Plugging the holes

Marketing to the Chinese Canadian market isn't easy. In addition to avoiding the common problems, like picking the wrong agency, selecting the wrong medium or using the wrong strategy altogether, you need to ask yourself 'what have I done to leverage my customer database?'

Marketing to the Chinese Canadian market isn’t easy. In addition to avoiding the common problems, like picking the wrong agency, selecting the wrong medium or using the wrong strategy altogether, you need to ask yourself ‘what have I done to leverage my customer database?’

In my opinion, when it comes to customer relationship management (CRM), Chinese consumers are not much different from mainstream Caucasians, or any other ethnic customers. In fact, because these people are less familiar with their new environment, weaker in the English language, and have fewer business and personal connections in Canada, CRM should play an even more important role in reaching them than the mainstream.

A strong customer database allows you to keep customers by reacting quickly to those who are unsatisfied; customer feedback gives you first-hand, reliable information that can lead to innovation in your products or services; and more information allows you to prepare for future customers.

Best of all, CRM is cost effective. With regular contact, you can focus your marketing efforts on existing and prospective customers accordingly. For maximum return on investment, you can even develop different marketing strategies for reaching different groups, reducing the waste incurred by sending a single message to the masses.

What kinds of marketers need CRM in their marketing mix?

Marketers with a large existing customer database who add a sizable number of new customers each year. Marketers in fast-paced, competitive categories. Marketers whose products enjoy a high frequency of consumption and marketers who sell high-priced items. Not to mention marketers who use indirect distribution channels to reach their end users.

Thus, there are many categories that should consider using CRM in the Chinese market. These include cellphone dealers and networks, automotive dealers and auto manufacturers, residential and business phone line companies, insurance agents and companies, brokers and mutual fund companies, travel agents, airlines and cruise lines.

Unfortunately, to my knowledge, most of these marketers do not have CRM programs dedicated to their Chinese customers right now, and they do not conduct regular and formal research surveys to learn more. Instead, they form vague ideas about the Chinese customer purely based on irregular and non-statistical input from their Chinese salespeople. The worst thing is they continue to blindly pour their A&P dollars into the market. But as the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu said, ‘Knowing others, knowing yourselves, you shall win every war.’

Specifically, in the Chinese-Canadian market, some CRM methods work better than others:

Fact sheets and newsletters

Chinese customers feel uncomfortable talking to strangers about personal or financial matters until a solid trust has been built. Let the customer get to know you first.

Personal direct mail with product information

They will feel totally respected and cared for by the marketer when they are treated as important clients.

Advance notice

Direct mail pieces announcing advance previews, sales or receptions are welcomed by the Chinese customer.

The personal call

To follow up after a sale or to get more feedback, the telephone is a better tool than the mail-in questionnaire.

Greeting cards

Sending a card is a good way to express your appreciation of their business and to demonstrate cultural understanding.

To successfully keep your Chinese customer and to enjoy higher returns on investment, you should also ask yourself the following key questions:

* How well do I understand my Chinese customers?

* How frequently do I conduct a survey by mail or phone to get to know my Chinese customers?

* Do I have any customer service training for my frontline salespeople? Any regular monitoring of their performance?

* Have I ever updated and analyzed my customer database? What kinds of conclusions can be drawn?

In general, the CRM methods that work with Caucasians will also work with Chinese customers. However, to overcome the language, cultural and psychological barriers of Chinese Canadians, it has to be done sensitively. The 80/20 formula is always right – we believe it is much easier to keep and expand the existing customer list than to get new customers all the time.

By plugging the holes in your overall communications strategy and reaching out to the Chinese, you can expect to achieve a much higher return on investment and much healthier growth.

Cleve Lu is CEO and strategist at Markham, Ont.-based Era Integrated Marketing Communications (formerly Era Advertising), a multicultural integrated marketing communications firm. He can be reached at (905) 474-5944.