Chinese consumer so much as the brand story behind it. The natural fibers and materials going into the shoe give it a certain cachet, and a high-quality shoe that is comfortable, versatile, and reasonably priced is sure to appeal to at least a small subsection of the newly established middle-class Chinese consumer, who is looking for high quality, but not necessarily a luxury product.

When it comes to eCommerce, China is far ahead of the United States, and that is partially because of the prevalence of mobile phones. There is no reason to expect that phones won’t become more and more prevalent in the United States, albeit at a slower pace. (A projected 285 million people are projected to use mobile phones in 2023, but this is nothing compared to the 1.25 billion users in China.)

A China strategy means pitching the right products, and pitching them on mobile first.


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