China Marketing 101 – Where do I begin?

china marketing 101

If you’re considering expanding your business into China, you’re definitely not alone. Marketing to China has been a lucrative opportunity, even more so in 2020.

Thanks to its incredible consumer buying power, China has become an extremely popular option for foreign businesses looking to scale their user base. 

And while many of the world’s economies are still suffering from the global pandemic, the market in China has actually bounced back — and quite impressively:

  • China’s e-commerce market is projected to reach $164 billion this year
  • Total app revenue will be close to $40 billion (nearly 40% of global app revenue)
  • Online retail sales in the country have already reached $5 trillion this year!

These numbers are very exciting for any business owner or brand manager thinking about the potential of marketing to Chinese consumers.

But before you decide to take the next step, there is a lot of research to be done.

In this article, we’re going to delve into the ins and outs of marketing in China. We’ll look at the basic requirements for a successful China marketing strategy, what the time commitment looks like, and introduce you to some of the most common China marketing channels.

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What you need before you start marketing in China

There are some basic requirements you need to meet before you begin. This involves submitting business-specific documents and making sure you have a way to fulfil the orders quickly.

Let’s look at these one by one:

1. Documentation requirements

To operate in China, Chinese law requires that you submit some extensive paperwork. At a minimum, you’ll need to provide:

  • Articles of incorporation or organization
  • Copies of applicable business licenses
  • A certificate of good standing
  • A description of the investor entity’s business activities, along with supporting documents
  • Details of your bank account
  • And a bank approval letter.

The type of documents you are required to submit will vary depending on how your business plans to present itself.

2. A point of sale in China

Having a point of sale in China is extremely important — after all, the average Chinese consumer is accustomed to fast shipping and delivery.

In order to be successful, it’s advised that companies have a point of sale in China. At a minimum, you should have WeChat Pay or Alipay integration on your Chinese website or your western website that is accessible in China.

Also, having a store set up on Chinese e-commerce giants like JD, Tmall Global, and Xiaohongshu can help grow your customer base immensely.

Want to start selling on Tmall Global or JD Worldwide? is one of the easiest ways to advertise and drive traffic in China. Work with us to start selling on JD Worldwide or Tmall Global, and use our self-service platform to run campaigns and drive sales. Create a free account or book a demo with our sales team to get started.

3. Understand it’s a long term investment 

If you’re looking for a speedy or inexpensive market to expand into, China may not be right for you. Before you decide to explore the Chinese market, it’s important to understand that it will be a long term investment.

Why? Because breaking into the Chinese market takes both time and capital.

Like any other market, you will have to spend the first 1 or 2 months doing research and getting set up. Then the next 2-3 months running test campaigns, making improvements and iterating. In our experience, it can take around 12-18 months of steady growth to achieve a good market share and begin seeing a positive ROI.

However, don’t let this discourage you. Once you gain that momentum, the pay-off can be extremely rewarding.

Read our post on the cost of advertising in China to learn how different channels compare to each other.

So, what tools need to be included in a successful Chinese marketing strategy? What apps should you be on? And how do China’s marketing channels compare to the ones you’re already using?

Let’s explore that next!

Top apps in China and what they are similar to in the West 

As far as interface and objectives go, many of the marketing channels in China draw parallels with the more popular channels of the West. For example:

Baidu is similar to Google

Baidu is the top search engine in China. However — unlike Google —  Baidu is strictly focused on the local Chinese market. And Google cannot be accessed within China.

Baidu and Google are similar in that they both offer a suite of tools in addition to their core offering of search. For example, Baidu’s suite includes social products, knowledge products, music, games, translation, an ad platform, etc.

Douyin is similar to TikTok

Douyin is the Chinese version of TikTok. They’re both made by ByteDance, a company based in Beijing.

In fact, they’re so similar that they could easily be mistaken for the same app — but that’s actually not the case. 

Both apps feature an interactive short-video platform and popular influencers. However, Douyin is much more advanced as an e-commerce platform.

Using just a few clicks, the 400 million users of Douyin can buy a product they see featured in a video, or make a reservation at a nearby establishment and receive a discount.

This particular function makes Douyin an incredibly attractive and effective advertising platform.

Keen to learn more about Douyin and other Chinese platforms? Have a read here.

WeChat is similar to, though much more powerful than WhatsApp

While both WeChat and WhatsApp are chat apps — connecting you to other people in your contacts list — that’s just about where the similarity ends.

WeChat has a much higher level of functionality than WhatsApp. While WhatsApp prides itself on being ‘just a chat platform,’ users of WeChat can do much more. 

WeChat includes what could be labeled as ‘sub-apps’ within the platform for shopping, gaming, banking, sending money, and more. On top of this, WeChat currently has around 1 billion users, which makes it the most used app for Chinese consumers — even in the world’s biggest telecom market.

And of course, the high rate of use, engagement, and functionality make it an amazing option for advertising.

Weibo is similar to Twitter

Weibo is a microblogging platform that allows users to send short, concise posts out to followers and the world — much like Twitter.

But there are a few key differences between these popular apps, too.

Weibo has a more sophisticated in-app video streaming platform, allowing users to watch entire clips without leaving the app.

It also features an ‘event’ function that allows users to join live virtual events, as well as an arguably more organized ‘trending’ feature. Again, the advanced functionality of Weibo makes it an attractive option for marketers.

Toutiao is similar to Facebook News Feed or Flipboard

Toutiao is difficult to compare to any other global app. It’s is a news aggregator that analyzes its user’s interaction with content, and then generates a tailored feed list for each user. It could be compared to the Facebook news feed (without the rest of the Facebook platform) or possibly Flipboard, as a frame of reference.

Toutiao boasts more than 700 million users with more than 200,000 articles and videos added to the platform each day — and that’s caught the attention of content marketers across the world!

Xiaohongshu is similar to Instagram Shopping

Xiaohongshu is similar to Instagram’s shopping feature, but much more advanced.

The app is aptly described as a ‘social commerce’ platform.

In Xiaohongshu, users can explore and discover predominantly luxury goods — such as beauty products or clothing from influencers — and view reviews left by other users.

Similar to Instagram Shopping, Xiaohongshu has become an incredibly popular immersive ecommerce experience for its 300 million users, as well as both foreign and domestic advertisers.

China Marketing 101: Higher functionality and endless opportunity

You may have noticed a pattern in the app comparisons above.

While China marketing channels have many similarities to those in the West, they are often much more multi-functional and advanced than their US counterparts.

So what does all this mean for international brand managers?

The opportunities for marketing to the Chinese market are vast. Targeting and analytics functions are advanced, which can lead to a very promising ROI.

AdChina-Baidu-targeting Platform’s Baidu SEM targeting options

However, setting shop and managing campaigns for the Chinese market can often be a complicated and time-consuming endeavour. 

If you’re interested in exploring expansion into China market, consider bringing on a trusted partner who can help you navigate it. AdChina’s easy-to-use and quick-to-setup platform can help. 

Set up your free account or book a demo with us here. has helped hundreds of brands reach the China market. To see how can help you get started with advertising on top channels hassle-free create a free account today.

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