How to choose a China B2B Marketing Agency

Choosing a great marketing agency for China starts with asking the right questions

I’ll admit that this guide is going to be a little biased, but I make no apology for that, and here’s why.

Before we started our parent agency – Emerging Communications – our founders worked at a number of other chinese marketing agencies, and we didn’t like how they ran.

We set this business up with a few principles that we believe in, because they get clients great results, and in the longer term, they mean we keep working together longer.

We think this is a solid checklist of questions to ask any agency, with a few that are specific to China.

Table of Contents

Strategy first

Most of the failure we see, and a lot of the backlash against agencies in general, comes from picking the wrong strategy, or trying to achieve it using the wrong tactics.

Before you start planning campaigns and setting ad budgets, you need to be able to answer a few strategic questions:

Which customers are we talking to?

This isn’t just a description of the businesses you sell to, but the decision makers there as well.

Are we selling what they want to buy?

If your product is perceived the same as a local supplier, why will they take the risk?

What else do they value that is worth a higher price, and how can you prove you can meet that demand?

For example, every business has great service, but how can you demonstrate that before you make a sale?

How are we reaching them?

What channels and media do your customers use, and how efficiently can you find them?

What mix of channels do you need to get discovered, generate leads and carry them through to a sale?

What are our targets?

Are your targets based on margin, volume, market share, or something else? What offer is most effective at acquiring new customers vs upselling or retaining new ones?

Need help with the strategy?

Good strategy comes from good research, and you may not have the people on the ground to do that.

Using an agency who can do the research, build the strategy with you, and then execute on the marketing is the best way forward. A junior team who can execute at low cost won’t give you that direction to begin with, and probably won’t stick to the strategy when the next shiny thing comes along.

Where is the agency’s experience?

If your agency has an “APAC” team, that’s not enough.

From a marketing perspective, China may as well be another planet. Beyond the language, the platforms and culture are entirely different, that’s why we provide the China piece for a lot of “global” agencies.

A Chinese marketing team in London isn’t ideal either. China moves so fast that a native Chinese marketer who has been in the UK or US for 5 years is getting out of touch. We rotate our senior team back through China each year to keep pace with the market.

A 100% Chinese team has the same problem as a 100% London team but on the other side. That’s to say that they won’t have an appreciation of the brand strengths that you’ve tried to develop and rarely show a lot of creativity in campaigns.

We set up the agency with what we consider to be the ideal mix:

  • Research and campaign execution in China
  • Strategy, planning and account management in London
  • Regular movement of team members between the two countries.

Who is your account team?

Every agency will roll out its best team for a pitch, and that’s the right thing to do. You want the best brains working on your strategy from day one.

But what about when that direction is set?

Who is making sure that your strategy for China is being stuck to and delivered to a high standard? This won’t happen if you’re pushed down to a team of interns, or a team with high turnover of staff.

What is your agency’s experience of your market in China?

This is going to be a balancing act. Finding a team with experience i your specific market is usually a challenge, and finding one that has that experience in China makes it even harder.

However, they should at least have experience of your chosen channels.

What platforms do they specialise in?

The biggest issue that we’ve seen with B2B agencies is pushing clients to advertising channels based on the commissions they get.

High value B2B sales rely far more on search and nurturing a sale with good CRM practices than B2B sales do, and your agency should already understand that.

Just as you wouldn’t pick a TikTok agency as your first pick for a B2B campaign in the UK, there’s a few channels that are essentials in China, with WeChat, Baidu, and your own website as the critical ones.

How can they react in a crisis?

Geo-politics mixed with social media is a volatile environment and we regularly have to adjust course because of something a president or prime-minster has said, an influencer has said, or a customer has said.

It’s at times like this that we come into our own.

Our teams spot social crises hours, sometimes days before your UK team find out about them and we have well-practiced crisis plans in place for clients with the right level of account management.

What resources does your agency have to react like that?

What results have they got?

We’ve seen an astonishing number of RFP’s that don’t ask about results.

Results are unpredictable in the short term, but over time, a good agency will run more winning campaigns than losers.

If you’re just contracting for a level of output – number of posts or ads run – that doesn’t translate directly into leads and sales. It needs a little magic as well.

How happy are their customers?

Is the agency handing you prepared testimonials and case studies, or introducing you to real clients?

An agency needs to do more than deliver results. If they keep your team happy and tress free, that’s a big management overhead that you don’t have to worry about!

If this list looks a bit overwhelming, don’t panic. Talk to a few people on our team and we can show you how we’ve handled all of these issues for other clients.