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Branding in China's Digital Golden Age

What marketers need to know about brand-building on Baidu

Stats on the China market are staggering enough to get even the most cautious marketers excited – the world’s second largest economy according to the World Bank; largest mobile market (Statista); home to the fourth largest digital platform in the world, Baidu. Our last issue of Dossier talked about the groundbreaking partnership between Baidu & Merkle, when we announced Merkle is Baidu’s first US-headquartered reseller. Our partnership offers exceptional performance in one of the world’s largest but most challenging markets. In the newest issue of Dossier, we dive a little deeper into the importance of brand building in China, and key opportunities for brands across the Baidu portfolio.

It’s no secret that Chinese consumers are among the world’s most brand-conscious buyers. In fact, they’re willing to pay more for branded products compared to their price-driven peers in other markets. According to McKinsey, 45% of Chinese consumers believe a higher price point equates to better quality, compared to just 16% among US consumers.

A recent study found 49% of young generation Chinese will advocate for brands personally and online, compared to only 34% among their peers in the US. This trend is also reflected in Chinese searcher behavior. Chinese consumers are more likely to use search to research and validate brands, while US searchers are more likely to search non-brand products and look for price comparisons.

As such, brand value is extremely important in China. Sounds like a brand marketer’s dream. But why should this matter to digital marketers?

It matters because China is the world’s largest mobile market. Its rising middle class is extremely comfortable purchasing across digital devices, not to mention nearly 90% of Chinese consumers use Baidu for search. Simply put, the stakes are high for brands in China’s hyper-competitive digital ecosystem.

B.A.T., or the ‘Big Three’ digital players in China (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) are known to dominate the landscape in search, e-commerce, and social media, respectively. While e-commerce is big business in China, opportunities for brand-building remain limited. Increasingly popular Alibaba competitor, JD.com, offers little to no brand control, as the experience is like being in a virtual department store.

While you can have some brand control in the form of a brand store on Alibaba’s Tmall.com, maximizing the robust brand opportunities on Baidu is attractive to advertisers and allows the most brand control in China’s digital landscape. Considering the critical importance of brand building in China, this makes search, and in particular Baidu, a key part of a brand’s China marketing strategy.

Building a Brand on Baidu

A key opportunity for companies marketing on Baidu is to leverage Baidu’s Brand Zone. Brand Zone allows advertisers to own a sizable amount of the search engine results page (SERP) with brand content and information, not only ensuring top placement, but essentially owning all the space above the fold. The result can be akin to a SERP takeover experience, which is completely unique to Baidu and not available on other search engines.

It might sound obvious, but Brand Zone works for brand searches only, and must be exact match. Baidu’s philosophy is that for exact brand searches, the consumer is specifically looking for a particular brand and therefore enjoys the rich brand experience that Brand Zone delivers. The results back up this belief. Engagement with Brand Zone is high, according to our Q4 2015 research, with an average click-through rate of over 50% compared to 25% for brand searches on Google.

There are a variety of formats and options within Brand Zone, and the experience is very customizable based on content, assets and consumer value-adds that the brand can provide.

BMW does a great job of leveraging multiple ad formats within Brand Zone, including images, videos, and the ability to scroll through a carousel of the different BMW series. Beyond including images, music, video, and social media tie-ins, some savvy luxury brands have even used Brand Zone to live-stream their fashion shows from Paris and New York – effectively taking their brand experience into one of the world’s most voracious luxury markets via search.

Unsurprisingly, Brand Zone comes at a price and is best for enterprise brands looking to ensure a rich brand experience. The thing for advertisers to remember is that Brand Zone is the only way to ensure top-of-page placement for your brand.

In addition to Brand Zone, advertisers should ensure that they are taking steps to protect their brand keywords. Designing and implementing a brand protection strategy is one of the first things Merkle does when onboarding new clients and is a form of trademarking your brand on Baidu.

Now look at this brand search for Topshop. Without brand protection, Topshop is not able to secure the top placement on the Baidu SERP, with competitors like GAP and Shopbop appearing above them using their brand name.

Compare this to when a company has brand protection and is also employing Baidu’s Brand Zone, like the BMW example, resulting in a very different experience.

Increasing Discoverability & Capturing Non-brand Clicks

Another opportunity for marketers is Baidu’s Mini Zone. Unlike Brand Zone, Mini Zone is triggered by non-brand search. Mini Zone lives on the right rail and can bump out. Advertisers can buy keyword packs from Baidu for up to a year for Mini Zone.

The example above shows some savvy Mini Zone work by Chanel for the term “lipstick.” You can see the bump out trumps the paid and organic results for lipstick and successfully grabs the searcher’s attention.

Beyond the SERP

While Baidu is China’s largest digital platform and the world’s fourth most trafficked site, there’s much more to Baidu than the search engine alone. Baidu has numerous successful and important properties, including Baidu Knows (community forums), Baidu Baike (wiki-like encyclopedia), Baidu Music, Baidu Map, Baidu Cloud, Baidu Space (social network), and more.

Baidu’s Brand Zone Matrix is yet another way to maximize visibility across Baidu properties. Why stop at the SERP? Brand Zone Matrix offers advertisers “6 plus 1” – which is the ability to have Brand Zone on up to six Baidu platforms, plus be mobile-optimized across them all.

The consistent visibility and brand experience across multiple platforms ensures strong brand performance on Baidu, at massive scale.

In a fast-growing brand-conscious market like China, smart marketers will maximize all high-performing opportunities to capture market share and drive performance. Merkle makes this easy for our clients. Visit merkleinc.com/Baidu to learn more about how we can help with your China marketing performance.