As UK brands increasingly explore international business opportunities, of all of the overseas markets, it is China that potentially offers the greatest opportunity.
Chinese consumers are expected to spend £177 billion online this year, and by 2020 the market is expected to be worth nearly £1 billion to the UK e-retail industry. Given the growth projections for China’s retail market, it’s no surprise that UK brands are increasingly raising their investment in the region.
The Chinese Market and the Importance of Baidu
For brands looking to get online in China, it is important to understand China’s unique online retail ecosystem, and to learn how potential consumers are searching for and buying your products or services. For example, typically Chinese online consumers are much younger than western online consumers, and have different expectations, preferences and patterns of search and purchasing behaviour.
This means that barriers that exist in some markets may not be there in China. For example, although some UK brands don’t have Chinese websites or offline stores, people do search for UK brands in China, for example Mulberry, Alexander McQueen or ASOS. Baidu offers the opportunity for UK brands to benefit from the consumer demand that already exists in China, without necessarily having a presence locally.
UK performance search and display agency Net Media Planet has experience of helping UK brands capitalise on their international brand reputation in China. As Sri Sharma, managing director of Net Media Planet explained. He said for any brand looking to explore the international opportunity, and are looking to access new markets, Baidu can be a great mechanism for that. This is because you can get results quickly using display ads to create brand awareness and use SEO as well as paid search as you would on Google.
Much of the e-commerce opportunity comes through Baidu, which is the largest search engine in China. Baidu provides a massive opportunity for brands to create awareness and subsequently drive sales. For brands that are looking to grow their business in China, Baidu offers the best opportunity to do so.
The Opportunity for UK Brands is There. So Where Should Brands Start?
1. Capitalise on the existing reputation of your brand – if your brand is well-known in China, use that to broaden your presence further. For example, Tommy Hilfiger learned that athough their shirts sold well, they were being purchased by a completely different demographic in China. The team used this insight to tailor their messaging and maximise their presence to their new target audience.
2. Understand search behaviour – Chinese consumers may well be searching for your brand but in many cases consumers may use a combination of Chinese and English words. For example, with ‘Gap’ and ‘trousers, ‘Gap’ will be in English and ‘trousers’ in Chinese. Research consumer behaviour to produce more keywords that are relevant to what and how your potential consumers are searching.
3. Don’t assume that bidding on just your brand will drive traffic – in many cases there are multiple variations of how consumers write your brand name with Chinese symbols. For example, ‘Marks & Spencer’ is hard for Chinese consumers to write so there are a number of different variations of how Marks & Spencer would be written in Chinese. It’s important to research and understand those variations so that you appear in high positions for all variations.
4. Don’t assume you need a Chinese language site – British retailers can easily add source code to ensure they appear on Baidu, and they can also purchase Chinese keywords and creative that takes consumers to an English site. Chinese consumers are quite familiar with this approach and so not having a local language site is not necessarily the turn off that it can be in other markets. However, it should be said that a localised site will always maximise conversions.
5. If you have little brand awareness in China take an incremental approach – using a combination of advertising, SEO and paid search activity will help to drive brand awareness while increasing conversions. By periodically testing performance you will soon understand how your brand is growing as more people search on your keywords and you will be able to adapt your strategy accordingly.
The Chinese opportunity for UK brands has clearly arrived. The time to get on board is now.