Webinar: What is your best way to market your B2B and B2C sales channels in China? – July 7, 2022

The Flanders-China Chamber of Commerce, with the support of Flanders Investment and Trade, organized a webinar focused on “What is your best way to market your B2B and B2C sales channels in China?”. This webinar took place on July 7, 2022.

Ms. Gwenn Sonck, Executive Director, Flanders-China Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the participants to the webinar and introduced the topic. During this webinar you will learn about the alternative routes to market in China and how to facilitate your sales with the right digital marketing approach in both B2B and B2C channels. It is not easy to do business in China today due to the strict zero-Covid policy, but the quarantine period has been reduced to 7+3 days and the number of flights is increasing. We need to persist. China remains an important market for business and cannot be ignored. China's market offers long-time business opportunities. There is still a large untapped potential for growth in the Chinese market, also taking into account China's growing middle class.

In 2021 Flanders' exports to China fell by 5%, a backlash of the rise of pharmaceuticals in the corona year of 2020. China is Flanders' 9th export market. Flanders exported €7.2 billion to China, while imports reached €22.58 billion, an increase of 37%. The main export products of Flanders to China were chemicals and pharmaceuticals, machines, appliances and electronic equipment, and plastics. The main import products were machines, appliances and electronic equipment, transport equipment, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. If you do business with China you need to have a long term strategy and you have to be fast and flexible in taking decisions.

Ms. Elena Robakidze, Business Development Manager at Ahlers, delivered a presentation on “Trade facilitation services and how to unlock your business potential in China”. Ms. Robakidze has a Master's degree in international trade and specializes in route-to-market solutions between Europe and China with five years working and living experience in Shanghai.

Ahlers China was founded in 1993. It is a logistics company offering services far beyond logistics, helping companies to set up operations in China. What is the best way to work with China and take advantage of its market? The traditional route-to-market was to find a local distributor who would manage everything, including Customs clearance. It was the distributor who was in direct contact with the customers. In today's “new normal” route-to-market there are different sales channels, including online. If you are not selling online in China today, you are not on the market. For many companies most of the sales are through online channels. This makes the route-to-market strategy more complicated.

The first questions is: what are the Customs requirements? In some cases you need to send samples to China for testing before a certification is issued to allow you to sell the goods in China. The next questions are how Customs clearance should be done, how to deliver the goods and where to keep them in China. Stickers and labels in Chinese are also an important issue. The requirements depend on the goods. Next you need to identify customers and start deliveries, which includes issues of packaging. Finally there is strategic marketing and customer relationship management.

Ahlers has published “The Guide to China's Customs Procedures”. It is important to provide your Customs broker with as much information as possible to smooth the import process. You also need to be registered at the State Certification and Accreditation Administration of China (http://ire.customs.gov.cn). The information is in Chinese, but Google translate can help. You also need to know the documentation requirements, including signed contracts; commercial invoice; detailed packing list; certificate of export from the country of origin; hygiene or health certificate; sample of the original and Chinese label; and inspection certificate. Documentation requirements will depend on the type or product.

China Inspection and Quarantine (CIQ) stickers and labels is something you can't avoid. They should be translated in Chinese and applied before the product will be shipped to China. The stickers can also be applied at a bonded warehouse in China. Those who have a legal entity in China will have a unified social credit code (USCC), a tax number which can be found on the license. Customs clearance in China is challenging due to the language barrier, the size of the country and cultural differences.

Once technical issues are solved and Customs clearance is done, you need to focus on the China sales channels, both online and offline. Ahlers is offering a one-on-one free workshop on trade facilitation in China. More information is available here .

Ms. Gwenn Sonck: You can also contact the Customs Attaché, Mrs. Isabelle Bedoyan, at the Belgian Embassy in Beijing.

