Marketing in China: How to succeed with market research & buyer persona development

By Julie Zheng - August 10, 2018

Unfamiliar with the concept of Buyer Personas? Don’t worry – you would be surprised how many big, multinational companies do not have them or have done this poorly. In the new age of smart marketing and ABM (Account based marketing) it's more important than ever that your marketing messaged is perfectly tailored to your ideal customer. In this blog we will explain just how valuable having this document can be when marketing in China.

What is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.  This document is usually created by the marketing department of a company looking to investigate the actual behaviours and preferences of the customers. Many companies also outsource this work to 3rd party market research firms as most marketers aren't experienced enough in doing deep consumer-behavior based research.

You may have previously seen something similar to a user’s profile that includes psychographic information such as age, gender, what their interests are, or a document on the potential customer’s behaviour – but is it as complete as a best-practice buyer persona document?

A best-practice buyer persona indicates clearly the preferences and intentions of the prospective buyers, and it provides clear guidance regarding how the company can target each different persona. A great buyer persona document doesn't bother with superfluous psychographic details like gender, family details, marital status, race, hobbies or personal interests as these do not influence buyer decisions.

Does your existing documentation include:

  1. Their common objections to your product or service
  2. Their success factors in their position
  3. The priority initiatives of the company or the perspective lead in respect to their role
  4. Fully mapped out buyer journey
  5. Detailed decision criteria for making a purchase

If not, you should reconsider conducting your own buyer persona research before doing anything with marketing in China (or indeed any market). Getting the buyer persona right is the foundation for all of your future marketing and sales success and ensures that everyone who works on the project has a deep understanding of who they are creating content or selling to.

How do you create a gold-standard Buyer Persona?

When creating a buyer persona document, the best practice is to talk with your existing and potential customers as much as possible using a systematic approach. We understand that working with consumers in a new market can be daunting. To succeed in this, you need to diligently carry out the interview process and investigation efforts to correctly understand how they feel about your products or services.

Here are some of the steps we usually take to make a gold-standard buyer persona research:

  1. Designed a comprehensive questionnaire using the Five Rings of Buying Insights.
  2. Devise a questionnaire using a survey tool.
  3. Send the survey to an existing client database for collecting the survey results.
  4. Pick the best clients (roughly 15-20) from the existing client database and schedule to have a phone call with them.
  5. Interview those best clients according to the questionnaire and ask follow up questions during the interview, record the interview for transcriptions.
  6. Transcribe the interview and write down those quotations that stand out.
  7. Combine your findings and observe the patterns from the source materials, and think creatively about what are the possible personas.
  8. Write their demographics, quotations with detailed insights you have gained from the process.
  9. Create a well-designed document in English and Chinese that clearly explains the personas and all of the feedback from the process so far. Be sure to include real quotes from the interviews for each persona.

Case Study: B2B Company in China

At Oxygen – we recently created a buyer persona document for one of our clients who are the world’s largest B2B platform in their field and was looking to expand their inbound marketing methodology to the Chinese market. We designed several email questionnaires and distributed it across their current customer base and internal teams with rewards and incentives for completing the surveys. After two weeks of interviewing around 15 existing customers and ten possible customers in detail over the phone according to the Five Rings of Buying Insights, we were left with an extensive collection of quotations and feedback. This research and these quotations allowed us to pinpoint the exact pain points and buying initiatives of the current customers and potential customers which culminated not only as a fantastic buyer persona document but also as critical information for the business development team in China.

 business partner B2B marketing China

Buyer Persona difficulties in China

Here are some of the most common difficulties when it comes to creating a buyer persona for the Chinese market:

  1. Some companies believe their product and service are so excellent that they are for “everyone everywhere”, and they believe they do not need a buyer persona.
  2. Foreign companies think China is no different to the western market or they tend to underestimate the complexity and uniqueness of the China market.
  3. The obvious language barrier for foreigners to communicate with Chinese end-users makes them timid to ask the right questions, which are sometimes direct and opaque.
  4. Foreign companies think as long as the translation of the product/services introduction on the website is fine, the marketing message should be fine as well.
  5. Believing, or hoping that Chinese customers still prefer foreign brands to Chinese brands because Chinese brands are of low quality.
  6. Thinking China’s internet ecosystem is not as robust as compared to the West, and the competition is not fierce.

It is tempting to assume that what can work for your International offices can work the same way in China; however this is almost always not the case. In order to win customers in China, no matter whether your business is B2B or B2C, you need to be sure you fully understand the significant cultural differences, the whole Chinese internet ecosystem and Chinese user behaviours.

