I think Chinese consumers are highly untrusting of new brands. I think that it’s essential for any new brand entering China to assume that it will be tough to pick up customers unless they can build that trust.

When I express that opinion to people experienced with marketing in China, they always agree. Yet Western marketers usually disagree with me.

Some background – I oversee Chinese-language digital marketing campaigns for Western clients. While we have the occasional ‘big brand’ client with a strong footprint in China, most of our clients are SMEs that are just stepping into the Chinese market for the first time.

It’ll be easier to explain with an example, so I randomly picked RichardsLaw.ca. They’re legal professionals in Canada.

They aren’t a client of ours, but they’re similar to common cases we see. Many companies that we talk to have close to zero brand recognition within China and wish to “test the waters” by seeing how many leads or sales they can get with a budget of under 10K USD. So they setup their website and drive some traffic and… not much happens. Not what they expected anyways.

One of the most common problems in these situations is a lack of consumer trust in the brand. I not only think a new brand needs trust to make sales, but I think they even need it to start getting leads. Most Westerners never get this because they don’t understand life in China.

So, I’ll try a new way of explaining it. Trust in a brand isn’t just about the brand itself. It’s about trust in systems, government and other humans.


Brand Trust Profiles

We could imagine a brand trust profile to look something like this:



In these images, I show what I think would be likely levels of trust that Chinese & Canadian consumers would place in this legal company if they were to find it online for the first time.

For the Canadian side, I would expect them to be somewhat trusting in the brand, very trusting in the government & the people they know. Plus, Canadians also trust other people they don’t know – especially other Canadians.

For the Chinese side, I’d expect there to be very little trust. Note that I’ve assumed this brand is not using social marketing or on-site chat yet. I’m assuming they’d drive traffic to a translated version of their website.

Let’s dive in to these a bit deeper with specific examples.

As a Canadian, if I were to Google “legal services Edmonton”, I find a Google ad that leads to this site. Putting myself in the shoes of a potential customer, I don’t know the brand yet, so I don’t really trust it.

But it is Canada-based. I have some trust in the regulations of Canada that it won’t be a total scam. And if it is, I can sue them or complain to some government entity and I think I’ll win.

I could contact them via email. I’m trusting-enough with email. I use it all the time, and if I get added to an email list, I can generally unsubscribe.

I’m also generally just trusting of other humans.

My perceptions may be wrong or they may be right. But, I think that many other possible customers of this business would have similar perceptions.

Overall, I’d trust them enough to email them and start a conversation.

Now, let’s look at a similar example in China.


Let’s imagine that we took that exact same website and simply translated it into Chinese and put up very similar ads on Baidu. How trusting would the potential customers be?

Let’s look at it row by row.

Trust in the brand – The brand may gain a tiny bit of trust by being on Baidu and showing a nice website.

Trust in systems – What systems? Email? Not likely, email isn’t used so much in China anyways. But if they could talk to someone on WeChat or QQ, that would be more convenient and easier to trust – after all, they could remove the WeChat friend if they don’t want to keep a connection.

Trust in government – This one is contentious. In some cases I’d expect little trust and in others more. For example, Chinese consumers are famously untrusting of the government when it comes to keeping food supplies safe. A foreign brand can sometimes gain points in this area by leveraging trust in their government. For example, “made in Germany” as suggested by Roland on my LinkedIn chat about this blog post.

Trust in Humans They Know – Is there trust there? Well, there likely isn’t, unless they’ve built a relationship with somebody that works at that brand or has done business with that brand.

Trust in Humans They Don’t Know – Ha! Give me a break. Chinese consumers are on the watch out for scams from people they aren’t familiar with. See “In China, Evan Zoo Animals Can be Fakes: Chinese Consumers and Trust Issues”.

Overall, the trust level in this case is still too low for many potential clients to hand over their email address. But, they may be willing to start a chat…

My whole example here is guesswork, but it provides a starting point to work with. When helping a business enter China, my initial assumption is “people aren’t gonna trust them so easily, we gotta work for their trust.”

So, what would I recommend for a business like Richards Law to promote themselves online in China? How could they build trust?


How to Build Trust for a Brand in China

It’s easier to think through trust-building if we look at each of the factors on the trust profile.

Government – let’s drive that home. Let’s put “Canadian” all over it. In the ad copy coming out of our SEM team, I very often see them adding the brand’s country to the ad copy. We might talk about “local Canadian lawyers” or “Canada business bureau verified”. The details would be hashed out in group brainstorming sessions.

Humans that the customers don’t know – It’s best to have a live chat tool on the site, as well as WeChat and QQ. This makes it extra easy for potential customers to start building a relationship with your salespeople.

Humans that the customers do know – Social marketing! If we could leverage existing customers to help spread the word to their friends, that’s great. This takes time to build though.

Systems – In this case of a professional services company that does business offline, I don’t have any great ideas. For e-commerce campaigns, Chinese consumers place a lot of trust in marketplaces. For any brand that is making sales online, payment platforms provide an important role, they are not only convenient tools for transferring money, but are an escrow service as well.

The brand – Before they know the brand, all you have going for you is your brand image & messaging. A well-localized, professional, well-designed website will help build more trust than a website that looks like it was thrown up in a few hours.

Over time, you can build trust in your brand itself by providing a great service, being honest and consistent, being ethical and treating customers right.

I’ll sum up my advice:

  1. Chinese consumers are very untrusting.
  2. You can gain their trust but you’ll need to work harder.
  3. Try to see things from your potential customers’ point-of-view. Consider the trust factors I mentioned, as well as any others you can think of.
  4. Address each of those factors.
  5. Watch more business come in.
  6. Continuously talk to your customers and further adapt.

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