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Looking east towards the Chinese market

FC Barcelona and the New York Times recently launched them – and so did Lingo24. We’re talking about Chinese websites, an essential tool for reaching this massive, and growing, internet population.

China has the world’s largest number of web users, and numbers are still growing fast. Last year, its online population increased by 11 per cent to 538 million, with mobile phones helping drive up use. This is still less than half the total population. And figures from Internet World Stats suggest Chinese will soon overtake English as the most widely spoken online language.

So it’s not surprising more European and American businesses are reaching out to the Chinese market. Lingo24 first set up an office in the country in 2004, with two staff members. We’ve seen steady growth in demand for translations into Simplified Chinese. Our brand new website will help us provide even more information to our growing number of customers there.

For the New York Times, it’s a great opportunity to reach the growing Chinese middle class. It describes its target readers as  “educated, affluent global citizens”.

FC Barcelona recently joined English Premier League clubs such as Manchester United in providing a dedicated website for Chinese fans. Its growing fan base in the country is estimated at around 1.2 million.

Many British businesses are finding success in the Chinese market, including food and drink companies. According to the Food and Drink Federation, exports of fish, dairy and meat products doubled last year, while chocolate and biscuits also showed strong growth – perhaps reflecting a more Westernised diet. Experts say the rise of ecommerce and easy transport links have helped drive this growth.

E-businesses still face some difficulties marketing in China. It’s impossible to ignore the government censorship laws, with tight controls maintained on the internet and social media. Twitter and Facebook are still banned in the country. That doesn’t mean the Chinese don’t love social networking – local alternatives including Qzone, Renren, Tencent Weibo and Sina Weibo are hugely popular.

It’s also important to consider cultural differences. Chinese consumers can often be reluctant to try foreign brands, and companies have to work hard to build up a strong reputation.

Some of the most successful global brands are adept at changing their products and marketing to fit each local market. McDonald’s is a good example of a brand that manages to be “globally local”. And wedding dress designer Vera Wang recently launched a range of red dresses – a “lucky” color traditionally worn by Chinese brides.

As British exports increase, and more of China gets online, this market is only going to grow in importance. A Chinese website can be the first step to reaching millions of new potential customers.

Christian Arno, Founder and President, Lingo24

Christian Arno is Founder and President of Lingo24. He started the company in 2001 after graduating from Oxford University with a degree in languages. He has won numerous awards including HSBC Business Thinking and International Trade Awards (2010), and TAUS Excellence Award (2012) for innovative technology. He contributes to leading industry publications and has been featured on the BBC, in the Financial Times and other media around the world.

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