Here are some recent statistics that may help you out:

  1. China is already the largest social network market with 569 million active social network users by the end of 2017, and it’s likely to increase to 725 million by 2022.
  2. Chinese people are addicted to their phones swapping between different app and platforms. The level of engagement with the apps is high. Based on the data for Q1 2018, Chinese netizens spent 3.9 hours on average on their phones and 127 minutes on the social apps. Also, everyone has on average 42 apps installed on the phone.
  3. Many newly established Chinese brands provide high-quality services and products that are catered to the Chinese customers locally. They are winning more market shares and outperforming many foreign brands. The competition in China is way fiercer in reality than your imagination.
  4. Chinese people are very result driven, and goal motivated when they are at work, they are hardworking and put business before personal stuff.
  5. People like to gossip. Netizens in China are nosy about the other’s life and recent events. Especially when people are active on platforms such as Weibo, they are keen to follow the trends from the famous stars. Statistics show that 49.96% of the total feeds on Weibo are concerned with the entertainment industry.  
  6. Group thinking, like to “团购” (group purchase) , and like to behave and think according to a group or a particular class to feel safe and secure.
  7. The language people use in China is continuously changing, and there are new words invented almost every single week. This makes social media incredibly exciting, time-bound and complicated as you want to ride on the right tides to catch people’s attention on the internet.
  8. The class difference in China is gradually becoming more evident. The class segmentation is based on the income and fixed asset level, and marketing towards the different income brackets must be specified.

buyer persona market research

To recap: why do you need new buyer personas for China?

  1. When a person’s professional positions are different, their thinking pattern and behavior can be different.
  2. At different stages of their life, their perspective and decision criteria can be different, and the research needs to address that.
  3. Their pain points are different from their Western counterparts, especially considering the vast different in the digital market.
  4. Their goals at work are different, and they need to solve different types of problems when using the service or product you offer.
  5. People in China behave differently, and especially at different income levels. There are different purchasing patterns that you need to be aware of which may seem counter-intuitive in the West.
  6. Chinese people are educated differently compared to the West, their moral principles and level of conservativeness can be very different.

What are the benefits of a comprehensive Buyer Persona document?

We will use some case examples to give you a better understanding of why buyer persona documentation is crucial to your success in China’s market.

Improve your sales pitch and marketing message

Speak directly to the specific persona and hit their pain points with solutions you can provide instead of using general selling points.

Example: if you are selling a hotel booking platform to the travel agencies in China, there are different types of people whom you may want to target, and their sales pitch and marketing message should be changed. For instance, the managers in the travel agencies have power and do not do the bookings themselves. They manage a team, so they want the team to use the most effective product possible to keep the labour cost down. Whereas the actual bookers in the travel agencies know that the price is the most sensitive for their customers and they want to have the lowest hotel price platform for daily operation. So our pitches and message to the customers on the end customers we serve, and it varies from one persona to another.   

Improve your services or product offering with real feedback

Feedback from customers on the product needs to go into the persona documentation and circulate throughout the product team to ensure the first-hand feedback are taken into consideration.

Example: if you are promoting a blockchain backed social networking app to China, apart from the fact that you need to compete with the other leading social network software, you also need to adjust your product specific to the Chinese customers. The feedback from customers during the buyer persona research can be used for product development purposes to improve the language, interface, functionality of the app. For instance, Chinese people are very visually driven and don’t like to read large text on the app, so it’s critical to translate the presented texts in a way that’s short and snappy to catch the attention of the users.

Improve your “Smarketing” relationship

Smarketing is Sales+Marketing, and personas can directly help the two teams to better communicate with each other, and to increase revenues as a whole. Sales and Marketing should be aligned regarding the persona knowledge and whom they are dealing with on a daily basis.

Example: If you are selling marketing automation software to China and there are different types of personas. Your marketing team can track the efforts spent on each persona and the results driven by that persona, and the sales team can know the different nuances of speaking with a different persona.

Content creation guided by persona selling/pain points and buyer journey

To create shareable and readable content according to a well-devised editorial calendar, we need to take into account each buyer persona and what topics they want to hear about during different stages of the buyer’s journey.

Example: If you are an overseas university want to increase the applications from China, you need to tailor your editorial calendar according to the Chinese high school or university calendar to know what’s going on with the students’ daily behaviours. The persona document can help you get to know the buyer’s journey and decision-making process of your prospective students.

What does a Buyer Persona document look like? Check out an example from Oxygen below:

buyer persona

 


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About the Author

Julie Zheng

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