The low-risk China strategy nobody talks about: Overseas Chinese

Everyone is talking about China. The media is full of it, TV programmes are showing Chinese documentaries and your colleague just came back from his first China trip. He loved it. Couldn’t stop talking about how certain he was that that’s where the future is. That China has become a land of global business opportunities is no longer undeniable, but you’re still unsure of how to go about it all. There’s so much you still don’t know.

Rolling out your business in China

Where would you even start: Which city? What would your target audience be? Which channels would you use (everyone keeps mentioning WeChat)? Could you just use the same marketing strategy as over here? So many questions. And then there’s this cryptic language. Taking your business into China requires an enormous investment of time, money and risk. Before you panic and park the idea for another year or just rush into something, take a deep breath.

China has come to you

The great thing about China being such a big player on the global stage is that not only the country itself is attracting business, but that its people are venturing the globe in pursuit of international experiences. They’re on study abroad programmes or work placements, yes, you can be sure that there are thousands of overseas Chinese not just travelling but also living in the same country as you. Over 730,000 UK visas were granted to Chinese nationals in 2018 alone, more than 100k of which resulted in new residencies. And there’s your chance to dip your toes into Chinese waters without taking the actual plunge just yet. From simply including a few extra messages a year for your new Chinese audience, for example during Chinese festivals, to actively turning your new fellow locals into brand ambassadors who carry your name into China, there are so many possibilities. The latter is a given, if you do a good job – Chinese people love to share good things with their friends on social media.

Let THEM tell YOU how it’s done

You might be thinking ok fab, that’s easy then, I can just add some dragons and lanterns to my messaging, stick on a red font and Google translate my slogans. Bimbamboom. Don’t. You might just end up shooting yourself in the foot. Chinese consumers have become very sophisticated and will instantly and publicly call you out on poorly thought through, stereotype marketing. Take off the stress and ask them to help you. That’s right; take the time to invite them to your office and communicate with them to find out what they like about your product or service and how they would tell their friends about it. They can teach you a lot about Chinese preferences, consumer behaviour and people and cultures – the essence all marketing boils down to.

Focus groups or influencer marketing?

Depending on what you feel would work best, you can either extract insights from focus groups to utilise as you see fit, e.g. for product research or marketing optimisation purposes, or you ask a select few to do the promoting for you. Influencer marketing is even more important in China than it is in the West, as Chinese consumers mostly buy based on peer recommendation rather than on personal research. In fact, they often don’t trust brand messages at all and only refer to ‘authentic’ stories. Say you’re looking to reach Chinese people who are preparing to come to the UK, they would much rather read a story by a peer who can talk from experience than an entity looking to make big bucks.

One people, two strategies

At this stage, it is important to note that, naturally, the longer Chinese people have been overseas, the more detached they are from China. And China is evolving at lightning speed: new platforms and new features on a rolling basis, an internet language dictionary that grows thicker every day and trends that pop up left right and centre. Keeping up with China is not easy if you don’t have a constant foot on the ground. Overseas Chinese will begin to assimilate, being using Western platforms such as Instagram and YouTube (both of which are banned in China) and Western messaging, especially around diversity (e.g. including various styles and body types in advertising).

Hence there are at least two different distinct types of China marketing strategies: the home and the away approach.

“So I don’t need to worry about WeChat?”

WeChat, Weibo, Little Red Book, Baidu and TikTok (Douyin in Chinese) are only a handful of popular Chinese platforms picking up conversation amongst Western companies. It seems the natural first step to jump straight onto those platforms. However, if you choose the home approach, i.e. not going into China just yet but staying put and working with overseas Chinese, you can get away with sticking to those platforms you know and love. Rolling out onto Chinese platforms can come at a later stage, once you understand your audience better.

Listen, learn and understand first

All in all, the message is to take time to focus on what matters most: understanding the Chinese people. Being open-minded and strategic might well land you great success. At Qumin it is not only our job, but our passion to guide brands on their China journey and help them build meaningful connections with their Chinese audience. Overseas and in China.


To learn more about overseas Chinese, tune in to our latest podcast episode of ‘China, WTF?!’ (what’s the future?!) where we chat to Vera Wang, a famous Chinese influencer living in New York City. We’re up on iTunes, Spotify and on Buzzsprout (listen below), or you can watch the show on YouTube.


The Drum - Digital Advertising Winner 2022