Now more than ever Chinese businesses are looking for something to improve their results. The Chinese economy is trending towards higher technology and greater operational efficiency. Chinese CEOs and other professionals are now accustomed to researching their problems online, and they’ll consider doing business with any business that can give them an edge.
If your company wants to make high-value sales to businesses in China, you won’t need “guanxi” to get started. But you will need a strong offering, a way to get your potential clients to notice you, and the ability to educate them.
In this article, we’re going to share the Chinese B2B marketing tactics that we use most often. Like all our content, it’s thoroughly researched. We write based on our experience driving results for global businesses in China.
If you’re a marketing manager in a global company, you can use this as a starting point for understanding the Chinese digital ecosystem as it applies to B2B marketing in particular. From here, you can dig further into any of the tactics listed.
Before moving on, we should clearly define “Chinese B2B marketing”, because it can sometimes refer to different things. We are talking about:
- Driving leads for businesses that are selling to other businesses. Most of our experience is with tech, professional service, and software companies. So, this post is by no means restricted to manufacturing or wholesale business.
- Supporting sales teams in nurturing leads. B2B marketing should be aligned with sales efforts to increase sales revenue.
- We’re focused on mainland China. However, almost everything here is also relevant to marketing to Chinese-reading professionals anywhere else in the world.
Here are the top 10 tactics we’re using in March 2021, listed in an order that should be easy to understand.
EMAIL FOR B2B COMMUNICATIONS
Email is useful for marketing in China, but it’s not as useful as it is elsewhere. In general, you can expect Chinese professionals to check their email when they’re at work. The (in)frequency in which they check their email might mean that you need to send them a WeChat message or give them a phone call to say: “Hey, check your email.”
Most companies we work with use email as the login ID for their users outside of China, whether that is a user of their product or just a person that filled in a contact form. It’s generally a lot more convenient for them to do this since their global systems are configured this way.
However, Chinese websites and apps might use email or (more likely) a phone number as their login ID. Also, many Chinese companies will not require potential customers to enter an email address in a lead generation form. This isn’t to say that email isn’t used at all; it’s just not the essential staple of Chinese sales funnels as it is in the West.
Where’s the right balance? We recommend that most companies use email to send key communications and documents to potential Chinese clients, but don’t rely on email alone. Give Chinese customers additional contact options such as WeChat, QQ and/or live chat on your website.
What about using email for marketing communications such as email newsletters or drip campaigns to your potential Chinese clients? It can be done, but only in addition to using WeChat.
WECHAT FOR B2B MARKETING
WeChat is the single most important social media platform in China, and we use it extensively. WeChat could be compared to WhatsApp or Facebook or PayPal or many other things, but none of those comparisons does it justice, because it effectively replaces all of those in China, and more.
From the perspective of B2B marketing, WeChat can be helpful in a few key ways.
First, it is a great place for you to share long-form content with your followers. Think of an email newsletter or blog. While the content we share on WeChat isn’t just like the content for a blog, it is somewhat similar. WeChat should usually be the first place that you post key content. Here’s an example WeChat article we created, so you can get an idea of the basic format.
Next, WeChat will function like a mini-website of its own. You can create custom menus that allow your followers to find key information conveniently. (Check this 5-minute video tour of WeChat menus.)
Third, WeChat is a great tool for you to communicate directly with your potential clients. Instead of requiring them to contact you via email, at least give them the option of reaching out via WeChat too. This will increase your conversion rates.
It’s also important to note what WeChat is not. WeChat is not a fully open social platform like Twitter or Facebook. Compared with other options, it’s usually not the best way for B2B-oriented businesses to reach new potential clients. WeChat articles are also not easily findable from outside of WeChat. For example, Baidu search results do not include WeChat articles.
BAIDU SEARCH ADVERTISING
Baidu is the most popular search engine in China by a large margin. Google is blocked in China, but there are also 3 other significant search engines that function similar to Baidu.
