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The importance of connecting with the Chinese market

Posted on September 24th, 2018 in Event News, Industry Insight, Leadership, Speaker Interview

Although the Australian community is a tight-knit group full of support, there’s no getting away from the fact that when a business focuses just on Australian customers, they’re working with a small pool.

With around 24 million people in our country – and less when you consider ages, interests and industry-specific factors – we need to think about connecting with the world to increase income and to have more impact.

If you want to expand your business to just one country, it makes a lot of sense to think about China. We spoke to Helen Sawczak, National CEO of the Australia China Business Council, to find out about this growing market.

The benefits of the Chinese market

One of the biggest factors in China’s favour is its huge population. Current estimates show the country to have close to 1.4 billion citizens, as many as 57 Australias.

What’s of most interest to Australian businesses is the huge growth of the middle class in China, a group of people with money to spend, an appetite for consumption and a desire to travel. In 2016, Australia welcomed one million Chinese holidaymakers, and that number is expected to surpass three million annual visitors within the next decade.

Helen Sawczak highlighted other factors of note, such as the stats that show Chinese travellers spend more money in Australia than the average international tourist and many like to mix business with pleasure while they’re here.

She said, “The average Chinese tourist spends three or four times more than the average international tourist. They do love to shop while they are here. Not only do they like to shop when they’re here, but when they return to China they develop a taste for Australian products where they continue to buy Australian products online.”

“When Chinese tourists come to Australia, they don’t just tour, they actually always look at education opportunities for their kids, business opportunities, investment opportunities. They contribute much more to the Australian economy, way beyond just the visitor economy.”

Looking at the bigger picture, China is by far Australia’s biggest trading partner. Since the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2015, annual bilateral trade has reached $183 billion. To put this in perspective, it’s more than the next two biggest trade agreements combined (Japan [$71 billion] + USA [$68 billion]). For businesses looking to expand, it’s the obvious market.

Sawczak added, “We have a lot of products which the Chinese are craving: the clean, green, safe products, agribusiness products such as our wine, our dairy and our beef, as well as education and tourism. So, we are very complementary [to their desires] and we only see increasing opportunities between Australia and China.”

How to prepare for Chinese influx

Attracting Chinese customers takes preparation and a shift in focus. The idea of ‘west is best’ isn’t going to fly in this market. You can’t just do what you do in Australia and hope that it crosses international borders.

Digital marketing is huge in China, but in a completely different way to Australia. Marketing on the likes of Facebook and Instagram, and even SEO with a focus on Google, won’t help because these sites aren’t accessible in China. Instead, you need to work with the sites and apps that are popular there – the likes of Sogou, WeChat and Weibo.

Sawczak advises, “The second largest search engine in China is Sogou, and it is basically a conglomeration of reviews. The Chinese consumer has different habits to us. They like word of mouth. If I’m buying something for me what I would do is I will look up the website, and I’ll do a bit of research, and then I’ll buy it. The Chinese like to hear people tell them ‘This is a good product’.”

As well as speaking to the new market through their channels, you should be looking to integrate Chinese payment methods. Rather than use cash or cards, Chinese consumers tend to link their bank accounts with a payment system like Alipay or WeChat, allowing them to make purchases through their phones easily. Integrating this into your business makes it easier for people to buy from you.

When asked what Australian businesses should prioritise, Sawczak said “Chinese payment systems, without a doubt. In China, there are over 700,000 registered internet users, about 70-80% of e-commerce purchases are done by mobile phones in China. It cannot be underestimated. The Chinese digital platforms need to be embraced by Australian business.”

Pay attention to the Chinese calendar

Another thing to pay close attention to, especially for businesses trying to plan for the visit of Chinese customers, is  that there are certain times of the year when visitor numbers are highest. According to Sawczak, these are Chinese New Year, graduation week and the Golden Week.

She said, “The other important thing for us to realise is that we need to be aware of the Chinese calendar. The Chinese like to travel at Chinese New Year. Understanding when that occurs every year is really important because it shifts every year according to the lunar calendar. They also like to come in droves when it’s graduation week at the university and to tour during Golden Week, which is traditionally a week-long holiday in China at the beginning of October.”

Examples of companies marketing well in China

Brand exposure is a key factor in attracting Chinese business. The average Chinese person is incredibly brand savvy and they’re much more likely to buy from a name they recognise.

When asked about Australian companies that are marketing well in China that we can take inspiration from, Sawczak shared several examples, “Some of the larger organisations are fantastic at on the ground marketing, for instance, Tennis Australia has had a grassroots and marketing presence in China for a long time. The same as VRC, the Victoria Racing Commission, they’re promoting their spring carnival. They get an increase of mainland Chinese tourists, increasing all the time.” “Swisse has also capitalised on its ranking as one of Australia’s leading health and wellbeing brands with amazing sales in China.”

By following in their footsteps and adapting your digital marketing strategy for the Chinese market, you may find that you have access to one of the biggest and fastest-growing consumer markets in the world.

To hear more from Helen Sawczak, book your ticket to The Business of Events, 7- 8 February 2019 at Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park.

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