Adventures in Mobile Marketing

The Complexities of Email Marketing in China

After reviewing my notes of Day 2 of the MarketingSherpa Email Summit I noticed that all of the sessions were consistently value-packed and intense, which has left me exhausted, and with a celebratory “last day of school” feeling. The following is a run-down of the session I was most excited to attend,
Danny Levinson, of XZList, “Testing and Segmentation Strategies of a Chinese Weekly.” Danny has written: “The Chinese email environment is much more complicated than being able to send double-byte characters.” Also, while the title was regarding using Flash in a case study- you can read 8-page PDF white paper on his site, this blog post is more about special content he included for the Summit audience.

First, he reviewed the saturation of email and the internet, as compared to what we are familiar with in the US. These rates of communication tools:
-Email is 91% in Korea, and USA, but only 55% in China
-IM, though is 70%, and US/Korea is 39% for the USA, 47% Korea

Good things about email marketing in Asia:
- Anti-spam system is standard, so easy to manage compliance (CorpEase)
- Netease is a large internet company in China with a gaming site and online portal that is very popular (correction from original post comparing it to SpamHaus- thanks Danny)
- 97% penetration of IE (no macs, mostly outlook or outlook online)
- Note from the audience that Japan is big on Eudora, but he says that it’s going out of style

The challenges about email marketing in China:
- Those pesky ISP blocks, ISC, the Internet Society of China, created the CAN-SPAM-for-China, which is called “Green Email Inbox” (I absolutely love that translation). One effect is that marketers must include the word “AD” in the subject line for all business transactions email. Hong Kong requires having the physical address in emails. Depending on regional application from where you operate, unclear as to whether it’s promotion or advertising. If your’e a subscriber, we don’t include the AD, because it’s a “closed list”, but the boundaries are very gray. For example, Danny’s regular Cathay Pacific frequent flier program transactional email, has “AD” in the subject line, and they shouldn’t really have had to.
- It’s difficult for Americans to recognize the reason for blocking, which is usually clearly stated in the bounce email, because it’s in Mandarin characters, and if they don’t have the installed language pack in Microsoft operating systems, it won’t be rendered- just shows up as empty boxes. Also, then, if you don’t understand Mandarin, which you probably don’t since the language pack isn’t installed, then it’s impossible to forward to someone who does speak Mandarin for a translation.
- There’s a general low sophistication in online sales and negotiations, and general online skills, which can be truly felt when negotiating ad buys. He elaborated on this later, in regards to ad buys. On an email development level, it’s a constant challenge to find talented skilled local folks who can then help recruit and train others for short periods of time during boom projects.

He made an interesting point before diving into the case study about how China is not ONE market, it has distinct regional language and written language differences: In email, simplified Chinese- the block style looking basic Chinese that most of modern mainland China has embraced, including Shanghai, whereas you want to use the the traditional Chinese characters- more flowerly and ancient- in communications with Hong Kong.

Basic methods of campaign mechanics in Asia:
Pay to send
Fen (roughly a cent, 100th of a RMB)
- You can buy individual emails: 1-5 fen per user
- You can use a third party opt-in list: 4 fen to 1 RMB
- Or, you can send to isp/portal users 4-6 fen per user;
In general there are issues with co-registration, and combined registrations. For B2B, it’s also more expensive. See questions & answers below for a recommendation on B2B list acquisition. This seems to be XYzine’s main offer- managing list acquisition and list management in China.

Develop Relationships
- As compared to America where the occasional business dinner solidifies things, in China, the good meal does wonders. Danny noted that he had to become a tee-totaler and vegan due to the massive amounts of alcohol and meat and pork that were constantly part of his business lifecycle. This reminded me of a book I read recently about China, where you have a 3 hour meal to ask for a reference, which, as you can imagine seems a bit over the top to American business people.
- There is a high turnover in IT staff. It’s difficult to source staff when you need it, so creating relationships and leveraging resources, connections & interconnections, really helps localize American products.

Use Publication-based Lists
Stay away from dime-a-dozen lists, better than optin lists. The publication lists can also target your demographic.

Flash Case Study
It may make you squirm, the idea of embedding flash in American email campaigns, with our diverse varieties of email clients, operating systems, and browsers. In China, though, with a consistent use of Internet Explorer, Microsoft operating system, and the popularity of web portals, Danny as able to segment out his customer list and target according to their web client, and demographics of corporate clients, tailor the offer and technology (embedded flash) to that audience. They did layout testing- leveraging known issues with preview panes in some of the web clients- to further serve the client and create exciting creatives. Flash case study PDF is downloadable here.

Some of his domains to check up with:, (“now” in Mandarin), and His last note on the talk returned back to his theme, “Keeping up with the needs is the best thing to do, and that is by having a good meal.”

In general I thought it was well-delivered, concise, focused, and included very valuable tips on email marketing in China.

