China’s brand owners are shifting from search advertising to paid content that spurs impulse purchases from comparing products, according to Newrank and CTR.

Research from the social data analytics business points to content on social media platforms, rather than search engine optimisation, bringing higher marketing returns in China.

For example, brands are now more likely to put money into WeChat, Toutiao or Douyin ads than on Baidu search. The Newrank report grades WeChat Official Accounts highly, as the main channel through which users want to hear from brands, followed by WeChat Mini Programs and short-form videos.

Meanwhile, a report from market researcher CTR expects search advertising to fall from 20% of online spending in 2018 to 15% by 2020, while sponsored content will grow from 24% last year to 35% next year.

WARC data shows a similar trend for search spending, the share of which has been falling since 2014. While search spending is forecast to grow 10.4% this year to RMB161.5bn, total internet adspend will increase by 15.4% to RMB390.8bn – search is growing but can’t keep up.

The best method for sales conversion, says Newrank, is a comparison of product characteristics with competitors, with 53% of fans citing it as the main purchase reason.

The same Newrank survey found three categories – consumer electronics, financial services, and automobiles – achieved more results among male Chinese buyers when using content marketing. Females responded well, unsurprisingly, to sponsored content upselling cosmetics and clothing. (Indeed, in WARC’s Effective Content Strategy Report 2018, creating a point of difference through content, especially in highly commoditised sectors, is key.)

Here is a reality check for marketers: Chinese consumers may consider search a first port of call when making purchase decisions, but less than one-fifth of search activity in the market is for brands or products. They are more focused on ‘life issues’ rather than brand names when they opt to search (for more, read WARC’s Think beyond brands for effective search advertising in China).

Sourced from Newrank; additional content by WARC staff