Cracking China: Tips For Foreign Advertising Professionals

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Kestrel headshot

Kestrel Lee is currently the digital creative director of Edelman China and its key integration talent, Kestrel is an established expert in many areas of digital marketing, as well as for integrated communication campaigns.

Kestrel has won many industry awards with his innovative campaigns for global brands in China and Asia such as Mars, adidas, Martell VSOP, Unilever, HP etc. His Martell VSOP Ultimate Start-up campaign attained 26.3 million search listings for the campaign while his adidas Facebook gaming campaign of 2010 recruited more than 130,000 fans in 6 weeks with zero paid media.

With 13 years of experience in leading integrated and digital campaigns in Asia and winning more than 100 digital creative and effectiveness awards, Kestrel has also been invited to be a digital consultant to L’Oreal Asia Pacific and Unilever in China and Asia.

Tips for Pitching Digital or Social Media Campaign Ideas to Companies in China

1) Prepare for each client meeting as if your life depends on it

I have presented to C-class executives from various age groups. What are they impressed with?

  • An understanding of their company’s needs,
  • Firm grasp of the brand and products,
  • Awareness of their competitor movements online i.e. search and social,
  • Actual track record in creative problem solving for relevant clients.

Doing such homework is incredibly important, especially if you are a foreigner new to the market.

2) Leave the award book case studies behind

Some of my clients have told me that they find it refreshing for a creative who can use his own market-relevant work to support breakthrough campaign ideas, rather than relying on overseas work from other agencies.

They have no reason to believe anybody who cannot put their own professional beliefs into viable work in their markets. And when in Asia, focus on doing work for Asians.

3) Your ideas are only as big or as great as your insights

China is one of the most data-orientated markets. This trend heavily influences local brand managers’ tolerance for risk when it comes to experimenting with global or well-known brands under their care.

To sell disruptive and breakthrough ideas, it is important to lead with a highly relevant user, product or market insight, supported by a creative strategy that is backed by the type of creative executions you have in mind. Such insights provide cover for the brand manager, as well as an easy lead-in for him and her to pitch the idea to the brand’s decision maker.

For such insights, try social media listening when you can and follow highly informative China-based reports from sites such as:

4) Remember that idea and media need to work as one in China’s digital and social media scene

Having a keen finger on the most current media behaviour is critical to selling your ideas for a digital and social media campaign. In China, media agencies tend to have the ear of your clients when it comes to digital and social media ideas. Having a strong knowledge of user behaviour on the various SNS platforms is critical to selling your idea.

Simply put, media agnostic thinking does not work in China. In China, every idea requires positioning it within the right media environment or social context/occasion to best position the idea to the client as a workable one.

Some research insights for the China market:

  • The Chinese starts everything with search before consulting colleagues, friends and family. 内事百度知,外事谷歌晓。 For local, domestic or home affairs, ask Baidu. For international matters, check Google (requires a VPN in China).
  • Business decision makers are increasingly using the internet to do research on the market and competitors.
  • Social media impacts decision making in China as the opinion of your peers and colleagues matter to you.

5) To secure large budgets for digital and social media campaigns, avoid proposing silo campaigns

Don’t go in with a social gaming idea, a Weibo community generation idea, or even a pure online video campaign that are too narrowly focused in function. Think of ideas that can be presented as an integrated brand idea that lives across the arenas of media, technology, brand strategy and communications.

Note that every client is contemplating on spending on social/digital. The question is how much. If you pitch social media to Chinese B2B companies as nothing more than community management in China, you may get more than 1 to 2 million RMB for an annual retainer. If you can show how to link your social media efforts with the company’s e-commerce efforts, branding building initiatives, CSR campaigns plus SEO, you have a better chance of going after a far larger budget. So is your social media proposal scalable?

6) Push the ROI question to linking social media buzz to an increase in search volumes for the brand, product or campaign

When it comes to a user/customer intent to know more or purchase, nothing beats increasing organic search volumes to show an increase in intent. Drive search volumes with the help of social referrals on your brand’s content and product and increase in sales will often follow. This is something I’ve noticed in my experience with digital-led and social media campaigns in China and Southeast Asia.

Food for thought.

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