Look East: Email Marketing Challenges in China

Look East: Email Marketing Challenges in China

When looking to China, and in excess of a half billion consumer mailboxes , it is no surprise email marketers will identify substantial opportunity, this should be balanced with the understanding the landscape is very different to anywhere else in the world.  It is certainly not a simple matter of transferring your experience gained in North America, Europe or even Asia-Pacific and applying that to the mainland Chinese market.

A number of North American business' that have achieved reasonable success with the channel, and a few have seen great success, however as Groupon learned through expensive trial and error an e-mail marketing strategy that works in other markets will not necessarily succeed in China. To be truly successful it will be important to gain a thorough understanding of the local market. It is worth of course remembering China is not a single unified market, and that it is not even the same language spoken across the country. 

On the most part it is not a matter of geo-location of the sending ESP nor technical issues that will form the basis of the major challenges or obstacles to success, despite the myths that abound. In China email is far less popular than instant messaging services like Tencent’s QQ. This can in part be explained by the younger demographic of internet users vs somewhere like Europe or North America. Another factor to consider, there is weaker customer loyalty here as consumers tend to gravitate to the best deal.

Those that truly succeed have adopted strategies that reflect local realities in addition to maintaining and developing strong local relationships as is the business culture. There are also specific legal considerations that need to be assessed and addressed in China, a good understanding of the legal regulations and policies and what is considered normal practice will be imperative. 

Not least being aware of any licensing requirements for your sector in addition to some of the worlds most complex antispam laws ““Regulations On Internet Email Services”” and  the requirements for ‘Verified Permission’, including AD in the subject line, and the fluid list of proscribed topics as defined by the PRC. Although not heavily policed to date, the risk that enforcement could happen in future is real. Regardless, whilst the laws may not always be adhered to, it is of course important to be aware of what they are, and what the penalties and business risks are if flouting them. 

The real challenge lies in the localisation of best practices and through understanding of how principles differ locally. It has to be understood that the email market is not as mature as in other parts of the world, and locally email is not generally perceived to be the preferred email marketing channel. Combine this with a tendency by many to abuse the channel in an attempt to leverage it for acquisition marketing purposes leads to the mailbox providers developing an aggressive stance on the handling and filtering of commercial email and the Postmasters at Tencent and Netease tend to have much higher standards for defining “quality” vs “poor” email programs, what might be considered “best practice” in North America can be easily perceived as appalling in China .