written by
Edwin Ting

Understand Your Audience In China: Free Tools & Template To Run Market Research

Social Media 5 min read

Are you interested in launching your brand in China? 

As with any market entry planning, it would serve you well to run a quick assessment of the market and the audience before you decide to commit more resources and time.

Here’s how you can do a quick check.

For the purpose of this article, I will use a fictional coffee chain brand looking to expand into China.

First, you need to compile a list of your industry related keywords and a list of your competitor brands.

Competitor brands: Starbucks Coffee, Costa Coffee, UBS Coffee, Hey Tea

Industry keywords: hand brewed coffee, premium coffee beans

Note that Hey Tea was included as it potentially is a competitor to a coffee brand looking to target the same young millennial and young adult audience.

With your list of keywords, you can then systematically leverage various free online tools to get a snapshot understanding of your target market and audience.

1. Baidu Index (a.k.a. Google Insights)

Baidu Index: http://index.baidu.com/

Baidu, better known as the Google of China, is the largest search engine in China in terms of market share. Even though in recent years, due to the rise of mobile and vertical search, Baidu search volume has been in decline and does not fully represent the total search volume in China, it is still a a good tool to get a gauge of users’ interest in China. 

You would require a Baidu account fo do a query. Each query can have up to 5 keywords, and you can view data as far back as 10 years. Below is a snapshot of the competitors in the coffee industry dating back to 2011. Notice how Starbucks has dominated the industry, and also how Hey Tea (a relatively new entrant) has managed to gather significant interest too. 

Image: Baidu Index chart comparing Starbucks, Costa Coffee, UBC Coffee, Hey Tea

Another important insight from Baidu Index is the related keywords that are associated to each brand. These gives you an idea of what your audience are also interested in, so you can create content that is relevant and also reach them through channels that they are on.

Image: Baidu Index, Starbucks, Keywords Map
Image: Baidu Index, Starbucks, Audience Geography
Index: Baidu Index, Starbucks, Audience Demographic

2. WeChat Index

As you know WeChat is the highly popular Super App in China, where almost everyone uses on a daily basis for communication, social and shopping. Hence, it is also a great place to get insights about your market and audience.

WeChat Index was launched mid 2017 and is a composite scoring of a brand’s “popularity” on WeChat. The exact formula of the index is unknown, but it comprises of mentions and searches within WeChat, making it a good gauge of how popular / strong a brand is in China.

Image: WeChat Index, user flow on how to compare different brand keywords

Besides only getting absolute index numbers from the charts, the chart also informs you on when a competitor brand had run a marketing activity with significant interest. Each spike might be a unique campaign ran and you can browse historical post of the competitors to see what content resonated with the audience. A very large spike (way beyond the average trend) might also indicate that the brand had spent to buy ads on WeChat. 

Image: WeChat How to Browse Historical Post of a Brand Official Account

3. Sogou (WeChat) Search


You probably already know by now how every tech platform does not play nice with each other. So, WeChat content is exclusively searchable only via Sogou (Tencent invested company), and not available anywhere else including on Baidu. So, Sogou will be your go to place to get search results for content published on WeChat by Official account. (Note that personal user content is not publicly searchable)

Image: Sogou search results for Starbucks (Here’s a shortcut to the SERP: http://bit.ly/2Uky76r)

The search results give you a good overview of what the brand has been doing in China. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and you also get the total search results volume, which gives you a quantifiable number of how the brand is doing in China.

Image: Sogou search results for Starbucks has 25.5K results.

Look at the search volume for Hey Tea and UBC Coffee and you will know instantly who is the market leader.

Image: Sogou search results for UBC Coffee has 2.3K results.
Image: Sogou search results for Hey Tea has 6.4K results.

In addition to competitor brand searches, here’s where you can also use industry related keywords to run search queries. Doing so will allow you to assess the popularity of the product or product segment that you are planning on launching in China.

Let’s take a look at 2 keywords: Hand brewed coffee and Coffee Roasting, you will see below at the number of results available that this 2 areas of coffee are popular.

Image: Sogou search results for Hand BrewedCoffee has 4.5K results.
Image: Sogou search results for Coffee Roasting has 3.5K results.

Do also have a read of the articles in the search result to get a sense of where the audience and the industry in general is headed.

4. Weibo Search


Similar to Sogou search above, Weibo is very good at real time search, where the latest most updated news gets released. (Very similar to Twitter). This would give you a good gauge of the current sentiment of the industry you are in. Best to conduct the search on a desktop, as it will have the search volume and allow for you to filter the search results.

Image: Weibo search results for Starbucks.
Image: Weibo search results for Starbucks has 20+ million posts (this is for all time).
Image: Weibo search results filter allows you to filter by time, geo and post type.

So, 4 great tools and free too, to get you started planning your market entry into China. 

There are other tools which you can also leverage to assess a brand and its audience, which I have not included in this article. These would include Taobao search https://shu.taobao.com/ (suited for e-commerce fashion, lifestyle and electronics brands) and Youku search (suited for brands relevant to entertainment).

To facilitate your research, here’s a China Market Entry Research Template (sheet) to get you started.

Get access to the template by signing up here.

China Social Media WeChat Weibo Sogou Template