Questions from the audience…

Q: How do we manage optin policy across countries? We have only opt-in system
A: BBS social networking very large, recommendation is to partner with them, the co-reg’s (co-registration sites). There is always the issue of “who owns the data” with co-registrations, though, and how will they market to it, vs. your marketing. You never know how they will muddy it up. Also, the can-spam in china doesn’t require double-optin, just optout. Do site acquisition, the cleanest way to manage the list without co-reg’ing.

Q: What is the email regional size
A: Guangdong is the largest, internet population. Check where you can get the info.

Q: What is the distribution of the main webmails across China? Yahoo, hotmail, etc.
A: It’s hard to audit, so they all say they’re the largest, good statistic to remember: the average Chinese user has more than 5 email accounts.

Q: B2B question: are corporate users using these providors?
A: has a “VIP” area, which is fee-based, the marketer has to pay Cina, problem with emailing work email is that you may get blocked by a Chinese isp.

Q: Can you talk about the rise of pinyin as an input method in SMS, and campaigns integrating SMS and email, since the growth and use of SMS is so high? (My question.)
A: Yes- Everyone is using the Latin pronunciation of Chinese for modern devices as an input method. It’s an entire medium too- there are IM novels, mobile SMS & web-based instant messaging, and campaigns that integrate them, B2C use is great for IM, but B2B is great for corporate, mobile- and used more for point of sale interactions.

Comment from the audience: our company found a successful campaign was to SMS a demographically young engineer base with special the event information.

Q: How effective is text-based email, also her clients want more image and flash, any surveys/research on whether the simple works vs. images

A: Yeah, that’s the old question “why have such frilly subect lines in China?” that we had last year at this conference! There are lots of Chinese studies on how the sites are more text-based. Compare the Chinese sites to toolbars try to keep to 4 characters in navigations, for aesthetic reasons that he doesn’t quite get, but he trusts his designers. In regards to the text vs. HTML question, it’s a great question. He does multi-part, nobody sends text, and multi-part almost never understood nor used. Nobody understands the multi-part because it is so hard to demonstrate to the clients and users. This goes back to my earlier comment on low level of sophistication in skills. The banner ad sales are also not CPM, low sophistication again, because the folks making these deals can’t understand “pay per view.” Thus, ads are sold on a beginning and ending time frame, and manually swapped out of the page when the time ends. Remember, there’s only a 15% adoption rate for the internet in China. Their print newsletters make a lot more money because the contract negotiation is with something really tangible and that works the ad sales. Funny. Despite email marketing having a much higher penetration.

Q: How do I create a engineering B2B list?
A: Setup a microsite based on this, or access a portal- which are more popular there than here- in the US we have engadget and other vertical sites, but not like that in China. Folks really go to portals and spend all day there. Some have a business section there that would cater to your needs, so just go there and sell the ads.

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Written on Wednesday, 27. February 2008 at 03:06 In the category EmailSummit, mechanics, metrics, mobile. Follow the comments via RSS here: RSS-Feed. Share on FriendFeed

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  1. Great post. To add to your research, Singapore enacted the ‘Spam Control Bill’ which requires emails sent from within Singapore or sent to people in Singapore to have the subject line preceded with the characters if the email is unsolicited, in bulk and contains commercial intent. Unfortunately, it’s gotten a little more challenging because people who hate spam simply create filters that junk anything with the words . So it appears that the only SPAM Singaporeans get are from overseas. Total defeats the purpose cos legitimate marketers have to find more creative means to get themselves white-listed. Food for thought eh?

    Comment: Mark Claudius Png – 01. March 2008 @ 4:23 pm

  2. [...] to RT for sending me this blog posted about my speech last week in the U.S. about email marketing and advertising in China. It’s a pretty thorough description by Anna, who [...]

    Pingback: Complexities Of Email Marketing In China - BDL Media China Blog - Looking at the technology, media, publishing, and advertising sectors in China – 02. March 2008 @ 10:11 pm

  3. Mark- thanks, that does seem kind of ridiculous and prevents local businesses from leveraging email communication and revenue.

    Comment: banane – 03. March 2008 @ 12:25 pm

  4. Maybe one should look at another marketing opportunity and that is the emails we all send from our cor-porate email addresses every day. I represent a company that has developed a solution for just those emails and thus this post.
    The basic idea behind WRAPmail is to utilize the facts that almost everyone have websites (corporate and/or social network site) and also send emails every day. These emails can become complete market-ing tools and help promote, brand, sell and cross-sell in addition to drive traffic to the website and conduct research. WRAPmail is available for free (with 3rd party ads) or for a small license fee at

    Comment: Rolv Heggenhougen – 16. February 2012 @ 6:50 am

  5. Its such as you read my thoughts! You appear to know so much about this, such as you wrote the
    e-book in it or something. I believe that you simply could
    do with a few p.c. to force the message home a little bit, but other
    than that, this is great blog. A great read. I will certainly be back.

    Comment: Wilfredo – 21. March 2013 @ 10:10 pm

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