Mr. William August, CEO of Outlandish Group, talked about “Media content and digital marketing services in China: Live streaming and social commerce”. He has expertise in marketing, business development, social networking, service platform partnerships, short video production and online education. In 2015 he started his online KOL career on Chinese video platforms to connect with Chinese audiences. He has lived in China for 12 years and has three million followers across all platforms. He was the first western influencer on Bilibili in 2015 and has a very good understanding of how platforms work and how they evolved. Outlandish is a full-service digital-marketing agency based in Shanghai to help western and Chinese brands in China and now also Chinese brands abroad.

Internet penetration in China is not high compared to other countries at only 71.6% compared to 90% in Europe, but the efficiency is extremely high, as 79% of shopping is online, and 62% of users are watching livestreams, which is high compared to European markets. China is three to five years ahead. Social media is all about video. Video platforms are even more popular than mobile games. WeChat is the biggest social media app, a mixture of Facebook, WhatsApp and everything combined, including video. China is the biggest market for e-commerce in the world. There are not only marketplaces such as Tianmao, JD.com and Pinduoduo, but also social commerce such as TikTok or Douyin and Xiaohongshu. Many western platforms are now studying how the Chinese are doing.

The traditional model of e-commerce is “give me what I want”, while the new socially-driven commerce is “tell me what I should buy”. The top Chinese marketplaces are Taobao.com; Tmall.com; JD.com and Pinduoduo. Taobao and Tmall both belong to Alibaba. Taobao is like Ebay and Tmall is more like Amazon, but integrated into the same platform. If you're on one you can also search products on the other one. JD is the biggest competitor of Tmall and has shorter delivery times. Pinduoduo is group sales. Chinese people love to recommend brands and get discounts. It doens't need to be cheap but it needs to be a good deal.

Two of the most popular social media platforms are WeChat and Weibo. Chinese people don't search for websites. They go to the instant messenger WeChat and search in the search bar for the official account. Essentially your website is on WeChat, which is very important to have for a brand. People go on WeChat to see a newsletter and go on Weibo to see what your reviews are. RED (Xiaohongshu) is the Chinese Instagram where 90% of users are women. Bilibili started as an anime site. It has a lot of people interested in western or Japanese culture but in recent years it has changed into the Youtube of China, where you can get the most loyal followers. Zhihu is the equivalent of Quora but is more popular than Google. It is key to improving your SEO in China. It is important for services where you want to be seen as an expert in. We recommend all of our brands to set up a Zhihu account, not only a company but also an employee account.

About 94% of Chinese internet users watch videos for an average of two hours a day. Two of the most popular short video platforms are Douyin (TikTok) and Kuaishou. In China, livestream shopping has become a billion-dollar industry. KOL will sell your product to their loyal followers and you can see their reaction instantly. Mr. August presented case studies of Fedex, the EuroEye Eye Clinic Shanghai, and Ralph Lauren.

A Q&A session concluded the webinar. Can I promote a product that is not yet known internationally? Mr. August: You can set up WeChat and Weibo accounts beforehand as a foundation. Once you start sales you can start pushing on different social media. It depends on your product, different types of audience will be on different platforms so you have to choose the most suitable platform to do the marketing on. If you are unknown you can go to influencers and see where you would get results. Ms. Robakidze: You can also use Tmall Global, so you don't have to send the goods to China. You can be located in Belgium and open a store on Tmall Global and see if anyone is interested in your product.

What about IP? Ms. Robakidze: We recommend to do the trademark registration before you send your products to China. If you open a brand store on Tmall you need to provide documentation that will confirm that you are the owner of the brand. It is possible to sell the product without trademark registration, but it is not recommended.

What can companies do in Covid-times to find customers? Ms. Robakidze: It is always good to have a person who understands the culture and speaks the language. During Covid this person can participate in exhibitions and establish the first connection with customers.

What are the three main points for success or failure on social media? Mr August: You have to localize. It's not enough to put translated subtitles on a video. Also do not put branded products on a platform that is not suited to them. The wrong strategy based on preconceptions rather than listen to the experts can lead to failure. If you make Chinese people look not smart, it is not going to work out. Chinese people are very patriotic and if a western brand does that they will take offense. People will remember and not buy your products ever again. The platform will usually check the videos before they are uploaded and if they are negative the account will be deleted.