This is the top first strategy for luxury and fashion brands entering the market. Between B2C and B2B, Western brands often go with the B2B marketing strategy. A way to test the water, feel the reactions and monitor the potential. In China, B2B marketing is the most cost-effective and results-driven strategy for sustainable development in the market. Experts predict that the B2B market in China will reach $350 billion USD by 2024.
Naturally, your next question is: How to do B2B marketing in China?
We’ll go over it together. I’ll show you briefly the main challenges, and some successful case studies, to spend more time on the strategy and the top platforms. And all of this, step by step.
Let’s dive right in.
Main B2B Marketing Challenges for Brands in China
Before learning about the B2B marketing strategy that works, it’s essential to understand what doesn’t. Many Western brands enter the market without local support. After a couple of months (sometimes years), they give up. In the majority of the time, they haven’t received a positive answer… or no answer at all.
What are the main pain points luxury and fashion brands are facing in China today?
1. The absence of email marketing.
Chinese netizens are always on their phone, especially on super-apps like WeChat. It’s more common for them to communicate, even for business, on WeChat. They still have an email address, but the person responsible for it is only checking once a week and is not a decision-maker. A strategy focusing on email marketing, email prospection, and newsletters will not have much impact in China.
2. The importance of “Guanxi”.
In China, Guanxi 关系 matters the most. We can translate it by the personal trust and relationships that people have together. In the West, we would call it our “personal network”. The only difference is that Guanxi 关系 always implies an exchange of favors, people appreciating to build long-term relationships. So, when you find a local partner, what matters the most is not his experience but his Guanxi.
3. The diversity of the country.
New entrants always consider China as one large unified country. But China has 23 provinces, 685 cities, and 56 ethnic groups. It’s important to understand its diversity and subtle particularities to improve your way of doing business here. A one-size-fits-all strategy will not be enough.
4. The different negotiation rules.
When you do business in China, the principles of negotiation will differ. Many Western brands always come back with a smile on their face saying that a potential partner gives them their business card and show interest. At least, they didn’t say no. But in China, not saying no doesn’t mean saying yes, it’s just a way to manage the timeline and navigate with more ease for a future collaboration that could happen one day.
This is the most common mistake made by international brands when they enter the Chinese market. Once you know it, you are already 50% closer to reaching your goal of success. With the following examples, you will master the best practices in the fashion and luxury fields.
Let’s move to some case studies.
Examples of Western Brands That Made a Successful Entry
Let’s look at two examples of how luxury and fashion international brands do B2B marketing entry strategies. These two brands managed to have long-lasting success in China.
The Italian sportswear brand is a success in China.
Fila is taking advantage of B2B marketing opportunities through their official website and their brand ambassadors. It all started in 2013 when Fila started to collaborate with the Chinese actress Shu Qi. They continued their expansion with the Chinese actress Gao Yuanyuan (2016), and the Chinese actor and singer Chenk Kun (2017).
Their website is displaying these collaborations to drive attention from businesses and rank on different keywords. Their Baidu strategy was to position the name of these celebrities by maximizing references, backlinks, and press releases. It dragged the attention of the Chinese sportswear giant Anta which decided to partner with Fila for their multi-brand strategy.
Through this partnership, Fila maximized their retail presence in China.
They have 2,000 stores in China today.
The Austrian crystal jewelry brand entered the market 10 years ago.
Already in 2016, the brand achieved an annual revenue of $215K in China with a YoY increase of 13%. Their local implantation strategy started with brand awareness through WeChat with a strong ecosystem. They multiplied mini-programs for Chinese netizens to discover the history, browse the collections, find a store nearby, and collect coupons.
When they released a limited edition for Chinese New Year, they were appointed to do the cover of Vogue China. A new chapter for the B2B development of China. Several leasing companies noticed the rising awareness and appeal of the brand and offered favorable retail deals. The brand has now 400 stores in 100 cities.
They are officially disclosing their next move strategy: expanding to an additional 30 cities in China.
And a new B2B strategy is on the way.
What is a Successful B2B Marketing Strategy in China?
A B2B strategy describes the steps to get noticed and partner with other businesses. In the luxury, fashion, and lifestyle industries, it describes the targeting of importers, distributors, retailers, and showrooms. We have this Guanxi, so let’s walk through the key steps to target them efficiently.
1. Creating a local brand platform
This is the first step before implementing any B2B strategy.
A brand platform is a tool that summarizes your brand DNA and assesses your value proposition. Your brand platform may differ from one country to another. This is what makes it essential for your B2B marketing strategy in China. You need to know precisely which value you will bring to the market and how you will talk about your brand and your products. In the meantime, we suggest having a curated list of your 3-star products to highlight in China.
With a well-thought-out brand platform, you can move to the next step to build your brand awareness.
2. Building brand awareness in China
Some companies think a B2B strategy is exempt from marketing. It’s not.
The marketing plan to build your brand awareness is key to your development in China. Retail partners receive tons of requests from Western brands every day. From a Chinese perspective, they consider your brand as European or American and focus on your industry. All the specificities of your country, production, know-how, benefits, and values must be highlighted to seduce Chinese partners.
