China, the second largest economy in the world, has been undergoing significant changes in recent years, with a particular focus on local innovation and sustainable development. 2015 is the final year of the country’s 12th five-year plan and a critical year in terms of China’s economic evolution.
Here are the five key PR factors that will enable you to lift brand awareness and build sales in 2015.
1. Focus on macro trends
While there are challenges at present– slowing exports, increasing labor and raw material costs – China is still on track to achieve much higher growth than its western peers in 2015. Three main forces are driving China’s long-term development: going urban (urbanisation and smart cities), going green (solving environment problems) and going out (Chinese enterprises expanding overseas). Together, these three trends will have a substantial influence on China’s economic and industrial restructuring in the years to come.
It is important for overseas companies to focus on these macro trends when they plan their PR campaigns in China. Thought leadership and a creative approach to helping the country address these issues and develop a sustainable economy will win friends in China and yield long-term business growth.
2. Build a ‘good corporate citizen’ reputation
Though it welcomes foreign investment, China is understandably wary of foreign companies that show no loyalty to the country and are just out to make a fast buck. To build a long-term and successful business in China, it is important to demonstrate (not just declare) a strong commitment to this market. You need to position your company as a good corporate citizen.
There are many ways to build a good corporate citizen reputation: technology transfer, cultivating local talent, even donations to disaster relief will be noticed. Right now, the three hot-button corporate social responsibility (CSR) targets for multinationals are education, environmental protection and poverty alleviation. Bear in mind that China is currently implementing tighter regulation of foreign companies in pursuit of policy goals in such areas as privacy, anti-corruption, anti-trust and protection of local innovation. A well-established, well-run and well-recognized CSR program can help multinationals store up credit for use in a crisis.
3. Harness the power of WeChat
Social media is booming everywhere, but nowhere more than in China. Over 600 million Chinese people use online services, more than 80% of them via mobile devices. Among the popular social media platforms, WeChat, with 468 million monthly active users and 5.8 million public accounts, is pre-eminent.
WeChat is a powerful mobile communication tool, supporting voice, video, photo and text messages. You can also join group chats, or find new friends nearby. WeChat has become a major communication tool for enterprises to engage with their stakeholders. By leveraging WeChat geolocation, voice recognition, e-commerce and numerous other features, WeChat public accounts can become real “apps within the app” – good platforms for marketing campaigns, promotions or reaching key opinion leaders.
4. Don’t forget traditional media
Given China’s current love affair with social media, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that traditional media still plays a dominant role in the country thanks to its credibility. Moreover, traditional media have been responding to the social media boom by going online and going mobile. Take People’s Daily, the most authoritative party newspaper; in addition to its high-circulation print format, it has an online edition, Weibo and WeChat accounts, and a mobile app. This mushrooming of multimedia platforms opens new opportunities for content placement.
China is embracing a new era of integration among different types of media. According to President Xi Jinping, traditional media and new media must complement each other and their integration should cover content, channels, platforms, operations and management.
By the same token, a well planned and delivered PR campaign will target both social media and traditional media, and will include offline as well as online elements.
5. Strengthen engagement with KOLs
As in other markets, Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) are blossoming in China, where they exercise huge influence on brand recognition and purchasing decisions. KOLs fall into many categories, ranging from bloggers and celebrities to industry experts and academics. The extent of their influence varies according to subject and audience. In addition, ‘self media’ burgeoned in 2014 and is expected to continue growing this year with more and more ex-journalists turning themselves into independent commentators. With such a complicated KOL landscape, identifying and engaging with the right individuals is of the utmost importance for marketers.
China represents a huge business opportunity for many organisations. In order to be successful in business, and in communications, it is paramount to understand the country’s unique history and culture. As we enter the Year of the Goat, on behalf of the LEWIS China team, we wish you a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year, Gong Xi Fa Cai.