American companies – all western brands to be exact – are having a hard time breaking into the Chinese mobile app market. The way that mobile devices and their related apps are used in China is quite different than everywhere else in the world, leaving these companies to either adapt or stay out of the market altogether. Since China is a huge market for mobile apps, the latter option doesn’t make much sense from a business prospective. Missing out on millions of potential customers isn’t a business savvy option, leaving adaptation as the only true alternative available to gain a foothold in the country. So, what do mobile developers need to know to be successful in the Chinese Mobile App Market?
1) Come Out with a Premium App
There are two main types of mobile apps out there. One group of them is free. People can download them and play games, listen to music, watch videos, and so on without paying a cent. The companies make money by selling ad space in those games. The other apps are premium ones. These cost the user money to download, and many require in-game purchases as well. Looking at the top games in the Chinese mobile app market, one trend is very clear – the premium apps are all owned by Western companies. This means that there’s a market for them, and people in China are willing to pay the price for “on-the-go” app entertainment.
2) Brands are Very Important in the Chinese Mobile App Market
Since some Western companies, such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, and so on, have had plenty of success in China, it’s clear that crossing the divide, which consists of more than just the Pacific Ocean, is entirely possible. In fact, if companies can develop a strong brand that has a solid message behind it, then they’ll fare well in the country. After all, many of the citizens of China are very status-conscious, and branding is an important part of that. They’ll flock to a well-known brand, no matter where it originates, as long as the message is clear.
With that said, it can be very difficult for a mobile app company to get their foot in the door, no matter what their branding is because China has developed many of its own versions of Western apps. For example, the Western world has Spotify, while the East has QQMusic. In addition, there are other hurdles to jump, such as the overall political climate and censorship issues. One of the best things that Western brands can do is learn to adapt to the politics and censorship in the country, and then create a separate mobile app to sell in their market. However, if they can manage to turn their brand into a lifestyle, then it’s entirely possible to make it there. The company must learn to walk a fine line and do everything by the book, but it can be done.
3) Form a Partnership with A Distributor in the Country
Many Western companies have found that they make a better entry to the Chinese mobile app market as long as they have a company based in the country to work with. These Chinese companies know how the laws work and have the ability to adhere to all the regulations. They also can provide valuable insight into how the mobile app stores work in China, as well as how to market to certain segments of the population. It’s very hard for a Western brand to do all of this on their own. You almost certainly need to choose a partner company in China to work with.
4) Stop the Copycats in Their Tracks
Another thing that companies need to do to gain a foothold in the Chinese mobile app market is to keep the copycats from stealing their ideas and domain names. Knockoffs are everywhere in the mobile app stores (not just in China), and it certainly doesn’t help that Chinese law doesn’t really prevent this from happening. They just view copyright laws through a different lens. Some examples of previous situations include companies going to buy certain related domain names in the country, only to find that someone has been “cybersquatting” on them. Getting ahead of these “cybersquatters” is one method of dealing with this, although heavily branding your company and growing into a well-known entity is another. Some of those “cybersquatters” won’t touch a company that’s extremely well-known.
Overall, it’s very possible for a Western mobile app company to break into the Chinese market. The key here is branding. The stronger your brand and the better the message behind it, the better your chances are, especially if your company sells an entire lifestyle, not just a mobile app. You’ll also need some ties to the market in the country, as well as create some premium games. But as long as you do everything carefully, you’ll find your company will do very well in the Chinese mobile app market.