5 lessons marketers can learn from China’s most successful ecommerce businesses

China’s largest ecommerce businesses are transforming the way marketers should think about marketing automation. Read on for some of the most innovative tools and technologies that China’s ecommerce giants are using to grow their business and see if they might be useful to your marketing automation strategy as well. By Author Jonathan Brown

It goes without saying that the Chinese market is playing a larger role than ever before in today’s business environment. Not only does the country boast the fastest-growing economy in the world, but it’s also one of the most digitally connected. With more than 750M users (96% of who access the web via mobile), its mobile user base is already larger than the entire population of Europe. That represents a significant opportunity for digital marketers already operating in the region, as well as marketers that are looking to expand their brand’s presence in the world’s largest consumer market.


But on a deeper level, China is also transforming the way businesses think about their marketing strategy. Due to its massive scale and unique consumer behavior, the Chinese market has forced businesses to be creative about how they market to consumers, and this applies to marketing automation as well. In many ways, Chinese consumers can be more technologically sophisticated than those in the West. Marketers around the world should take note of this because the marketing technologies most prevalent in China today are likely to be commonplace around the world in the coming years. In China, the use of technologies like artificial intelligence and hyperlocal geo-targeting isn’t considered innovative, but rather quite commonplace.

On the marketing automation front, there’s a lot that marketers can learn from China’s most successful ecommerce businesses. Contrary to popular belief, they’ve quickly developed some of the most sophisticated demand engines on the planet, and marketers around the world would do well to emulate some of their tactics in other markets as well. Read on for some of the innovative marketing automation strategies we’ve seen China’s largest companies use with great success – and take a look to see if you might be able to leverage them as well.

1. Use AI to take your personalized marketing efforts to the next level

China’s internet giants are perhaps the most adept in the world at leveraging artificial intelligence to personalize their marketing, and western companies should take notice. For example, Alibaba has done an excellent job of using AI to dynamically analyze consumer behavior and make product recommendations to its client base, both within its own mobile app and across its other marketing channels.

One of the biggest challenges for marketing automation practitioners today is how to make sense of all the data generated by both prospects and customers. Using AI-driven solutions to fuel your marketing automation strategy can help you cut through the noise and dynamically serve up relevant content that will both add value for your leads and increase consumer trust in your brand.

And the great thing is, there are already numerous ways to use AI in your marketing automation efforts and it doesn’t have to be technically complex either. Startups like Appier and APEX offer easy-to-use self service software that enable organizations to integrate artificial intelligence technology into their existing marketing automation platforms.

2. When it comes to marketing automation, go mobile-first

In China, around 71% of purchases today are already made via mobile. This has forced brands to take a mobile-first approach to marketing automation by tailoring all content to a mobile audience. Most brands in China tend to develop mobile versions of their marketing campaigns first and then port those to desktop, whereas Western companies tend to do the opposite.

But it’s worth considering whether it might make sense for your organization to being taking a mobile-first approach to marketing automation. Even in the United States, mobile usage is skyrocketing, and more content than ever is being consumed via smartphone. Developing your marketing content for mobile first will help your organization capitalize on this shift in consumer behavior, and you’ll find yourself ahead of the competition once you do so.

3. Leverage hyperlocal geo-targeting to personalize your outreach efforts

Perhaps by virtue of having a primarily mobile audience, most Chinese companies have opted to combine a mobile-first approach to marketing automation with hyperlocal geo-targeting to personalize their marketing content. This manifests itself both through marketing content served up within mobile apps (such as WeChat’s “Shake Nearby” functionality, which allows consumers to identify and interact with nearby brick-and-mortar businesses) and hyperlocal content that’s inserted into more traditional channels, like email campaigns.

As consumer buying behavior increasingly shifts online, using hyperlocal targeting in your marketing automation efforts will give you a leg up on competitors that are using less sophisticated methods of targeting. And the good news is, even outside of China, there are numerous platforms that already help marketers do this today.

As one example, Improve Digital’s 360 Polaris platform integrates with existing marketing automation solutions, and gives marketers the ability to deploy hyperlocal programmatic advertising to consumers, and capture detailed geo-targeting data around their customer base along the way.

4. Augment your digital marketing strategy with information partnerships

In the West, most businesses think of an “information partnership” as perhaps teaming up with a consultancy or publisher on a case study – but in China, it’s much more than that. China’s fastest-growing companies are finding great success by creating formal partnerships to dynamically leverage each other’s data in their marketing automation efforts. These partnerships go beyond a one-time engagement, and may even involve a degree of technological integration to establish a means of data exchange between both companies’ marketing automation platforms.

For example, LEGO recently forged an information partnership with Tencent. This partnership will see the toy company leverage Tencent’s deep dataset of customer data to customize its marketing automation efforts and develop a new digital platform aimed at marketing its products to the country’s fast-growing youth demographic. Such information partnerships can take on diverse forms, and potential partners should be evaluated carefully – but a well-executed information partnership has the potential become an instrumental piece of one’s marketing automation strategy, particularly if you’re able to leverage outside data within your marketing campaigns.

5. If gaining market share in China is a consideration, leverage WeChat

The Chinese market can be a notoriously difficult one to enter, but its size is making it increasingly difficult for most companies to ignore. Western companies are turning to the Chinese market to fuel growth more than ever, and if your organization is even thinking of doing this as well, then you should consider making WeChat the cornerstone of your marketing automation strategy there.

Keep in mind that WeChat isn’t just a messaging platform – it’s one of a growing crop of “superapps” that enable consumers to do everything from hail a taxi to order groceries on-demand. That means there’s an opportunity for almost any brand to market on the platform in a way that’s immediately relevant to their target market. For more on how to begin integrating WeChat into your marketing strategy, this primer from WeChat consultancy WalkTheChat does a great job of outlining how to get started.

And even if you’re not considering expanding your business into China, WeChat can still be useful. Chinese consumers are traveling abroad more than ever, so maintaining a presence on the platform can still provide value for marketers, as it’ll enable your organization to tap into this still-growing market.

In summary…

China’s marketing landscape offers up a number of lessons for marketers around the world, and there have never been more ways to learn from this growing market. As some analysts have pointed out, the Chinese market is comprised of “future consumers,” whose consumption habits are unique today, but will eventually become commonplace globally in the not-so-distant future.

The time for marketers to take advantage of these insights is now. The future of marketing is inexorably becoming more personalized than ever, and by leveraging the aforementioned tools and strategies that are already proving successful in China, brands and retailers can better equip their marketing automation efforts to address their target markets at home and abroad.

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