Pay attention to your tech-savvy audience in China — or perish

Microsoft is getting suedso is a search engine…in China.

That’s right — China. These are not a couple of blips on the corporate radar in the litigious-happy Western World, but a show of discontent from a country that more than 25 years ago couldn’t have given a bowl of rice about what consumers thought.

In both cases, the plaintiffs claim they were hoodwinked by the corporations in some manner. Microsoft didn’t share its allegedly ambiguous and misleading user terms prior to purchase of the software. The search engine? Oh that’s just about a little unpublicized spyware piggybacking on a download — which the user could not remove after repeated attempts.

Well, I’m no judge of legal culpability — you can read about that on some China law blog. What about from a marketing standpoint? Arguably these individuals could just be dismissed by the company as gadflies who don’t fit their typical customer profile. But I’d like to suggest another possibility — they underestimated the sophistication of their tech-savvy Chinese audience.

If you’re marketing your products in China, get ready. Today’s Chinese netizens are anything but shy.

According to a survey by the China Internet Network Information Center (Chinese), there are 17.5 million bloggers in the Middle Kingdom’s cyberspace. And in this article Mad As Hell In China’s Blogosphere,” the author points out that blog buzz caught up with more than a few unknowing corporations:

Online critics blasted Volkswagen after the automaker launched an advertising campaign that appeared to poke fun at public transportation. Last year General Mills Inc.’s (GIS ) Häagen-Dazs brand suffered a blow when bloggers circulated rumors that the company’s ice cream was made in an unsanitary factory in the southern city of Shenzhen. Häagen-Dazs doesn’t even have a plant in the city, but that didn’t prevent the faulty information from spreading through the Chinese blogosphere.

Meanwhile the next generation of forthright consumers are getting their feet wet at the Chinakids website (Chinese), where kids are encouraged to sound off against authority figures, including good ol’ Mom and Dad. The CEO’s mission is to help Chinese youngsters compete in the world by giving them a platform to talk. So if these kids feel comfortable enough to refer to their parents as “military bosses,” just wait ’til they have a look at your product/service.

What to do about your reputation in China? A great place to start is the Chinese blogosphere and forums. If you’re already in China, find out what the word is on you (you might just be surprised!). Just starting out? It never hurts to have a blog of your own. Keep abreast of the other blogs/forums out there — and be prepared to respond.

2 Appreciated Responses

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  1. China Law Blog
    China Law Blog December 31, 2006 at 2:47 pm |

    Interesting post. I frequently write on how China is becoming more litigious and there is another blog out there, called the China Word of Mouth blog, that writes frequently on monitoring one’s internet buzz in China. Various Western companies (P&G and Dell spring quickly to mind) are learning the importance of this.

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