Chinatown London road sign

In the past few years, more Chinese have started to move around the world for business and pleasure. 250,000 Chinese students now study at American universities. Another 100,000 students study in Europe.

Chinese consumers are responsible for 25% of all luxury purchases made globally, 60% of which are made outside Mainland China. Focusing on marketing and selling your products only within the borders of China is sometimes not enough.

If your company have something to sell to Chinese consumers, then you must integrate your marketing to serve this global Chinese demographic. As more and more domestic and foreign brands grow in China a new demographic has emerged.


Chinese consumers

Chinese consumers are influenced by what they see, hear, taste and experience abroad and they come from all over China.

80% of Chinese tourists research and educate themselves about destinations and brands online. Around 33% of Chinese travellers organise their own travel plans. Nearly one in ten international tourists worldwide are now Chinese.

They are the consumers who took Club Med in the Maldives from 5% of Chinese travellers to 80% in the past five years.

The new global Chinese demographic might have siblings in Seattle and cousins in Canada. Their former classmates might have studied in Fudan University, but now work on Wall Street.

They have family in North America and connections in the Chinese diaspora around the world. They are preparing to educate their children in the US and looking to add to their US real estate holdings.

These consumers engage with known brands and retailers while discovering new ones. They don’t just want to buy luxury items, they want to experience a luxury lifestyle.

From personal experience I know lots of Chinese that are either now:

  • Living abroad but still use Chinese social media, such as Sina Weibo, daily
  • Are about to move abroad, but are still expecting to have a close connection with China via social platforms
  • Have studied abroad for two or more years, and have moved back to China to work full-time.


Different Chinese demographics

There are three types of demographic to think about: tourists, students and emigrants.

The question is, when these people are living outside of China, how can brands target and connect with them in a way that appeals to their Chinese identity? How can brands connect with Chinese tourists before and during their travels?


Chinese students

Let’s start with students. 70% of Chinese social media users are under the age of 35, with 30% between the ages of 26 and 30.

When it comes to social media it’s important to remember that the most commonly used platforms in the west are often blocked in China. But, for example, when Chinese students go abroad to study they will want to use the platforms that their new friends are using.

Does this mean you should abandon Chinese social media to connect with Chinese students studying outside China?

In my opinion, the answer is no. The best way to target Chinese consumers outside of China is to use channels that they’re familiar with. Western brands should use their Chinese marketing even if their target consumers are in western countries.

A good platform for this is QQ. Tencent’s QQ IM has 808 million active users. Many students who go abroad will carry on using QQ to keep in touch with friends and family as well as to keep up-to-date with Chinese news.

Two ways to use QQ for marketing to students studying outside China could include using QQ groups and Qzone.

QQ groups allow you to add up to 1000 people in a group depending on what paid subscription you choose. Without paying, it’s possible to have up to 200 people in a group.

With a QQ group, students studying abroad can come together and share information and possibly become brand advocates. Maybe a university could utilise this method to promote their services to students in China possibly thinking of studying abroad.

Qzone is more like Facebook and comes with a QQ IM account. The platform has been used by brands such as Oreo and Xiaomi for marketing to a younger demographic. Western brands wanting to reach Chinese students studying outside of China could well utilise Qzone with some clever, modern marketing.


Chinese tourists

Next, let’s look at the example of tourists. How does a company target Chinese travelling in a country such as Australia?

Here, I’d suggest the strategy is two-fold. First you have to consider the period where tourists are planning their travels. This might involve targeted ads on Baidu, using keywords related to Australia.

Using Baidu to target Chinese travellers outside of China is problematic because other than Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan or Japan, Baidu’s display ads can’t target specific countries.

The second part would involve targeting ads on social media, such as Sina Weibo, when the tourists are in Australia. Sina Weibo has a function where specific countries can be targeted, thus positioning your products before and during a tourist’s travels.

This approach could be good for hotel brands and specific tourist sites that a Chinese traveller might want to visit.


Chinese emigrants

Finally, let’s consider emigrants. How can a company target Chinese people living in Canada for example?

38% of Chinese consumers make product purchase decisions based on recommendations they read on social networks. I’d suggest that this is the case no matter what country they live in.

The key here is targeting ads on platforms that Chinese would use in Canada, such as Google, as well as Chinese language social media networks.

The Chinese language version of Baidu is rarely used outside of mainland China. Therefore targeting Chinese emigrants with this platform may be fruitless. Baidu is making moves to challenge Google in several countries by localising its search engine.

Tests have been conducted in Thailand, Brazil and Egypt, where local language versions went live for a short while. It is already localised in Japan for example.

But it seems that in the major English speaking parts of the world Baidu has left Google to dominate. Therefore using Baidu to target Chinese emigrants in America, Canada, Australia and the UK is futile.

But utilising the most popular Chinese social networks is a no-brainer. A strategy involving Google Adwords and Sina Weibo, for example, could yield strong results.

It’s also interesting to consider the fact that bulletin board systems (BBS) are still very popular amongst Chinese Netizens. Many Chinese emigrants will use platforms such as Baidu TiebaTianya and Maopu to find information to inform themselves about products and services.

Chinese emigrants trust their Chinese peers opinions on Chinese language social media. A strategy involving careful targeting on an English language search engine and a Chinese language social network is a way for western brands to reach out to Chinese who have settled outside of China.

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We’ll identify the potential obstacles hindering your expansion in China, and we’ll recommend the best course of action based on your individual needs.

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