5 Tips for Recruiting App Users in China


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By Matt Tubergen, EVP of Global Strategy and Business Development at Digital Turbine.

China has seen a massive surge in cell phone production as part of a nationwide effort to increase research and development spending on major technological breakthroughs by 7% per year from 2021 to 2025. It is part of the country’s ‘century transition’, which aims to drive economic growth forward.

The average smartphone in China has more than 60 apps. Users there spend 5.1 hours a day consuming and creating content. There are many opportunities for app developers and advertisers in the field of Chinese smartphones.

Here are five tips for recruiting smartphone users in China:

1. Understand Privacy Laws

One of the challenges marketers face when it comes to recruiting users in the Chinese market has to do with privacy laws, which may soon be even stricter than in the US when it comes to data collection. The new Personal Data Protection Act (PIPL), similar to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, entered into force on November 1, 2021 and has changed the way data can be used.

It not only determines how data is collected, stored and used in China, but also imposes requirements on companies located outside of China. That includes passing a safety assessment performed by government agencies.

It also requires foreign companies that process personal data to provide products and services to Chinese consumers and analyze the behavior of Chinese consumers to have designated authorities or representatives in China to manage the protection of personal data.

2. Locate, Locate, Locate

There are some unique barriers to: app developers and advertisers who want to enter the Chinese market. It is critical to carefully examine an app’s user interface and experience in order to locate it appropriately for China.

Developers should keep in mind that apps in China have a very different look and feel to what we’re used to in the US. Even professional apps designed for businesses have a busier look and feel. toy-like design and anime-like characters. Apps designed for a Western audience don’t “look good” to a Chinese audience and aren’t used very well.

In addition to various app standards, apps require a minimum of six licenses and permits. For example, because almost everything in China goes through WeChat, an app needs a WeChat login, which requires a license. Apps must also be in Mandarin, although they may also have an English interface.

3. Navigate Different App Stores in China

Since China-based OEMs have been banned from Google Play, along with many major Google Play services, they are developing their own ecosystems. They create their own app stores, ad networks, payment platforms and distribution services.

Android has more than 70% market share in China, and there are many different app stores to download Android apps from. None, however, is Google Play, which isn’t even pre-installed on Android phones sold in China. It is a challenge for developers to create dozens of distribution models rather than relying primarily on the Apple Store and Google Play.

There are services and providers that can help developers transfer games and apps to a range of app stores, such as Flexion. They take on a lot of complexity and challenges.

Other challenges:

Publishing multiple Android Package Kits (APKs) per app store makes managing them more complex. The support of different app stores can mean different billing platforms that are separate and different from each other. Each app store can have different price points for merchandise. It is possible that further embargoes could mean more blockages.

4. Payment methods in China

It is important to understand how payments are made in China. Chinese citizens rarely use debit cards, credit cards or cash. They pay almost exclusively with a QR code on their phone, whether it’s a big ticket, a utility bill, or a snack on the street.

A PWC survey found that in 2019, 86% of the Chinese population used mobile payment apps. That is by far the highest percentage in the world.

More than 90% of mobile payments are made via the “super apps” Alipay and WeChat Pay, and they are cheap and easy to use. Super apps are widely used platforms that provide access to a wide variety of services – everything from ordering groceries to making a doctor’s appointment, calling a taxi, refunding a friend and managing your finances. They eliminate the need to have multiple apps for different services.

5. Capture the Chinese app user experience

Besides “all in one” apps, which combine several services in one app, the user experience in China differs in other ways. For instance:

Chinese apps tend to use brighter colors than we are used to in the US. QR codes are everywhere – to add someone to your contacts, pay, login to websites and ads. Even street vendors accept payment via QR code. Chinese apps accept Latin characters as search terms and return Chinese language results. You can use both voice and messaging with chatbots.

Take advantage of the strategies above – by localizing content, designing an app specifically to Chinese standards, researching the necessary licenses and permits, and understanding Chinese payment methods, to name a few – app developers and advertisers can help recruit users on the huge Chinese market.

Matt Tubergen is the EVP of Global Strategy and Business Development Digital Turbine.

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