One of the most common playbooks for B2B marketers can be described as “Google ads + landing page + contact form”. Luckily, this playbook can be replicated in Chinese, although we would recommend some adjustments.
These are the most common changes we recommend:
- Build the account from the ground up. Due to differences in language and the technical aspects of Baidu SEM, we avoid simply translating English-language Google campaigns. It’s better to build the campaign from the ground up. This starts with a basic marketing plan and ends in a fully-formed Baidu account structure.
- Get started a month ahead of your launch date. It will take a week or two to set up an account with Baidu (you can do it through us). Plus, it will take some time to plan out the campaign.
- Offer additional content methods (as mentioned above in the email section).
- Localize the website, landing page and any content assets specifically for China. More on that in the next section.
Here’s an example of a website we’ve been promoting via PPC for years. As you can see, it’s clean, easy-to-use and uncluttered. This is important to note, because there’s a misconception that Chinese users like websites that look like a web portal made in 1999.
LOCALIZING YOUR WEBSITE FOR CHINA
Chinese people read Chinese. Even if they’re English-speaking professionals that work with global colleagues, they will still show a strong preference for Chinese-language content.
For this reason, we always recommend creating Chinese-language versions of key pages including a landing page, homepage, ‘About Us’ page, key service pages, etc. Polished, persuasive Chinese pages will greatly outperform English-language pages as well as machine-translated content.
As for language, Mandarin is the primary spoken dialect in China, while Simplified Chinese script is used across all regions of mainland China. In the Chinese business environment, it’s possible that many of your potential clients will speak local dialects as well; nevertheless, almost all of them will speak Mandarin, as well as read and write Simplified Chinese.
As for the website, it should ideally be a separate website that is hosted in China, which will require an ICP license. But there are trade-offs between cost, efficiency and marketing effectiveness, so it’s important to strike the right balance for your situation. In general, we’ll simply check whether a company’s current website loads well in China or not. If it doesn’t, we look into options like hosting in China or making optimizations to the website.
To get the best return on investment, we like to do our content creation work in batches. When we create content for the website, we’ll also create it for the WeChat account. The content style will be just a little bit different. We’ll build on this idea in the following sections.
Here’s another example of a website that we’ve worked on for years, and it gets results. It’s a simple WordPress-based site that loads quickly in China (although not so quickly outside of China.)
BAIDU SEO FOR B2B
Chinese SEO is not likely to be the golden ticket to your success on its own. That being said, it’s possible to get organic search traffic without applying a great deal more effort than you would anyway.
Since you should already be offering localized Chinese content on your website, ensuring that your website is also accessible for search engines is usually relatively easy. Your Chinese keywords should be used in the title, meta description and throughout your pages in a natural, unobtrusive way. Our guide to on-site technical SEO teaches you how to do it yourself.
As you build up your brand online, you should naturally start picking up some links and building search authority. But, do not expect it to be as easy as it would be on Google. Chinese websites are often very wary about giving out links, even to high-quality websites.
Baidu tends to place a lot of search ads at the top of search results—up to seven! Plus, it will rank many of its own resources high up on the results pages, such as their wiki Baidu Baike.
The image below shows a Baidu search results page for “project management software”. Ads are in red, and Zhihu and Baidu Baike results are in purple. More on Zhihu below.
(Click on the image to see the full picture)
Instead of viewing Baidu as a way of driving organic traffic to your website, it’s better to view it as a way of driving organic traffic to your brand. Remember that your website isn’t your brand. Your brand can be anywhere. You can post content on wikis, other websites, social platforms, video sites and more. Baidu will index those and your potential buyers will find them.
ZHIHU FOR B2B MARKETING
Zhihu is a Q&A platform similar to Quora. Users can ask or answer questions, then the answers are voted up or down. This means that the more popular answers tend to rise to the top.
Zhihu’s user base contains a lot of white-collar professionals and other well-educated users. It’s by no means limited to these groups, but we find that many professionals tend to check Zhihu at various points in their purchase journey. Some of them go to Zhihu directly, while others search on Baidu and see the Zhihu posts near the top of the search results page.
