Digital Marketing in China: What You Need to Know

China offers immense potential for brands looking to enter the market. Read this guide to develop a robust marketing strategy and reach Chinese consumers.

With a massive population, a booming economy, and high smartphone penetration rates, China offers immense potential for brands looking to enter the market.

In this article, you will learn more about how to choose the right advertising channels and develop a robust marketing strategy to reach Chinese consumers. 

Having the largest online community in the world, China’s internet population was around 883 million in 2019 and is expected to go up to 1.14 billion by 2025.

Digital Marketing Landscape in China

While opportunities are vast, China is certainly an intimidating market owing to its ever-evolving and unique characteristics. In order to reach consumers, marketers need to get detailed insights into their internet landscape, consumers’ online behavior, and understand what drives them. 

One of the most important aspects that stand out is China’s mobile-first consumer. 98.3% of the population accesses the internet through mobile devices, surpassing all other devices such as laptops, personal computers, tablets, and televisions. 

This means that brands can’t afford to overlook optimizing their websites (and other types of marketing content) for the mobile experience.

Source

A huge section of their time on the internet is spent on instant messaging, search engines, news, and video apps. 

Internet usage of Chinese users; Source

Mobile internet usage in China; Source

4 Essential Digital Marketing Platforms in China

Unlike the rest of the world that uses popular platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp among others, China has access to none of those. 

They have their own set of channels and the only way to market your brand in this market is to ace these four essential digital marketing platforms, frequented by Chinese consumers. 

1. Baidu

For most of us, the term ‘search engine’ is synonymous with Google but that’s not the case in China where Baidu accounts for 81.7% of the search engine queries. 

Apart from being a search engine, it offers various other services such as:

  • Baidu Maps
  • Baidu Baike (online encyclopedia)
  • Baidu Wangpan (cloud storage)
  • Baidu Teiba (discussion forum)
  • Baidu Music

Being the largest search platform, it only makes sense for brands to turn to Baidu to market their products and boost visibility. 

While Baidu’s search engine results page looks very similar to that of Google’s, it widely differs in terms of content. 

It typically displays one to three advertisements at the top (marked in the image above), followed by organic results and one or two advertisements at the bottom of the page. You will see related brands, products, or topics on the right-hand side of the page.

Clicking on each search result opens a new tab, allowing users to come back to the search engine results page with ease. 

Baidu ads can be targeted on the basis of keywords, demographics, location, devices, and interests. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most common Baidu ad formats:

a. Baidu search ads

Similar to Google search ads, Baidu search ads are text ads that have a title, short description, and a URL. This format costs around CNY 1~2/click. 

b. Baidu brand zone

For brands looking to create awareness, this option poses to be a suitable one. This large ad format takes up the topmost space and consists of images, descriptions, and URLs. 

In the example above, the search term is ‘IHG’ and the first ad leads to their official site and the second highlighted ad leads to their e-commerce site (EC site) which is fliggy.com in this case. 

Considered to be the most expensive Baidu ad type, it generally costs over CNY 100k/month (USD 15k/month).  

c. Baidu Knowledge

Launched as an organic forum website (equivalent to Quora), Baidu Knowledge now offers paid advertising options. Relevant ads are displayed when people search for specific questions. 

The red boxes highlight the exact dates when the posts were published, denoting that publishing is infrequent. 

2. WeChat

Speaking of digital marketing avenues in China, one can’t ignore the region’s most popular multi-purpose app -- WeChat. 

With over 1.2 billion monthly active users and a whopping 45 billion messages being exchanged every day, the powerful statistics prove how essential it is to integrate WeChat marketing into your overall digital strategy. 

From being a messaging and calling platform to being able to make payments, book flights, and other purchases -- WeChat is certainly more than WhatsApp’s equivalent in China. 

You can target WeChat users based on their location, demographics, interests, and behaviors.

WeChat offers three main types of advertising.

a. WeChat Banner Ads

Similar to website banner ads, these ads appear at the bottom of a message or article sent by a WeChat official account. 

The ad banner consists of the brand logo, account name, message, and call-to-action button. When clicked, users are directed to a separate landing page. The visual can be a static image or video. 

The estimated cost range is CNY 150~180/CPM (USD 22~26/CPM). 

b. WeChat Moment Ads

WeChat moment advertising is similar to advertising on Facebook’s News Feed. They appear amidst posts from friends and family. The only difference is that they have a small call-out on the upper right corner, indicating an advertisement.

A WeChat Moments ad consists of the brand name, logo, ad copy, and banner. Clicking on the ad will lead you to a landing page. 

The ad banner can be in the form of static images or a video. 

You can use Moments ads to create brand awareness, generate leads, promote events, drive traffic to your online store, or even promote your mobile application. 

Source

c. KOL Promotion

KOL stands for Key Opinion Leaders. KOL refers to a person who is known to be influential in their niche. 

Similar to influencer marketing, KOL promotion on WeChat involves getting them to talk about your brand or promote a campaign for a flat fee. 

With people valuing authenticity over branded content, KOL promotion helps you reach a targeted set of people and appeal to them through a source they consider trustworthy. 

