Top 10 China Digital Marketing Trends (2019)
Now that we’ve made it halfway through 2019, we’ve updated and added a few new trends to our list for what we think the biggest trends for digital marketing will be in China for 2019. Chinese social media changes rapidly, and this year is no different, so take a look at the latest trends for digital marketing in China below!
With multiple social media platforms boasting user bases in the hundreds of millions, it’s becoming more and more difficult for brands to formulate their marketing strategies for China. Tik Tok, which only launched in 2016 and now boasts over 500 million monthly active users, is an example of how fast the landscape can change.
In this article, we’ll cover a few of the top China digital marketing trends that took shape in 2018 and will continue to make an impact in 2019.
Top 10 China Digital Marketing Trends (2019)
Table of Contents:
#1. The Emerging Impact of 3rd and 4th Tier Cities
#2. An Aging Population goes Digital
#3. The Dominance of Short-Video Content
#4. Ever Increasing Bigger Digital Advertising Budgets
#5. The Surprising Emergence of Long Form/Misdirectional Content
#6. Voice Recognition Technology
#7. Chinese Consumers Going Green
#8. The Decline of Celebrities and the Rise of Micro-Influencers
#9. Women Empowerment As A Marketing Theme
#10. The Increasing Importance of Experiential Marketing
#1. China Digital Marketing Trends: The Emerging Impact of 3rd and 4th Tier Cities
In the last 10 years, China underwent massive geographical changes, the most noticeable being the scale of urbanization & population growth in 1st tier cities. These massive metropolises were the primary drivers of growth for the Chinese economy in the last decade, but experts predict the new drivers of economic growth will be the 3rd and 4th tier cities scattered throughout China. With some of these cities’ populations rivaling those of some European countries, they’ve naturally become targets for international brands hoping to expand their business.
Cities like Chengdu, Hefei, Wuhan, and other massive cities have experienced tremendous GDP growth in the last few years, resulting in populations with higher disposable income and desires for higher-tier goods and services.
All told lower tier cities in China make up about 59% of China’s total GDP and 73% of its total population, with further growth in both areas to expected in the coming years. In a bluepaper written by Morgan Stanley, it’s predicted that China’s private consumption could increase from 4.4 trillion to 9.7 trillion by 2030, with growth coming primarily from these lower-tier cities.
One of the key indicators for the growing importance of lower-tier cities is the rate of population growth in first-tier cities. Due to government initiatives and rising costs of living population growth has been slowing dramatically in recent years, with Shanghai actually shrinking since 2015. While urbanization is expected to continue it will likely see it’s the greatest growth in lower-tier cities.
One company that’s truly shown the value of targeting lower-tier cities is the new #2 most popular e-commerce app in China, Pinduoduo. Pinduoduo is an e-commerce platform that offers group buy offers and bargaining built into its platform. By strategically avoiding 1st tier cities to avoid competition with JD.com and Taobao Pinduoduo was able to build itself into a platform with over 385 million monthly active users in just 3 years.
Utilizing platforms like Pinduoduo and other platforms popular in these lower-tier cities can make all the difference in helping your company establish a foothold in China.
To read more about Pinduoduo, check out our full post on the platform below:
Pinduoduo: How it Became the #2 Online Shopping App in China
Further, JD.com is shifting its focus to 3rd and lower-tier cities in 2019 and has launched JD group buy to attract lower-tier city users. Alibaba has also seen an increase of more than 70% in annual user activity coming from lower-tier cities!
It’s clear there’s a huge opportunity for chinese e-commerce brands in these up and coming cities. It was recently noted in SCMP’s China Internet report that there are 128 million internet users in third-tier or below cities who have still never purchased anything online!
All this data clearly points to the fact that investing in marketing to lower-tier cities will be a good investment both in 2019 and beyond. For more detailed information check out the report released by Morgan Stanley here.
#2 China Digital Marketing Trends: An Aging Population goes Digital
Economists and Politicians alike have talked about China’s demographic problems, but it isn’t all bad news. Recently the Chinese government has introduced new measures to bring its older citizens into the digital age! As of April 2018, only 10% of internet users were over the age of 50, but with these new programs and experienced internet users entering their golden years, it is expected that this number will steadily increase.
With China’s elderly population expected to exceed 255 million by 2020, more and more initiatives to bring the elderly into the digital economy are being created. Many of China’s largest see this opportunity and have begun launching new programs and products to capture this so-called “silver-economy.” For more on each of China’s distinct generations check out our article on Chinese consumer behavior.
