Does mobile mean on-the-go? That's not always the case, especially for Chinese consumers. My recent report, Chinese Mobile Consumers Are An Attractive But Unique Audience, tells how mobile marketing differs in the largest smartphone market in the world.

Marketers see great potential in Chinese mobile consumers for three reasons:

  • It's the largest smartphone market in the world, and it's growing fast. According to Forrester’s global smartphone forecast, China’s smartphone installed base will pass the 500-million mark in 2014, more than the US and Western Europe combined.
  • The number of mobile Internet users has skyrocketed in China. It surpassed the number of PC Internet users in June 2012 and is growing twice as fast as the number of overall Internet users. In 2013, the mobile Internet population accounted for more than two thirds of the total online population in the country.
  • Chinese consumers appear to be among the most sophisticated mobile users in the world. According to our Consumer Technographics® data, more than half of online metro Chinese mobile users access the Internet via their devices several times a day, and a quarter daily. These numbers are higher than those of even major metropolitan cities in the US and UK. Metro China also takes the lead in advanced mobile activities, including social networking, downloading and using apps, purchasing products, and checking finances.

However, Chinese mobile users are not always addressable as expected. Because they must deal with slow Internet speed on the go, they:

  • Typically perform sophisticated mobile tasks over Wi-Fi. Forty-four percent of Chinese mobile Internet time — including both mobile Web and apps — is spent on Wi-Fi, which is Chinese consumers’ connection of choice for tasks that require fast and reliable data connections, including purchasing products, processing emails, and watching video.
  • Are less likely to use the Internet on the go. It’s not just the slow data connections that limit Chinese consumers’ out-of-home mobile use. Even in top-tier cities like Beijing, providing Wi-Fi hotspots in major public areas is still under planning and at least a few years away.
  • Flock to data-light apps, especially mobile messaging apps such as WeChat. By time spent, Mobile QQ, WeChat, and Weibo are among the top five mobile apps used by Chinese consumers. Mobile messaging apps also dominate in terms of adoption in general: 91% of metro online Chinese mobile consumers have used instant messaging apps on their mobile phones.

It’s challenging to succeed with mobile marketing in China, not only for multinational corporations (MNCs) that want to enter the Chinese market but also for local players.

  • For MNCs: Sophisticated mobile marketing programs that succeed in the West won’t work well due to the immature infrastructure.
  • For local players: The city-tiered approach that Chinese marketers mastered well in traditional and digital marketing won’t work for mobile. Why? Because consumers of all levels of mobile sophistication can be found in all types of cities — and even in rural areas — and engaging them will require a nuanced understanding of a marketer’s particular audience.

The report provides the guidelines to create customized mobile marketing strategies in China to help marketers overcome these challenges and engage Chinese mobile consumers more effectively. I hope you enjoy the report and welcome your feedback. My follow-up report, “Mobile Marketing Fundamentals In China” will publish in Q2. Stay tuned!