While the rate differs from case to case, the biggest drawback of this mode of advertising is falling prey to fake KOLs who buy followers and have poor engagement. 

3. Weibo


Weibo is a microblogging platform and has over 523 million active users

It offers a wide range of advertising options, helping brands reach their target audience and increase brand visibility.

Before advertising on Weibo, it’s important to consider two important factors:

Weibo users can be targeted based on their demographics, location, device, and interests.

Weibo offers four main types of advertising formats.

a. Display advertising

As the name suggests, display advertisements are banner ads in the form of images, videos, or GIFs that appear on the newsfeed, in the ‘Discover’ section or Weibo homepage. You can also add a call-to-action button and drive traffic to a particular landing page.

Display ads are one of the most popular forms of Weibo advertising and operate on the cost-per-click model.

The estimated cost range is CNY 40~70/CPM (USD 6~10/CPM).

b. Search engine promotion

Weibo has an in-built search function called ‘Discover’ which allows users to search for news, posts, accounts, fan pages, and more. 

Through this ad format, you can bid on search keywords and create search ads that will appear as the topmost result on the search page when users type the keyword(s). 

In addition to this, brands can also buy search topics on the ‘Hot Topics’ or ‘Trending Searches’ lists. This means your ad will be displayed on these lists. 

Source

c. Fan Tunnel

If you want to gain new followers, Fan Tunnel is an advertising format you might want to consider.

The ad appears on the top of your target audience’s newsfeed as a headline. You can target users by demographics, locations, interests, etc. 

 

Source

d. Fan Headline

This ad format lets you advertise a Weibo post on your existing followers’ newsfeeds. 

The ad will appear at the top of their feed for 24 hours, helping you maximize visibility. You can also target potential followers with this format and expand reach in the process. 

Source

4. iQIYI and Tencent Video

According to eMarketer, video advertising is the fastest-growing ad format in China and will account for 13.4% of all ad expenditure by 2021. 

Considering the engaging storytelling format of video ads, this isn’t surprising. 

The question is -- how do you run video ads in China?

Unlike the rest of the world which turns to YouTube for videos, China’s leading video platforms are iQIYI and Tencent Video. Both these platforms have grown to become the top video streaming and online entertainment platforms. 

Advertisers can bid for placement ads which operate on a cost per mille model. The estimated cost range is CNY 100~150/CPM (USD 15~22/CPM).

Video placement ad on iQIYI

Video placement ad on Tencent Video 

5. Douyin

While TikTok has taken the entire world by storm, China has taken to Douyin -- the Chinese version of TikTok. Just like TikTok, Douyin allows users to create short lip-syncs, comedic skits, dance, and other videos. 

With 75% of the users being below 30 years, this platform is a great option for brands looking to target millennials and Gen-Z consumers. 

You can target Douyin users based on their demographics, location, interests, and behaviors.

Here are the three main types of Douyin advertising formats:

a. Open screen ads

Open screen ads appear when you open the Douyin app. They are also known as ‘brand takeover’ as they take over the entire screen. These ads can be in the form of static images that last for three seconds or videos that last four to five seconds.

Being largely visual with no interruptions, open screen ads are believed to be one of the most effective ad formats. They are charged by cost per mile (CPM).

Source

b. Feed ads

Feed ads appear on the ‘recommend’ page. Brands are allowed to run a 5-60-second video which is only shown once per day to each user.

Feed ads are a form of native advertising because of the ease with which they blend into the users’ feeds. They are more affordable compared to open screen ads and cost $10 per CPM. 

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c. Sticker ads

Let’s say you’re launching a new product or campaign, Douyin’s sticker ads lets you create a customized sticker for people to use on their content. These stickers appear in the Douyin sticker column for a week. 

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6. Toutiao

Owned by ByteDance, Toutiao is one of China’s most popular news apps. It uses artificial intelligence to curate news from its 4,000 partner sites. 

What sets Toutiao apart from other news apps is that it curates content tailored to people’s needs and interests, making it highly addictive.  

With 200 million monthly active users, users spend an average of one hour and 14 minutes on the app every day.

Toutiao ads can be targeted based on age, gender, keywords, location, weather, time, phone carriers, occupations, and interests. The cost per click on most formats ranges between USD 0.03 - 0.15. 

The two main types of Toutiao ads are:

a. Full cover open ads

These ads take over the entire screen and can be created in the form of static images and dynamic videos, both clickable and unclickable. You can either create full-screen banner ads or a mix of three smaller images.

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b. Feed ads

These ads comprise text and visuals in the form of images, GIFs, videos or carousel displays. This format is generally used to drive:

  • Traffic to a landing page
  • App downloads
  • Phone calls

Feed ads appear on users’ news feeds while seamlessly blending into the rest of the content. 

Example of a feed ad with call extension; Source

Conclusion

China offers lucrative opportunities for companies trying to reach Chinese consumers. 

With so many avenues available, this guide will help you select the right advertising channels for your campaigns so that you increase awareness, generate leads, and drive sales while optimizing your marketing spends. 

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