In January 2018, Alibaba’s Taobao even launched a new channel on its platform targeted specifically to seniors, with features designed to make it easier to use. The channel allowed users to link their accounts with those of their children/spouses, share purchases/items in group chats, and make payments for each other with the “pay-for-me” option.
Providing value that improves the lives of seniors has the potential to fuel business growth. Alibaba’s “new retail” initiatives and JD.com’s proposed drone delivery systems come to mind with this goal in mind. Alibaba has even begun hiring seniors to consult on how to improve the user experience for seniors across their various products.
The amount of elderly smartphone users has already increased dramatically in recent years with the introduction of mobile payments and various other features that can increase the quality of life in China. WeChat reports that it saw its users between the ages of 55-70 grow from around 8 million to over 50 million during 2017.
The number of features offered through platforms like WeChat catered towards the elderly is already quite staggering. The Nikkei Asian Review interviewed one Shanghai man who reported that not only does he use the payment features offered by WeChat, but he also schedules hospital visits and vacations through the app.
Another early mover in the industry was an app called Tangdou, an app that focuses on connecting middle-aged/elderly women who like to dance in public squares with other like-minded individuals. (According to Crunchbase this app already raised USD $32 Million as of January 2019).
Tangdou also provides dance lessons and other features for its users. Quaker Oats recently partnered with the app to introduce its healthy breakfast cereals to the elderly. The app has continued to evolve and now offers a range of services specifically targeting senior citizens. The company claims to have over 200 million users and that it has hosted over 4,000 offline events which have attracted over 500,000 attendees.
Placing advertisements on apps like these is a great example of how digital marketers can tap into this emerging “silver economy” in China.
Update: The Company announced on Monday that it had raised another round of financing led by Tencent, IDG Capital, and Shunwei Capital.
Tapping into the Chinese “Silver-Economy” is one China digital marketing trend we expect to see both international and domestic brands taking advantage of in 2019.
#3. China Digital Marketing Trends: The Dominance of Short-Video Content
While this trend began in 2018, we are confident it will continue well into 2019 and beyond. Live-streaming was initially expected to become the dominant form of content for brands in China in early 2018, but users have quickly shown their preferences for short video content. For brands getting started with digital marketing in China, this is an ad format you won’t want to miss.
Short-videos have become all the rage in China, with a multitude of apps focusing on this particular form of content including Douyin (Tik Tok), Meipai, Kuaishou, and Quanmin K Ge. Douyin was the most popular of these with a user base of over 500 million and users spending an average of 52 minutes per day on the platform as of January 2019. We’ve covered a few of these apps in previous blogs that you can check out below.
10 Most Popular Social Media Sites in China (2019 Updated)
What is Tik Tok? The New #1 App in China
Back to the trend, Short-video content is expected to drastically change the way users consume content. 2017 & 2018 were the first years that digital marketers in China began taking advantage of this. Users report that this popularity is due to the increasingly fragmented lifestyles of Chinese citizens, in that average users only have time to engage with bite-size pieces of content.
“Short video is rich in content while short in time, it’s very suitable to kill your fragmented spare time,” Jiang Yige, a Singapore-based analyst at FengHe Fund Management, wrote to CNBC in an email note. (Source CNBC)
With no slowdown in sight, we predict that short-video content will become the dominant form of content for big and small brands alike.
To show the growing importance of short-video we only need to look at the numbers. In a survey compiled by PHD Media China, only 22% of marketers responded that short-video was used in 2017, while the number rocketed up to 62% in 2018.
So what does this mean for digital marketers in China? It’s likely that text & picture-based content might become less of a priority with the dominance of this new form of content. However, there are a few things to consider when trying to take advantage of this trend.
First off, short-video content isn’t easy to create, especially for advertising purposes. Trying to fit a brand message into a 15-second video that’s also entertaining enough that users could share it can be incredibly difficult. Content needs to be short enough to hold a user’s attention and still make an impact. However, this challenge also creates a significant opportunity for more creative marketers.
KOLs remain an important part of marketing when it comes to short videos. While having them involved with the content production itself can be effective, even just having them share your content can result in a drastically larger audience, which can lead to the content going viral. Engagement with ongoing trends can also be incredibly effective. Douyin for example posts daily challenges for users to engage with that the platform then promotes to other users through its recommendation algorithm. Participating in these challenges can be a great way to reach a huge amount of users with little cost.
However, the government has been cracking down on short-video content. Many of the companies in the sector have already received stern warnings from government officials to self-censor. It’s likely that the government will take further steps to manage these platforms going forward. Staying abreast of government regulation to ensure you don’t face any setbacks in this new area is essential both for short video and for digital marketing in China in general. For more on advertising regulations check out our post below:
The Fundamentals of Advertising in China (2019)
This will likely be the biggest China digital marketing trend in 2019. We look forward to seeing how brands take advantage of this new form of content.
#4. China Digital Marketing Trends: Bigger Digital Advertising Budgets
Almost all marketers have made use of some form of digital advertisement and know the important roles they play. Digital marketing in China is on track to have an outstanding growth year with budgets to predicted to increase significantly (yay for us!).
In a study conducted by Admaster, in which they spoke to 110 advertisers and 130 digital marketing professionals, 79% of companies advertisers said they intended to increase their digital marketing budgets in 2019. All this comes despite economic headwinds and a range of other issues facing the Chinese market.
In its biannual report, the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), found that there were 800 million internet users in China as of August 2018, with 98% accessing the internet through mobile. Unfortunately, the English version of the latest CNNIC’s report hasn’t been released yet, but you can see some of their other reports here.
This explains why 81% of advertisers stated that they would specifically increase their ad spends on mobile as compared to 11% for PC. According to China Internet Watch, mobile advertising accounted for 70% of China’s online advertising market and is expected to increase to 77.8% in 2019. This a trend that seems to be worldwide as seen in a study conducted by John Lincoln of Ignite Visibility that you can see here.
Spends on native ads also increased dramatically in 2018 to make up nearly 50% of China’s total online advertising market. While this is spread across a range of channels it shows the development of China’s internet platforms and their increasingly powerful native advertising features. These ad formats have been taking an increasingly larger percentage of budgets for companies engaged in digital marketing in China.
Those surveyed also said they planned to increase spending on both social media marketing and content production. With average spends on social media increasing by an average of 21% each year, it’s only natural that advertisers felt they would need to increase their budgets as well, with 89% of respondents stating that they would spend more in 2019.
With the rise of the short-video platform, it’s also not surprising to see that over 38% of respondents said that they intended to invest in creating original videos/short films.
With all this increased spending the Chinese digital marketing landscape is likely to get more and more competitive.
#5. China Digital Marketing Trends 2019: The Surprising Emergence of Long-Form/Misdirectional Content
This one took me kind of by surprise considering the popularity of bite-sized content in China. This could be seen with the rise of Douyin and the dominance of short-videos we talked about above. However, in the text & image-based world it seems that long-form content has been trending.
One example of this was shown in one of Adage’s recent articles where they featured an advertisement created by McDonald’s. In this absolutely massive ad (152 inch), users were treated to a story about explorers who landed on what appeared to be a foreign planet.
Users followed their story and were presented with educational content as the explorers traversed the volcanic planet. Finally near the end of the story came the big reveal, the fiery planet we had seen our explorers land on was not a planet, but a McDonald’s Chicken Wing. You can see the full-length ad here (click the green button in Chinese after clicking the link).
Frederic Raillard, the co-founder of Fred & Farid, calls this form of content “misdirectional content.” Where users create content that often has nothing to do with a brand or what it’s selling, but instead focuses on delivering a highly interesting story. This type of content has been trending on Chinese social media, with many brands experiment with this new format.
Angela Doland showcases one more example in her article on Adage, where a Chinese skincare brand Pechoin, used an incredibly long series of comics to tell the story of an assassin in Shanghai during the 1930s. At the end of the comic, the big reveal that the assassin’s target was the passage of time & the aging process, something Pechoin’s products are designed to prevent. You can see the ad here.
Honestly, I think this content is amazing, and hope the rest of the world takes note. This type of advertising, while costly to produce, is incredibly memorable and gives content creators a lot of freedom to create something powerful. I’d like to see more of this in the future. Of all the China digital marketing trends I’d have to say this is my favorite!
#6. China Digital Marketing Trends: Voice Recognition Technology
The Chinese are clearly not tired of their own voice! With 49% of phone users utilizing voice search to browse the internet, it is quite possibly the most exciting trend for digital marketing in China in 2019. By 2022, it is estimated that global voice-based shopping will be worth $40 billion.; 52% of the total driven by Chinese consumers.
“The Voice Assistant will become an increasingly important player in our life. I believe that in the coming decade, it will be connected with more devices and be the point of connection for different scenarios in our life, using voice commands to control our homes, vehicles and our personal devices.”
– Miffy CHEN, General Manager, Alibaba
What is voice search?
Voice search is a voice recognition technology that enables people to search for anything on the internet by speaking into their phones.
The benefits of voice search include:
- Being faster and easier to type (2.8xs faster to dictate Mandarin, 63.4% lower error rate versus typing);
- Easier to multitask; and
- Utilizes natural search queries.
