Half A World’s Yishu Wang shares business opportunities in China for entrepreneurs

By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Podcast. 

UK-based Yishu Wang, an international marketing consultant and a director at Half A World, helps companies establish themselves in a new market. Most of their clients are Western entities who are trying to grow in China and the Asia-Pacific area. She also helps Chinese brands grow and establish themselves in international markets. 

Essentially, what she and her company do is help brands launch globally. 

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Knowing Your New Audience

When thinking about going global, Yishu’s first tip is to know the audience in your target market as it will be different from your current audience. Understand them, try to forget the things that you know about your home market, and learn to adapt. 

You also have to retain your brand while keeping your messaging localised. According to her, every brand has its own set of values and missions that make it unique. You should pull out those values that represent your brand and find out points that will make it relevant to your new target market. Analyse your brand and tie it to the values and messaging that would make sense to your new audience.

In sum, it’s really about looking at both ways: looking at the brand and the audience.

On Local Brand Names: To Adopt or Not to Adopt?

For Yishu, the issue of adopting a local brand name depends on several factors. 

From a legal point of view, it’s good to have a Chinese name in order to register your trademark. From a marketing perspective, it’s better to retain your business’ English name if it’s easy to remember and pronounce. However, if the name is difficult to pronounce for a Chinese consumer who doesn’t speak English or any other language, you should go with a local name.

If there are a lot of people who have heard of your brand already, you could go with retaining that and having a Chinese translation for legal and other business purposes. 

But whether you’re adopting a local name or retaining your current one, you have to localise your content — from social media to PR and website. These include visual assets such as images and videos. The more you can localise, the better it would be.

Positioning Your Brand in an Overseas Market

If we’re talking about 10 years ago, being an international brand from the US, the UK, or any other part of Europe is a strong selling point by itself. But for Yishu, this is necessarily not the case nowadays.

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While a lot of brands state which particular country they are from, what’s more important is to explain what that means to your new audience. For example, if you’re marketing Rolex to a Chinese, it’s more important to say that it has good quality and it embodies the Swiss tradition of craftsmanship — rather than merely saying that it’s from Switzerland.

One of the companies that Yishu has worked with is British-Portuguese luxury fashion retail Farfetch. She helped the business — which was then a niche brand and did not have a Chinese website — launch, grow, and localise in China. The company was very keen to learn what’s new and what’s different in the Chinese market, which is a really good start for any brand trying to be successful in the country. After localising their website and brand messaging, they were able to attract investments, including from one tech giant Alibaba

Theirs is a success story that any Western brand trying to launch in China can follow. They basically localised everything and they made an effort to connect to and understand their target Chinese consumers.

Having a More Localised Strategy

China is a massive land of 1.4 billion people. If you’re launching in China, Yishu noted that you still need to tailor your offering to who your specific target is — because targeting 1.4 billion people in one hit is just impossible.

For instance, the luxury and fashion brands that she’s working with mostly target tier-one cities. Now they’re increasing their target to tier-two cities. Some brands go for tier-three or four cities. Others adopt a Northern China strategy or a Southern China strategy.

In China, though unofficial, cities are classified into tiers depending on economical power. Tier-one cities include Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Tier-two cities refer to the capitals of different provinces. 

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In the end, your strategy should depend on what your brand is.

Is it Possible to Build a Business in China Without Going to China?

There are different ways to build a business in China without physically being there (i.e., having your own people and operations). Yishu has helped many smaller brands do just that. 

Once you’re able to protect your trademark, it’s not necessary to have a separate China team to start with. You can have a team in your home country and organise everything from there, including logistics and marketing. You can also do cross-border shipping especially now that e-commerce from outside of China has been increasingly more popular. Chinese consumers are actually quite open to waiting to receive their products — as long as the products are those that they want and love. 

However, in the long run, if you want to be really successful in China, you should consider having a plan to establish there. 

Chinese Companies vs Western Brands

In the last couple of years, it has been a trend for Chinese companies to grow and launch globally (for example, Huawei). One of their advantages is that they tend to be quite agile. Things happen really fast in China and they use the same pace when entering global markets. They also have a lot of capital to work with.

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However, the challenge for them is the same: They also need to understand Western markets, which are very different from the local market. A lot of local brands are still learning to compete. But whether a brand is Chinese or Western, each has its own advantages and strengths that they can play up with. It’s also a matter of figuring out what they’re lacking and trying to solve problems.

The Challenge of a Foreign Brand Working with a Chinese Partner

There are instances when an entrepreneur or a business owner would want to partner with a company in China if they are to develop a business there. But as Yishu has personally witnessed, many joint ventures have become unsuccessful. There are a lot of challenges, culturally speaking, and everyone has a different way of running a business. 

If you want to establish in China, she advised launching through your own foreign entity. You should only consider partnering with a local company if you know them personally and you have an already good relationship with them.

Leveraging Social Media

For Yishu, social media is definitely the key when establishing in China. In the country, a lot of e-commerce platforms have become more social and a lot of social media platforms have become more e-commerce-focused. Social commerce has indeed become the thing

In China, many brands don’t even have a website. They simply rely on social media as an avenue where people can get to know and interact with their brand. This is why you have to rethink the role of social media. It’s not just your marketing tool but also your base or main platform when doing business in China.

The main social media platforms in China include WeChat, Weibo, and Douyin (which is the parent company of TikTok). There’s Little Red Book. There’s also a new one called Poizon, which is a sneaker-trading platform and specialises in male consumers. There are many platforms to leverage as many Chinese social media apps are emerging now and then.

On Livestreaming to Push Sales

Livestreaming to commerce business is also a big thing in China. Yishu has worked with Western brands that don’t have a presence in the country but have been running livestream broadcasts to sell their products. 

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Livestreaming is an effective way to push some sales. However, she wouldn’t recommend it to every brand. It still depends on what your brand and your business goal are. Essentially, the goal would be to sell more products, but you have to think long-term: What kind of brand are you really trying to build? 

Look at the format, watch some videos, and observe if you want to do it yourself. Can you imagine your brand being in that environment and selling some products? After the typical 20-minute livestream, what comes next? Do you have any plans for that?

Industries Where Western Brands Have Successfully Penetrated

A lot of Western entrepreneurs who are into fashion and accessories have been quite successful in China. There are also other growing markets in the country such as those for mom and baby brands.

Generally, Yishu noted that the brands that tend to do well in China are now focused on targeting young consumers. These consumers, though young, have the spending power and are very switched on in terms of marketing and engaging with brands. 

However, she also noted that there’s a huge opportunity for brands to target the 50-60-year-old demographics, which is a market that tends to be ignored.

Overcoming China’s Internet Great Wall

Using the same keywords, Google and Baidu search engines have varying results for Chinese content searches. It shows how challenging it is to reach those consumers living behind China’s own “Internet Great Wall.” 

This is why you have to reach out and try to communicate with them. You need to do search engine optimisation and pay-per-click advertising on Baidu and other local social search engines. However, Yishu pointed out that if you want to see more tangible results, you have to especially do that on social media platforms rather than on search engines.

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On Chinese Brands Entering the European Market

Currently, Yishu is working with a toy company. They have about $28 million in revenue a year and are already doing great in terms of their Amazon store sales. Now, they only need help to establish themselves in a new market. In this project, it’s more on selling the brand rather than the products.

This toy company is just one of the many Chinese companies that have good products and have been doing great sales-wise. This means that they already have the capital to work on. It’s now a matter of having the right consumer insights for them.

Half A World: Helping Business Launch Globally

Half A World was named as such because they do business in Asia and China, which is essentially half of the world’s population. As mentioned, they help Western brands grow in the Asia-Pacific region; with today’s growing trend, they also help Chinese brands go overseas by providing marketing insights. Their work also involves clarifying the legal side of things such as trademarks.

To get a hold of Yishu and Half A World, reach out to her LinkedIn account.

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast The UnNoticed, you can listen here.


Cover image by Yang Shuo on Unsplash.