Expanding Your Content Strategy Into China: An Interview with Maneesh Choudhary

February 23, 2017 Carlos García-Arista

content strategy

The CMO of a tech company has been, for some time, caressing the idea of an expansion into the Chinese market. In an effort to hone her international content strategy and learn more about her future market, she consults the oracle—which nowadays means the media—and she doesn’t like the unambiguous answer: mainland Chinese can’t access Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, or podcasts, and Google search is blocked.

There’s no Facebook, no Twitter, and no Google; ergo, social media doesn’t exist in China, she muses hopelessly, staring out her office window. How am I going to grow my brand into the Chinese market?

If that scenario sounds even vaguely familiar, I’ve got good news for you: despite what you’ve read, China is a more-than-viable option for a marketing transformation that involves international growth. Chinese social media outlets are thriving, Baidu is a huge player that makes up handsomely for the absence of Google, and China is leading the revolution in global online shopping.

Knowing this, I reached out to Maneesh Choudhary, managing director of Kantar Millward Brown, Beijing and Guangzhou offices, to learn more about his experience in a China-based market.

Editor’s note: all answers, insight, and statistics for this interview were provided in PDF form by Christine Zhang, Kantar’s marketing director for Greater China, and have been transcribed verbatim (with slight adjustments to ensure consistency with the Content Standard’s style guidelines).

Maneesh Choudhary1. Some marketers may think that because mainland Chinese can’t access Facebook, Twitter or Google search, content won’t help them achieve their goals, but China’s social media industry is thriving. How important is content marketing in China?

Despite a slowing Chinese economy, growth of digital advertising continues unabated. Digital contributed to around 60 percent of the total advertising spends in 2016 (slated to grow to 63 percent in 2017). In today’s digital world everyone suffers from attention overload. The average digital display ad is glanced at for just over 2 seconds, and the average online video is viewed for 12 seconds. Brands must create unique and differentiated experiences that can help them break through the clutter and truly impress. China’s huge social platforms (Tencent’s WeChat with 762 million active monthly users, QQ with 658 million mobile users, and Sina Weibo with more than 100 million active users) are ideal vehicles to reach target consumers and build brands by leveraging the true power of social through emotional or useful content.Content Strategy in China

2. What’s the best content marketing strategy for expanding into China?

In its various forms, content can encourage conversation with a brand’s audience, facilitate the customer journey through the sales cycle, or help a brand thrive by building trusted relationships with customers. We are seeing local Chinese and multinational brands leveraging well-thought-out content marketing strategy that aligns with business goals, whether that is driving brand awareness with social media or sparking lead generation to meet sales targets. Key guiding principles are:

  • Social media is a strong distribution tool, but we need a new way of approaching our social media campaigns. Unlike the traditional digital model that buys impressions, the new approach creates content around a cause, event, or happening that is so noteworthy, people want to talk about it. Once social coverage starts to trend, traditional news media jump on the bandwagon and amplify the campaign. A good example is creating content around a brand ambassador/celebrity through a multimedia, high-decibel campaign—something Yili (a Chinese milk company) did quite successfully around Angelababy’s (one of the topmost Chinese celebrities) wedding and movie releases.
  • Leverage China’s fast-growing influencer (Wang Hong) market and create effective KOL (key opinion leader) strategies, including monetization and choosing the right channels. WeChat has over 762 million active monthly users, and influencers who help brands with sponsored posts can earn tens of thousands of dollars. Relevance to a target audience matters more than the sheer number of fans—popular Chinese fashion blogger Gogoboi collaborates with fashion and beauty brands, for example. By choosing a specific category, brands can maximize their spend more effectively as they nail down multiple objectives within the funnel, from brand-building to sales conversions.
  • Don’t neglect your offline strategy It’s easy to forget that content marketing should work as seamlessly offline as it does online. When building a content strategy, be sure to think about what your customers are doing outside the realm of social media for further engagement and brand awareness. Identifying the types of content that work offline, learning how the audience intersects with your online content, and creating a cross-promotional opportunity will only help to further improve consumer relationships and the bottom line.
  • Identify the best ideas and align them with the best channels. Chart the best ideas and narrow them down to only a handful that match the brand’s voice the best. It is important to leverage the synergy effect by ensuring the brand promise or message is consistent across channels.
  • Mobile is key. China is the first country where mobile became the largest ad platform (claiming 30 percent of total ad spend) and will continue to grow in 2017 (estimated to hit 40 percent). When mobile is such a crucial element of consumer behavior, it’s essential that marketers keep the user experience top-of-mind in building their content strategy. Incorporating mobile will ensure the audience continues down the content cycle, which will ultimately lead to a sale. Once marketers have created or licensed the right high-end content, then it’s time to make sure users can easily engage with it—whether on desktop or a mobile device.

An example of well executed multimedia campaign that managed to combine relevant content with the right platform to deliver exceptional results was the washing powder brand OMO’s Mothers’ Day campaign in 2015. It blended heartwarming content with mobile, social media, and native advertising activations to engage young, progressive Chinese mums. OMO wanted to transform a category that has traditionally been dominated by mass media forms and connect with their target audience of young mothers through personal channels. A branded Mother’s Day video was launched on WeChat a few days before Mother’s Day to try to build an emotional relationship with hardworking young mums. The video garnered many, many comments and views, far exceding the brand’s expectations.

3. What platforms matter?

I have touched upon the unanimous platform of choice, mobile, in the above discussion and why it is a must-have that needs to be leveraged. However, to drive a purchase, email and SMS are the most potent channels in China: around 65 percent of consumers claimed to have purchased something as a result of promotional content email or SMS.

Interestingly, social chat also emerges, not only as a key channel for (re)sharing of content but the second-most-likely channel to drive purchase after email/SMS. The power of social chat as a platform for sharing, as well as a vehicle to drive sales, is not to be taken lightly. Social chat apps like WeChat are an incredibly effective window to consumers in China—enabling content delivery, driving lead generation, and providing valuable consumer data— and certainly an invaluable avenue for marketers to exploit.

4. What kind of content works in China, and what doesn’t?

Unfortunately there is no direct answer to this question. Content marketing cannot be considered same as broadcast media since it is often low reach, targeted and in depth. Measuring its efficacy is a challenge due to its complexity and wide variety of forms (both standalone or across many platforms): copy or user-generated content; long- or short-form video, native content within a site or newsfeed, etc. These individual formats not only need to be assessed against their own specific measures within each channel but also on the overarching objective of the communication platform. Based on the work we do on assessing brand campaigns in China, online display ads are the most efficient in driving salience (awareness), imagery, and consideration for the brand. Mobile display ads are as good as online display ads in driving awareness but are not able to engage consumers—both due to the amount of sub-optimal content distributed through mobile ads, and because of the lack of content currently being created for this specific medium.

In China, we’ve also seen that content that is related to updates about new products and events is preferred to promotional offers (75 percent vs 60 percent). This is quite different to other Asian markets where the top choice is promotional offers.

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Featured image attribution: Athena Lam

The post Expanding Your Content Strategy Into China: An Interview with Maneesh Choudhary appeared first on The Content Standard by Skyword.

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