We mainly use Zhihu to answer questions from users. We share positive and accurate information about the brands we represent. But, more than that, we educate people. It’s a win-win for brands and Zhihu users.
We also post articles and sometimes videos. Yep, Zhihu is not only about answers. It’s possible to build a following: like what businesses do on LinkedIn.
Check out the much longer post on how to use Zhihu for B2B marketing here.
SALES PROSPECTING / BUSINESS NETWORKING WITH LINKEDIN AND MAIMAI
LinkedIn is one of the only truly global social platforms. It works in both China and the rest of the world. But there’s also another platform that is somewhat equivalent to LinkedIn—Maimai. We’re using both for marketing campaigns now.
One of the things we do on those two business social platforms is hunt for potential buyers directly. We reach out to them to start a conversation or offer educational content, which in turn brings new clients into the sales funnel.
Besides doing this via Maimai and LinkedIn, we also make use of whichever methods we can find—Baidu, external databases and communities. This way we can be sure to find a cost-effective way to start getting leads very quickly, perhaps even quicker than search engine marketing.
This should be rounded out by creating a profile on each platform, sharing updates and interacting with connections. For LinkedIn, we would use a company and personal account. On Maimai, we’d use only a personal account.
SHARING LONG VIDEOS ON BILIBILI OR YOUKU
There are several video platforms in China that allow the posting of long (over one minute) videos. Bilibili is the one that we most commonly turn to for distribution, with Youku a close second.
At the bare minimum, we grab some existing video resources for a business, then add subtitles and share. This is the low-cost method of gaining some exposure.
Based on the marketing goals and budget, we can go further by creating new videos specifically for the Chinese market.
Bilibili and Youku videos can also be used on a website and are visible within China, unlike YouTube videos. The videos might include comment overlays or ads, but those can be removed by using a paid plan or making some adjustments to the embedded player. For more information, check this post on how to host videos in China.
ABOUT EFFECTIVE CONTENT DISTRIBUTION
Marketing is a game of leverage. It’s important to increase revenues while keeping costs reasonable.
One way we do this is by creating content in batches. We research and write about one topic, then we create all the text, image and video content at once. In other words, we repurpose it for the different places we share it.
Let’s imagine a silly but useful example topic: How to Choose an Electrified Widget Operating System (EWOS). It’s a complex topic to understand, let alone explain eloquently to others. After we do the research, we can create the content for many different media at once:
- A web page
- A WeChat article
- Several answers on Zhihu, Tieba, Zhidao
- Several informative posts on LinkedIn or Maimai
- A video on Youku
- Brief posts on other social networks, such as Weibo.
Additionally, we can share that content on websites or social accounts that are industry authorities. In China, they often refer to this as Key Opinion Leader (KOL) marketing. I find that wording to be a bit restrictive. We like to be flexible, so we won’t only reach out to KOLs on social platforms, but we’ll also reach out to websites or legacy media publishers.
The key is to get in front of the right target market and educate them on the solutions available to them. Using the example of an EWOS, we might be able to post an article about Electrified Widget Factory Efficiency Losses on five websites, and/or we might let three social influencers review the system themselves and create video reviews.
WEBINARS AND MEETUPS
Although webinars are a staple of English-language B2B marketing, I don’t see webinars mentioned as often on Chinese B2B marketing campaigns. I suspect this is an underused tactic in China, especially since Chinese Internet users are so used to live streaming in the C2C arena.
Due to their live nature, webinars can be trickier to pull off. You would need to have an expert available to make the presentation and answer questions live in Chinese. This burden can be lessened by assigning a community manager to answer any questions in the live text chat.
It’s not uncommon for businesses in China to hold offline events and stream them online live simultaneously. It might seem limiting to have to hold events physically because fewer people can attend, but keep in mind that some Chinese cities have ten, twenty, thirty million people.