Ni hao ma? Teaching your brand to speak Chinese is more vital than you think

It’s no secret that our future is inextricably tied to China, yet the vast majority of Australian businesses are unprepared to capitalise on this incredible opportunity. Australian businesses trying to grow through China often launch headlong into the mainland without considering the significant local Chinese population.

According to the 2016 census there are 1.2 million people with Chinese ancestry living in Australia, a figure that has grown 115% since 2001 – that’s about 5% of our total population. Of these 1.2 million Chinese-Australians, only 25% were born here and are, on average, younger and more educated than the average Australian.

This proportion of the Australian-Chinese population is just as important a consideration as the 1.4 million Chinese that Tourism Australia says visit our shores annually. In fact the two are linked: the ‘visiting friends and relatives’ tourist market forms a large proportion of this market.

So why should Australian businesses care? Well, these communities can be extremely lucrative. They spend approximately $9 billion on education, $9.2 billion on travel and ethnic-Australians (of which Chinese are one of the biggest segments) spend $18.7 billion in Australian retail. Not only are Chinese spending their money on Australian shores, but they are buying $100 billion of Australian exports every year.

The question for most Australian businesses is ‘how do I speak to these communities?’ The clear answer is that you don’t do it in English, as 82% of Australian-Chinese do not speak English at home. To put that into perspective, most Australian brands spending millions on marketing campaigns automatically rule out 5% of the Australian population and another 1.4 million tourists because they only communicate in English.

Chinese migrants aren’t consuming traditional Australian media nor are you likely to reach them on Facebook or Twitter. WeChat is the key channel to reach Chinese with one billion monthly active users globally and three million active monthly users in Australia, according to the ABC. For those not familiar with WeChat, it is a Chinese super app, owned by one of China’s largest companies, Tencent, that essentially combines Facebook, Instagram, eBay, Uber, Amazon and just about every other app on your phone.

One thousand Australian stores and restaurants are already adopting WeChat Pay as 59% of Australian-Chinese are more likely to buy from a shop that offers this service. Businesses can advertise themselves and deliver online services via WeChat official accounts meaning users rarely leave the app’s ecosystem. There’s not even transaction lag because WeChat Pay allows local merchants to receive payments to their Australian accounts within a shorter time frame and at a lower transaction cost than credit cards. Businesses will have more success in marketing their services to Chinese tourists and locals with the display of the familiar WeChat app logo at their physical or online store-front.

What is clear: if your business is not on WeChat, you are not talking to this lucrative market. Australian businesses need to wake up to this opportunity fast. There are also many other cultural nuances to this community – meaning that brands need a clear and tailored approach. The local Chinese community is not one united, closed and cohesive community; it’s a hugely diversified group for whom a one-size-fits-all approach does not work.

Final thoughts

Businesses need to demonstrate cultural knowledge and cater to the different identities within the Chinese community. A recent study conducted by research and insights agency Bastion Latitude found that only 39% of Chinese migrants surveyed agree that Australian companies ‘understand their needs’, yet 66% of Chinese migrants state that they ‘would prefer to buy brands that show they understand the Chinese community’.

Some of Australia’s biggest companies and events have been getting on board. Bastion China, the marketing and communications arm of Bastion Collective, has assisted Australian organisations to build a local Chinese presence, including the Royal Melbourne Show. They launched a groundbreaking WeChat event app to attract new local Chinese audiences in the lead up to Chinese Golden Week.

Success indicators included raising awareness among the local Chinese community and driving traffic and ticket sales for the event. The WeChat channel gained over 1800 followers in less than four weeks. In the first two days of the Show the ‘Mini-Program’ app had over 634 unique users, with the demographic aged between 18-39 years old, reflecting the international student community. The WeChat Mini-Program used a unique QR code scanned into WeChat for easy access to the Royal Melbourne Show WeChat account.

Of those surveyed, 51% of Chinese migrants stated that they would ‘like to see more Australian companies communicate in Mandarin’. Beyond creating in-language communications, companies can also include references to Chinese culture in communications (for example the use of gold) and by recognising cultural events (such as Chinese New Year, which 49% would like to see Australian companies celebrate). This doesn’t have to be an overt message but can simply act as a nod of understanding to Chinese culture.

The influence and purchasing power of China within our region and within our country will only continue to grow at a rapid rate. If your business is not prepared for this, you need to be.

Jack Watts is CEO at Bastion Collective.

This article was first published by Marketing Mag, you can view it here.

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