By breaking away from the traditional method of typing which feels quite restrictive, phone users feel freer and more relaxed which creates a more simplified user experience.
Linking back to trend #2 – the aging population has also come on board with voice searching; with 9% of 55-64-year olds using voice search daily, this percentage can only increase with more brands and apps optimizing their touchpoints for voice search.
iFlytek, China’s leading speech-recognition company, will be a key player in increasing the number of users who use voice search. It has teamed up with China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom to bring voice-activated smartphones to the mass Asian market. This partnership will have a huge impact on the way the customers consume and interact with brands as the three mobile networks have more than 1.4 billion mobile subscribers.
The top 25 words when using voice searching include: best, where, new and good – all words linking to products and purchasing. 52% of voice-activated speaker owners are open to information about promotions and deals and 62% are likely to buy something through the device – the numbers look good.
The voice shopping market is growing fast and as a brand – you don’t want to miss out on investing in it this year. With only 4% of US companies adapting to voice search technology, you have the chance to become one of the leading brands in China using this technology.
For more on how to integrate this into your business check out this website: The Impact of Voice Search on SEO
#7. China Digital Marketing Trends: Chinese Consumers Going Green
It’s not easy being green as Kermit the Frog once said, but that shouldn’t stop your business becoming more environmentally friendly and sustainable.
The often-overlooked issue to all of China’s rapid economic growth is its impact on the environment, as it increased its per capita GDP more than 40 times in the last 40 years the environment took the hit. The expansion has seen China become the largest GHG emitter, with 1/5 of its land polluted and 40% of its land area degraded. The country is facing a large number of ecological problems.
All is not lost however as they are trying to reduce the damage and reverse existing issues through various green initiatives such as green bonds and plans to invest more than $6 trillion in green power and cleantech in the next 20 years.
What does this have to do with customers in 2019 and beyond? Well, quite a lot actually – it has created a shift in consumer mindsets. The continuous stream of initiatives (such as green bonds) and public discussions on the effectiveness of such initiatives and investments are influencing their purchases, with many brands launching sustainable collections to attract more savvy buyers.
The Hong Kong Trade Department Council found that over 71% of households have increased their spending on sustainable items. Further, JD’s Trends in Green Consumption Development report discovered that millennials account for 51.8% of all total green sales for JD.com. These figures are only going to increase as the population becomes more aware of issues as they integrate into everyday life and social media.
The Chinese Post Bureau recently published a guideline aiming to reduce waste and encourage green packaging and recycling. They found that the delivery industry used roughly 17.9 billion bags and 330 million rolls of adhesive tape!
With the pressure rising from government officials and Chinese consumers becoming more selective with their spending it is the best time to evaluate your green strategy and make it match your practices.
#8. China Digital Marketing Trends: The Rising Power of Micro-influencers
There are over 1 million influencers in China with over 10,000 followers on social media. The market is saturated, and with 54% of the Chinese population under 21 wanting to be an influencer it is only going to get worse. This many influencers infiltrating newsfeeds and social media streams have led to an increased sense of distrust amongst Chinese consumers.
Customer fatigue is becoming more prevalent and brands need to be wise when investing in KOLs (Key Opinion Leader/influencer). Consumers are sensitive to promotional content that doesn’t resonate with their beliefs and are becoming less receptive to the material. Despite the steady growth of users, Weibo (China’s version of Twitter) has seen individual user activity decline over the last couple of years.
Chinese audiences are looking to niche, smaller influencers to create stronger connections. Micro-influencers are able to reply directly to the comments and engage with their fans, thus, creating a shared sense of community and belonging.
Micro-influencers often have one main passion they are invested in – creating a strong sense of trust for their followers. Their specialties range from product influencers, ‘sharenting’ or shared parenting, fitness, food, travel, style, and even plastic surgery. These influencers hold a large amount of power in influencing consumers’ shopping decisions and behaviors.
With the average campaign engagement of micro-influencers hovering around 60%, it comes as a huge bonus that they are also more cost-effective. As micro-influencers are mostly interested in building their personal brand and follower base they often don’t charge a premium and can often yield a better return on investment.
What is the key to success is finding the right influencer? The main thing to think about when picking an influencer is their interest in your brand and the niche that they operate in. In order to get strong engagement from their followers, you should only work with influencers that post content related to your industry. Influencers can be found via agencies or by utilizing hashtags.
The decline of celebrity KOLs and the rising power of these micro-influencers is one China digital marketing trend that will have a huge impact on influencer marketing for the next few years.
China Digital Marketing Trends: Women Empowerment As A Marketing Theme
Every year, China celebrates International Women’s Day on March 8th. While not a new trend per se, the ideas surrounding it have changed and will continue to evolve through 2019 and beyond. Typically, International Women’s Day saw women get half a day off work and receive gifts from their male colleagues, fathers, husbands, and sons.
