This is not a secret for anyone anymore, China is bringing a new breath to web and digital. But Chinese market has its own specialties and its own way to work. From a westerner point of view, first steps in China may be a bit destabilizing. But learn everything again, start from almost zero and discover step by step what is so special in Chinese digital may take time! That’s why we are proposing you to discover 6 things to know about digital in China.
1 – Understand the digital landscape of China
With 1.3 billion inhabitants in China, it seems logical that the number of internet users is extremely high compared to western countries. Moreover, the way Chinese are using internet is slightly different. So, to have a better understanding of the digital environment of China and get some basis, let’s start with some figures!
2 – Internet in China: a parallel universe
Internet arrived on a permanent basis in China in 1994. In 2008, by becoming the first population on the internet, China knew a turning point. Nevertheless, Chinese government decided to control its internet, from the content exposed to the websites coming from foreign country. With its specific way to work, Chinese internet developed a parallel development compared to other countries, especially with the initiation of its censorship tool, the “Golden Shield Project” in 1998 and the beginning of its operations in 2003. This censorship and protection, allowed the country to develop its own tools and its own way to consume internet, independently from the biggest western digital companies. As a close market, China know an extreme growth since 2008 in parallel with other internet giants. The best example of this success and this extreme growth is WeChat who gained 843.2 million accounts.
Even if China has a notoriety of country of fake and copies, this is not the case in digital. It is important to understand that WeChat, Weibo or Baidu are not just copies of WhatsApp, Facebook or Google. China developed in parallel and not as a copy.
3 – The mobile, emperor of devices!
Another specialty of Chinese internet is the mobile use. The internet development in China went hand to hand with mobile devices. Indeed, after 2008 and the popularisation of smartphones, Chinese people developed their taste for internet and mobile usage. So much that the biggest tech companies in China are related to the mobile industry (Xiaomi, Huawei, Tencent…). Easy to use and cheap, mobile devices are the perfect response to the fresh appetence of Chinese people for tech products and digital. This mobile first policy allowed China to equip its population quickly and strongly and as a consequence to have a strong digital firepower at its disposal.
4 – A late entry on digital market but a huge firepower
Compared to western companies, Chinese companies arrived late in the market. But the protectionism, the “Golden Shield” and the big amount of potential users allowed Chinese companies to develop quickly and strongly. Most of the tech companies in China appeared in the late 2000’s, few years after renowned giants such as (Google, Ebay, Amazon, Facebook…), but became strong actors of the world’s internet and continue to grow (see Forbes article). Due to the ferocious protection of the government, these Chinese companies had an untouched playground to develop, test and succeed. And now their influence is so strong inside their own borders, that these companies are ready to enter foreign markets.
5 – A launch, learn, improve environment
Within this unique environment, China developed a different working model from its westerner cousins. New websites, new functionalities are quickly launched for the mass market without testing. It allows companies to learn their user’s behaviours, see bugs and problems and fix the issue. Obviously, first version of new products are not always very good or efficient. But this way to work facilitates changes and improvements to create a products that will be closer from user’s wishes and usages.
6 – QR code, KOL and e-payment
The consequences of this environment, these unique policies and the mobile success, are new ways to make marketing and to use digital for business purposes. Firstly, if you arrive in China you will notice a high number of QR codes. In your taxi, on your cup of coffee or your bill, QR codes are everywhere, contrary to western countries where the digital model excluded them. Don’t forget to include a QR code on your contents! With your QR code you can find friends, find your favourite’s brand page or pay with your mobile!
The ease of e-payment in China is also a direct consequence of the mobile success. It is important to not neglect virtual money when thinking a strategy in China, a high amount of transactions are directly done with WeChat and Alipay. Forget your wallet at home! You only need your phone!