The Mobile Challenge: Targeting China’s Smartphone Users

ChinaAlthough China’s mobile users represent the world’s largest smartphone market (research firm IDC predicts China’s smartphone shipments will exceed 450 million in 2014), numerous challenges constrain non-Asian advertisers’ ability to get a foothold.

Still, there’s recourse for advertisers looking to break into the Chinese market, largely in the form of partnerships.

Chinese mobile advertising is alluring primarily because of the country’s large and engaged user base. While Chinese smartphone owners spent an average of 109 minutes (or 60.6% of their time on their device) consuming media, according to a 2013 study done by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), those consumers are reluctant to pay for apps and quickly abandon apps for new ones. This complicates monetization efforts.

The fragmentation of app stores in China is another challenge, according to Jud Bowman, founder and CEO of Appia, a firm that helps clients drive mobile app downloads. “It’s not mandatory to have an app store installed on a mobile device in China and there are over 200 third-party app stores, so it’s very hard to get your app noticed,” Bowman said.

China is “an interesting market for advertisers but it is also one of the most challenging,” added Steve Bagdasarian, VP of business development and traffic strategy at mobile app marketing platform Fiksu.

In addition to app store fragmentation, Bagdasarian pointed out the difficulties marketers have targeting ads to audiences since the numerous dialects and regions in China preclude the collection of reliable demographic data. Also, there’s a high rate of  “jail-broken software and pirated marketplaces that could imitate your app or redirect your traffic, causing you to lose money hand over fist,” he added.

Despite the challenges, there are growing opportunities for marketers to enter China’s mobile market, argued Crid Yu , North American VP and managing director at mobile ad network InMobi.

“China is one of our largest country markets and it contributes significantly to our total revenue,” Yu said. In terms of retargeting capabilities, Yu said InMobi lets clients deliver targeted ads in China based on demographic and geographic user information, as well as some device recognition and mobile fingerprinting data. InMobi also recently partnered with the app developer CocoaChina, a subsidiary of Chukong Technologies, a mobile gaming publisher in China.

Partnerships with established firms in China such as Baidu and Tencent are one of the few ways foreign companies can succeed in China, Bagadasarian said.

“The strategic focus that I expect to see developing among companies that want to enter China is forming partnerships with the biggest and most established companies possible,” Bagadasarian said. “It might not provide immediate scale, but it’s a way in.”

Apple’s recently announced deal with the carrier Mobile China, for example, could potentially provide a way for more app developers to reach Chinese mobile users. However, it remains to be seen whether Apple will attract new mobile users to its premium-priced products in a market that has numerous low-cost mobile devices.

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