The 4 Biggest Digital Trends In China

China’s digital landscape is unique - here’s how to exploit it


The huge market of China presents both unique opportunities and challenges to any digital marketers looking to move into the space. In February, the country announced that any online content published by companies with part foreign ownership would be subject to stringent approval procedures. Media licences aren’t new - China has one of the world’s most restricted online experiences - but this process is just another layer from which the state can enact control.

And so marketers have to be clever. Exploiting social media and other tech unique to China is key, and understanding where the country is with regard to issues like user experience and video content can help marketers plan their entrance. Keeping up with digital trends in the world’s second-largest economy is vital, and we’ve put together the four biggest trends to be aware of before putting together any marketing strategy for China.

Social media use has to be savvy

China’s stance on social media is complex. Facebook, for example, has been banned since 2009, along with Youtube, Twitter, Instagram and most google sites. LinkedIn, Pinterest and Tumblr are available, but knowing where to target your audience is a basic yet key element to digital in China. China’s decision to ban social media as a source in news items is indicative of the country’s strict policy toward user-generated content.

The popularity of Tencent’s instant messaging service WeChat should be top of marketers minds, as it offers direct one-to-one engagement with some 806 million monthly active users. WeChat’s 2015 annual report claims that over three quarters of internet users in China use the service regularly, almost all on mobile. RenRen is arguably the closest thing to Facebook in China, but with internet usage increasingly taking place on mobile, WeChat demands focus.

Mini-movies on the rise

China is proving to be lucrative for the luxury market, and subsequently the practices used by digital marketers for luxury brands are being widely replicated. Mini-videos - generally short promotional videos ordinarily featuring well-known Asian celebrities - are gaining traction as a medium to express brand identity. They’re both entertainment and the sort of high quality content the younger, digitally savvy generation in China seek out. If a mini-video could be used to hold the attention of your brand’s audience, it’s a must-have as traditional marketing techniques flounder.

User experience becoming key

Where user experience is the holy grail for marketers and developers in the western world, the situation in China is quite different. Digital offerings in China tend to be busier, with more text and less emphasis on sleek design and multimedia. According to Campaign this, in part, emerged as a result of poor infrastructure in the early days of Chinese internet, leading web designers to favor text. ‘Practicality often trumps aesthetics. If a majority of the users have gotten used to one way of doing things, they will prefer that to having to learn a new system.’

Having said that, the likes of WeChat, Didi, and Alipay have adopted more minimalist approaches as connectivity in China has greatly improved. The growth of the UX industry in China has been rapid, and it’s important that digital marketers strike the balance between familiarity and fresh design.

Multi-screen ad campaigns

In China, many internet users missed the PC era altogether, and so the ‘transition’ to mobile in the country has been far more abrupt than in countries like the US or the UK. There’s a reason the likes of Samsung and Apple have invested so heavily in China - according to QZ ‘the country saw the biggest shift in desktop to mobile computing in 2015…the share of smartphone visits actually rose by 65%.’

E-commerce and digital marketing in China should be more aggressively mobile-first than in other regions. The number of smartphone users in China this year is set to hit 563.3 million - not exploiting such a gargantuan population with effective offerings on the likes of WeChat would be to miss a huge opportunity for revenue. 

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