Working on your brand awareness will bring you two benefits:
- Getting noticed by distributors and other B2B companies
- Receiving appraisal from Chinese consumers will draw the attention of B2B businesses
3. Adapting a territory marketing strategy
The strategies of Fila and Swarovski in China were successful because they adapted to the vast territory.
You can’t rush with the idea that you will target China. This is quite ambitious and quite out of touch with the real world. You will get China, but you will get it step by step. Exactly like when you organize a trip: you will not visit Germany, you will visit Berlin, then Munich, Hamburg, Trier, etc.
And after that, you can tell that you visited Germany, because you organized your journey step by step from the easiest towns to the most complex ones based on transport, accommodation, language, etc.
For China, we recommend identifying your key cities based on your brand platform. For example:
- Chengdu is an avant-garde fashion city where Chinese consumers are more likely to try new experiences, new brands, more original designs, and creative thinking
- Shanghai is a cosmopolitan city where all cultures mix together where Chinese consumers love to find imported brands, and different cultural inspirations, and match an intense urban life
- Shenzhen is the capital of tech and innovation where Chinese consumers go to the beach, wear casual outfits to fight the heat and humidity, and love to spend time in the nature
4. Target qualified prospects with advertising
The advertising part can play a big difference in your lead generation strategy.
Ads on social media and business platforms will boost your brand exposure and sense of recognition. Your potential B2B partners will feel that your brand is already visible in China. Depending on your strategy, you can target social media to build word-of-mouth around your brand or target B2B networks to reach directly your prospects. We will go through the platforms dedicated to each strategy in the next chapter.
Analytics provide valuable insights into your B2B marketing strategy. Depending on the platform, you can go into details about their location, age, type of business, etc. If you already know which city to target, you can adapt your advertising strategy on this basis.
5. Having a complete lead generation funnel
This final step is the most important one to end on a high note.
When you work on lead generation, you need to have a complete funnel strategy from the generation to the closing. Some brands focus on generation but forget about conversion, closing, and retention. A local team can support you in your lead generation funnel by having regular talks with your partners through their Chinese phone numbers.
In this funnel, what matters the most is the platforms used.
Let’s move to that part.
Top Platforms for B2B Marketing in China
In 2023, the platforms for B2B marketing strategy have evolved. Not in the sense that they are different, but in the sense that you can leverage different tools inside them. For luxury and fashion companies, there are 4 platforms you need to leverage to get noticed by retailers and showrooms.
WeChat is the biggest social media and messaging platform in China with 1.6 billion users.
First, WeChat Moments can be used for direct targeting of B2B prospects. There are ads that will appear in the feed of your targeted audience based on their gender, location, education, and behavior. There are also (our favorite) influencers’ moments. In the B2B strategy, we don’t talk about regular fashion influencers but about fashion experts who have in their WeChat network importers, retail directors, merchandising managers, showroom managers, etc.
Advertising can be combined with e-brochures for a more efficient lead generation funnel. For instance, we created an HTML5 brochure displaying the latest collection with the brand. It’s like the digital catalog of the brand. We planned the advertising by enabling a direct click on a button on the banner ad to bring the person to the WeChat e-brochure and then to the website for placing an order or filling a contact form.
Last but not least, WeChat Mini-Programs can be used to build in-app stores. Some brands use this function to create an e-commerce store or a loyalty program. In a B2B strategy, we also used this tool to build a B2B platform enabling distributors and showrooms to place direct orders.
Baidu is the most-used search engine in China with 657 million users.
The key is to have a Chinese website located in Hong Kong or Singapore. The translation to accurate Chinese and the fast-loading speed will improve the UX of your website in China. This is still the main option used by distributors and retailers to discover and contact new Western brands. A curated Baidu SEO campaign will enable you to push your B2B strategy in China. You will need a local partner to identify the right long-tail keywords and position your website on them.
Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book)
This social network can be used to increase word-of-mouth about your brand among Chinese netizens. Even though distributors and importers are not much on this app, showrooms and retailers spend hours every day on this in quest of new brands to onboard. Especially when your posts are in line with the latest fashion trends in China.
With this strategy, you start by the end to get to the root. This ascending strategy will push retailers to ask their distributors or importers to enter in collaboration with your brand.
Weibo is the equivalent of Twitter in China with 593 million users.
If this strategy can seem outdated, it’s actually very common to see B2B partners contacting you with an email address ending with “sina.com”. Of course, they contact you through it and then directly propose to move on to WeChat or direct call. An advertising strategy on Weibo can help support your brand exposure to a larger audience with refined criteria. You can pick the banner and optimize your TA to bring direct results to your lead generation strategy.
Want to Start your B2B Marketing Strategy in China?
We know that B2B marketing is the most cost-effective strategy but can seem challenging at first sight when trying on your own.
That’s why we support all brands, no matter the size of your business.
At Reverse Group, we support the creation and implementation of B2B marketing strategies designed for China. We have a network (or “Guanxi” as you know now) of distributors, retailers, and showrooms specializing in luxury, fashion, and lifestyle brands. We can build your brand platform, work on your brand awareness, and plan your lead generation.