It has been celebrated in China since the 1920s – and has been seen as a day symbolizing the need for women’s rights. These rights, however, do not align with the Western female movements such as #MeToo. The Chinese instead focus more on financial independence and creating an autonomous sense of self, rather than equal treatment like their western neighbors.
While the day used to revolve around Chinese mothers and the elderly, it has now become a Chinese e-commerce holiday, like the more well known Double 11. From this, brands have been offered an opportunity to expose themselves to a large female customer base. A move that has proved extremely successful. To understand the sheer scale of the success one can compare it to the US Black Friday Holiday. Sales on Alibaba’s site alone totaled $30.8 billion in 2018 for International Women’s Day: the combined online sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday totaled a mere $14.12 billion
Alibaba renamed the day ‘Queen’s Day’, JD.com calls it ‘Butterfly Day’ and Secoo uses ‘Goddess Day’ to loosely link their marketing strategy to International Women’s Day. The gimmick focuses on the ‘she-economy’ which the Chinese firm Guotai Juan has estimated its potential to reach $700 billion by the end of 2019. The term ‘She-economy’ was created in 2007 by the Chinese Education Ministry which describes the economic phenomenon of female spending.
The ‘she-economy’ is booming thanks to these marketing campaigns, with a 2019 report by Tmall finding that more women are spending to please themselves instead of others. The findings showed that there was a significant increase in women buying: books, flat shoes, flowers, and books.
A good example of marketing for International Women’s day can be seen in Calvin Klein’s recent campaign. ‘My Statement #MyCalvin’ features Chinese individuals, all of whom do not fit the stereotypical gender norms. Each model performs monologues on how their challenges turned into personal victories. It is a move that helped push women’s issues at the forefront in 2019.
In order to be successful, Brands need to be sensitive to the cultural values and issues surrounding women in China at the moment. It would be a mistake to try and import Western movements ideals in your Chinese campaigns as they simply do not align.
In a recent study, LinkedIn and L’Oreal China found the most important things for young Chinese women was becoming financially independent and breaking societal norms. In order to take advantage of this holiday through digital marketing in China, brands need to create narratives that respect and support this – much like Calvin Klein.
#10. China Digital Marketing Trends: The Increasing Importance of Experiential Marketing
Experiential marketing is a term that many marketers fear, as it can be difficult and expensive to create a truly immersive experience for your target audience. However, more and more brands are realizing this is an incredibly important aspect for targeting younger audiences in China who’ve grown up essentially being bombarded with both traditional and digital advertisements.
For the longest time, marketers have thought that Chinese consumers value convenience above all, so much so that many Chinese companies have launched mini-programs so users don’t even need to change apps! Although convenience is important, many brands are finding that they need to use a combination of digital and offline marketing to truly have an impact on brand awareness and loyalty.
If you’re interested in learning more about WeChat mini-programs check out the post below.
With 80% of Chinese customers willing to buy via mobile apps versus 49% globally, investing in mini apps is a smart move for any business trying to move into the Chinese market. However, many brands are finding that it is still not enough. Brands need to focus on creating unique experiences for their consumers to leave a long-lasting impression.
Linking back to trend #9 and the creation of Queen’s Day, Alibaba created a gala to celebrate the event. It used a combination of digital and traditional marketing channels to make the event a success. During the event, it launched several games users could play to feel like they were participating in the event and broadcasted an eight-hour fashion show with live music performances from both Chinese and Western singers.
The whole spectacle created excitement which in turn drove more word of mouth marketing both online and offline – leading to its best year of sales. Utilizing a combined approach rather than a purely digital strategy was the key to success on Queens Day, and many other events have used this immersive approach to achieve success (see Inside MAC Cosmetics’ First Interactive Experience Center in Shanghai).
This type of approach is effective as it creates a circular effect – people come to the immersive event, participate, and record and share it on social media. These events have a strong potential to create viral content that can drastically increase your reach and lead to new customers.
Deborah Weinswig of Fung Global Retail and Technology “There is a difference between shopping in the West and in China. In the West, it’s more of a chore, in China: a sport. Games, music, comics, and events are going to be the driving force of Chinese marketing within the coming years.”
More and more brands will look to create this seamless online-to-offline experience for Chinese consumers in 2019 to further their reach, increase engagement, and leave a lasting impact on their target audience.
If reading all this has made you excited for what’s to come in China during 2019 we’re on the same page! If you feel overwhelmed about digital marketing in China, or want to know more, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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