Big changes are coming to the internet marketing landscape in China this year. As Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and independent developers make forays into new territory and fight for dominance of prominent platforms, businesses must be ready to take advantage of fresh opportunities to connect with a wider audience of potential customers.
What should you be watching if you want to expand your digital reach across China? These eight trends are expected to contribute to the transformation of internet marketing in 2018.
1. Mobile Markets are Hot Targets
As of the end of 2017, 96.3 percent of the people in China used mobile devices to access the internet, an increase of 1.2 percent from 2016. This shows a continued upward trend in mobile internet use, including mobile shopping, and represents a current audience of 724 million people. In response, companies have increased spending on internet advertising tenfold in the past three years. The growing importance of online advertising has led Baidu to introduce mobile-friendly options for merchants, including improvements for CPC bidding and the addition of call extensions to paid ads.
2. Video Will Rule
Video is hot across the internet, but China is the hottest market of all. In 2016, 80 percent of internet users in the country were watching video. This audience of 450 million people is the largest number of online viewers in the world. Meipai, an independent video sharing platform, boasts 8 billion views per month, far surpassing YouTube in viewership.
Driving the trend is the increase in live streams and the popularity of “micro-videos,” a term given to videos produced with ease and uploaded quickly. Instead of investing large amounts of time and money in video campaigns, companies like Alibaba are using live streams to provide consumers with real-time connections to the products they want to buy.
3. Omni-Channel Marketing is Growing
Independent platforms are arising to rival the “big three” in China, making it more difficult for companies to reach their audiences through any one channel. Competition between Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent is also beginning to heat up as the companies develop new projects in an attempt to gain internet dominance. Discernment is necessary when planning your marketing campaigns so that advertising dollars go to the most lucrative platforms.
4. Target Audiences are Key
With new channels on the rise, audience segmentation must become central to Chinese internet advertising in 2018. Businesses recognize the increased potential of marketing online and spent 57.2 percent of their advertising dollars on internet ads in 2017.
To compete in this environment, advertisers must drill down beyond general demographics to market directly to groups of customers based on specific searching, browsing and buying behaviors. This not only ensures the relevance of ads but also draws leads of higher quality to websites and landing pages. Targeted ads are also less likely to get lost in the endless stream of content users encounter on platforms like Weibo, Tieba, Baidu and WeChat.
5. Companies Need WeChat
Over seventy-five percent of Chinese advertisers are active on WeChat, attempting to connect with a portion of the 902 million users who log in daily. Because this social media platform is used not only to stay connected with friends and family but also to communicate within the workplace, advertisers have a unique opportunity to connect with both B2C and B2B customers in a dynamic online environment.
However, competition for users’ attention is heating up as more companies recognize the powerful potential of the biggest player in China’s social media landscape. Here more than in any other environment, a targeted approach to advertising is necessary to capture consumers’ attention.
6. Brands Look to Small Cities
As companies continue to establish brand images in China’s larger cities, infrastructure in third- and fourth-tier cities in improving. The number of middle-class families is on the rise, and internet shopping is beginning to take hold in rural areas. If your business has been looking for new markets, the time is ripe to start pushing into areas where internet access was previously spotty and residents are just starting to experience connectivity as part of daily life.
7. Marketing Begins to Lean on AI
It’s no secret artificial intelligence (AI) is the next wave in advertising. Many merchants, including internet giants like Amazon, already rely on AI to personalize online experiences, minimize shopping cart abandonment and retain customers. As Chinese companies continue to release new smart devices, develop robots and increase the potential of autonomous technology, the tools available to small businesses are also changing. Your advertising team now has access to platforms providing unprecedented abilities in the realm of predictive marketing. The “smarter” AI becomes, the easier it will be to tailor online shopping and deliver a superior experience to every customer.
8. Cohesion Becomes Essential
With so much to take in, consider and implement, you run the risk of creating a disjointed marketing environment in which consumers’ actions and preferences fail to follow them from platform to platform. Businesses must leverage options for integration and syncing to prevent such a lack of unity and ensure customers have access to products, services and information aligned with their buying histories at every point of interaction. This streamlines shopping and buying, especially for mobile users, and prevents the lag time and frustration customers cite as being major reasons for site abandonment.
Whether your business is in China or a large portion of your target audience resides in the country, your brand is vying for the attention of a market set to expand across platforms as new options for connectivity and social engagement become available. Now more than ever, it’s essential to know your audience, understand their behaviors and take advantage of tools to track and interpret their actions.
As technology becomes more refined and engagement strategies shift, the most flexible and adaptable businesses will be the ones capturing the largest segments of the internet shopping market in China. Pay attention to these trends, and continually refine your advertising strategies to reflect the changing needs and behaviors of your customers.