Arts organisations have been alerted to the impact that cultural tourism is having upon our sector. But the reality is that we often feel overwhelmed by how to tap into that market. After all, the tourism sector is a massive competitive market, and one that does not always prioritise the arts over events and destinations.
The pressure is increasingly palpable given the growing Asian market attending Australian events and exhibitions. China has overtaken New Zealand as the number one source of short term visitors, currently sitting at 1.5 million visitors to Australia annually.
How then, as an arts organisation, do you market to that audience and do you need to put a Chinese digital strategy in place?
These are questions that Charmaine Wong, Account Director, Think China Australia, answers every day. Her company specialises in connecting Chinese-speaking audiences with programs and offerings.
Wong said: ‘The first reason why you need to have a Chinese digital strategy is that Chinese speakers make up a significant proportion of our global cities. In Sydney, for example, there are places where up to 49% of the population speak Chinese at home.’
Her message is that it is not just about capturing international tourists, but connecting with those audiences on our doorstep.
‘If you look at Chinese speakers, even when outside of China, they continue using those [same] Chinese digital channels. About 36% will sometimes use English-speaking media channels, such as the ABC or SBS, but more than 60% continue to use WeChat as their primary news source.’
Wong explained that the Chinese digital landscape is very different to our Western digital landscape, and that we can’t just use a blanket approach and hope to get results.
‘There is a great firewall, for a start, so in China home-grown platforms have been substituted for sites that are blocked – remember Google is blocked; you can’t access Facebook or Instagram, so they are no help,’ she said.
‘If you want to target Chinese audiences, then you need to target the platforms they are using to communicate effectively,’ Wong added. But that doesn’t mean you have to rush out and open Weibo and WeChat accounts.
Understanding Chinese media consumption habits, the decision-making processes of Chinese consumers, and how Chinese social platforms can be leveraged to shape data driven strategies, can happen right here at home.
PIGGY-BACKING FOR IMPACT
The Art Gallery of NSW worked with Think China Australia to develop a strategy for their exhibition, Heaven and earth in Chinese Art earlier this year.
Linda Bretherton, Project Management Specialist, Public Engagement at AGNSW, said that Wong was quick to tell them not to set up a WeChat channel.
As Wong explained: ‘While we think setting up a WeChat channel is the ideal strategy, and it’s usually what we think of first, in this case we decided to go with a media influencer event. A VIP preview is a great opportunity for an organisation that can’t set up own its channels, for one reason or another, but still wants publicity – it’s the next alternative.’
It worked! Bretherton reported that through this strategy the gallery was able to achieve more than 200% of its visitor target. This number incuded 52% international visitors from China and Hong Kong, a significant increase on the usual 7% Asian visitors included in the gallery’s international audience figures.
‘What was really telling was that 53% said they used WeChat, outdoing Facebook, which was at 43% and is normally around 63%,’ reported Bretherton. ‘They found out about the exhibition on WeChat.’
She added that while the nature of the exhibition was always going to attract a large Chinese audience, it was the ability to reach that audience that was key.
Wong noted: ‘It is understandable that we are not all able to set up WeChat or Weibo, but you can use influencer events or third party media channels that have already set up their own channel and use that for advertising, even if you are a small organisation.’
UNDERSTANDING WHERE THE CHINESE DECISION MAKERS ARE
Key to building any Chinese tourism-focused digital strategy is understanding market segmentation.
‘A lot of time when we talk about a Chinese audience we lump them together. We know that there are segments among that: migrants who have lived in Australia for a number of years; international students at college or university here; families with kids who have immigrated – and are particularly interested in children’s and learning programs – and grandparents who come over to visit for the long stay,’ explained Wong.
‘As marketers and cultural institutions looking to target this audience we need to think about who is leading the conversation at home, and who is leading the decision making process,’ she continued.
The person targeted is not always the person always making the purchase.
– Charmaine Wong
‘If you are sick and go to the doctor, you don’t say “I need this medicine”. You will say, “I am sick and these are the symptoms, what can you offer,”‘ said Wong. ‘WeChat and Weibo are just tools in our tool box. There is also Little Red Book – a blogging and reviewing experience – and there are lots of Chinese news apps ….For a kids’ holiday program maybe targeting mummy bloggers or parenting blogs is more relevant than the city they used to live in,’ said Wong.
WeChat has 79% market penetration in China, and around the world 1.1 billion users are active each month.
Wong explained that when WeChat started in 2011 it was like Whatsapp, a messaging service, but since then many functions have been added, such as buying movie tickets, going shopping, ordering a taxi and bill paying functions. It is not just a communication tool, but is used across everyday life.
‘But if we are looking at a Chinese language audience, you have to make sure the content is customised for them,’ said Wong.
Wong’s four key recommendations are:
1. Make sure you choose an app for Chinese language audiences.
2. Be aware of the Chinese calendar and key festivals so you can package up existing activities into these moments.
3. You must make sure everything you provide to a Chinese audience is culturally appropriate. For example a client’s brand colours of navy and white send the wrong message, as they are colours associated with death, funerals and mourning.
4. Lastly, consider interpretation, which is very different from straight translation or Google translation (which Wong says is unreliable).
Wong used the example of an IKEA chair sold to the Chinese market on their tailored website. The chair colour was described as “rice-coloured” (which in Chinese is pronounced Mǐsè) rather than “Ivory” for a western market. Similarly, a cosmetic company described a blush pink lipstick as “Red Bean”, playing off a popular Chinese dessert.
‘You have to make sure what you are marketing is interpreted for a Chinese audience,’ Wong warned.
She noted that organisations don’t have to start from scratch: there are a lot of assets you can use for your Chinese audience – photography, video or animations can be reused.
Wong added that while targeting this market requires some adjustments, you should never translate your brand name or logo.
‘That is your identity and you don’t want to mess with that – that is how you are recognised, even to a Chinese audience. But a tagline you would traditionally translate, because there is so much meaning conveyed in it that is really hard to understand it to the fullest. You might have to do an alternative that is appropriate to the Chinese market and captures what you are doing,’ said Wong.
Leading the conversation in digital: Think China was presented at the Communicating the Arts Conference in Sydney, November 2019.
Article published on ArtsHub.com.au
The writer, Gina Fairley, attended as a guest of Agenda.