Lantern Festival near Yu Garden, Shanghai. Image credit: Wikimedia

By Courtney Gordner

American businesses are quite familiar with the benefits of using holidays to their advantage in order to draw customers to their establishments. Some holidays are practically treated as demanding individuals go out and shop. And for major holidays, you’d be challenged to go into stores and not see color themed items readily available.

It becomes tougher for some businesses to move abroad and know how to approach foreign holidays. Would excessive advertising be seen as offensive? Would certain marketing ploys cause a scandal?

In China, foreign businesses are learning that it is possible to market to Chinese consumers with pricing and themes inspired by holiday traditions and festivals. There are certain ways to go about this to achieve the desired effect and there are actions that should be avoided.


Do Your Research on Various Traditions

If you are new to the region and aren’t vaguely aware of non Judeo-Christian holidays, it would be wise to learn, and learn quickly. While it’s true that some Chinese consumers are aware of Christmas shopping and related traditions, these populations tend to be limited to the larger cities. In fact, only 1 percent of China’s population even identifies itself as Christian.

As for more traditional Chinese holidays, you’ll find a great deal of success planning marketing campaigns around a few of the more popular holidays.

For example, your business may offer proofreading services to those who need to be sure that the content being published is correctly spelled, precise and professional. Perhaps offer services for businesses and individuals participating in the Lantern Festival, when individuals will be writing messages, prayers, riddles and more on lovely lantern decorations. Perhaps your company can create its own lanterns.

If you are able to know about these holidays and research what other companies have done to make the most of the traditions, you are on your way to being able to better connect with Chinese consumers.


Do Not Assume Anything

As stated with regard to Christmas, it isn’t as popular a holiday in China as it is in the United States. A business in China shouldn’t assume that Western holidays and traditions will have the same priority to Chinese shoppers than local traditional holiday shopping traditions will.

It’s also ideal to not assume that you can only rely on existing holidays to create an ideal climate for sales and bargains. In China, some businesses have been known to “create” a holiday for shoppers.

These fake holidays were created by Chinese businesses being mindful of the social climate. For instance “Singles Day,” an answer to Valentine’s Day that focuses on those without significant others, saw billion-dollar profits as business establishments catered to those individuals who may not have had a girlfriend but did have money to spend.

Instead of assuming that Chinese consumers are only interested in traditional themed holidays, businesses that are on their game can even create opportunities with observation and creativity.

It would seem that American businesses have a great deal to learn from foreign businesses, especially as shopping holidays such as “Black Friday” experience major backlash.  While America is dealing with the negativity associated with this business-created holiday, Chinese businesses have only benefited from creating their own holidays. Understanding the difference between consumers in American and consumers in China is important. You should not advertise at Chinese consumers with the expectation that they will react to holiday shopping in the same way as American consumers.

Businesses trying to establish themselves in China should instead feel encouraged to move away from trying to bring Western beliefs and traditions into China and instead embrace and study the traditions that are already present.

In addition to helping a business garner success and make additional money, the research can help the business better relate to and understand Chinese consumer spending habits. It may also encourage cultural sensitivity and greatly reduce feelings of ethnocentrism.

China is a country rich in culture and history. It would be a shame for any business trying to gain a foothold in the Chinese market to overlook this while trying to sell itself to the Chinese public.


Courtney Gordner is a passionate blogger that loves sharing insight into news and law. You can read more from her on her blog: