I’m Giada, I’m from Italy and I’m 24. I’m a sinologist, I’ve been studying Chinese and China for six years. So, my education has been completely focused on China, from my bachelor’s to my MA. I graduated in 2020 with a double degree at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, where I studied for my last academic year. However, due to Covid-19, I had to move back to Italy and start my career in Europe.
Which profession are you introducing today, and why did you choose this job?
Now I’m the sales and marketing manager for Asian markets in an Italian company in the sports business. I chose this job first of all to challenge myself: could I have the skills and know-how to open an Italian company to the Chinese market?
How did your journey in China begin?
When I was in China, I worked for a marketing and IT agency for three months and I discovered that I really wanted to help foreign companies to succeed in the Chinese market. So, I decided that even my final dissertation would be focused on this topic. In a certain way, COVID-19 helped me, because many companies understood the importance of cross-border e-commerce and digital marketing to penetrate the Chinese market. Hence, I studied the Chinese digital ecosystem for a year, focusing especially on WeChat and how foreign brands could approach it from outside China.
Tell us more about the working conditions like? (Salary, leadership style, stress) Good things/bad things.
The working conditions in China were cool: my first job in China was an internship and the thing that surprised me the most was that I had a salary! In Italy, we have a different situation because internships are not always paid, especially when you are a student. Moreover, the atmosphere in the company was so relaxed and exciting. I learned many things and I understood how Chinese people working routine!
How is it to work in Europe with a Chinese mindset?
My experience is about working as a flexpat in Europe, but with a Chinese mindset. Covid-19 has two consequences on my professional career: 1st, I need to come back home, but 2nd, I found a job for an Italian company that wanted to enter the Chinese market. In summer 2020 I was the only “China expert” in the company: we worked the Official Account on WeChat, publishing contents in the Chinese language, we connected with many customers, we found some distributors and now we have some potential resellers and a couple of Key Opinion Customers that give us reviews about our products and share these feedbacks with their friends.
Sometimes it can be hard for people to believe that a foreign girl could work in the Chinese market without being in China, without any Chinese people in the team, and without investing a lot of money in advertisements. This is why I have decided to track all the records in an e-book that will be published in the coming weeks: “Turning the Pinwheel. Creating your pathway through WeChat in China”.
My experience wants to demystify some myths like the fact that you need to open a Tmall shop to sell cross-border to Chinese customers, or that foreign companies need to build a physical presence in China. Thanks to my work experience in China, my studies and research, and even the support of a visionary boss, I had the chance to experiment a different approach: building a strategy for WeChat from outside China and with the minimum investment.
In my opinion, there are some key essential elements that really make the difference. In my e-book, I talk about the TTLA method: trust, testing, logistics, advertisements. First, people need to trust you, so speaking Chinese is crucial. Moreover, ask their opinion about the brand, the customer service and so and so forth, make customers feel relevant to the brand. Second, each business and target have specific strategies, so test the best ones and keep going. Third, cross-border e-commerce could be very insidious if you do not consider the logistic department. Finally, advertisements should be planned a step further, when the audience is well defined, and the websites optimized.
How did you learn Chinese?
I believe that as a foreigner, you will never stop studying and learning Chinese. It’s not about HSK levels, but it’s about learning how to use the language in business. What I can suggest is to do the effort of communicating, write, read content in Chinese. Especially if you want to work for the Chinese market, you need first to learn the slang of your business sector and, if you work with social media, do some research about how customers define some products. Moreover, dealing with Chinese customers could be hard if you don’t speak Chinese fluently. So, I can suggest making a glossary of keywords, key sentences, and vocabulary for each of your sectors, so you can learn, improve yourself and interact with customers.
Another tip could be listening to podcasts, videos and reading articles in Chinese about your field of interest, focusing on-trend topics. It is weird to say, but as a flexpat that now lives in Europe, I’ve improved my level of Chinese thanks to my work: when I was in China, I spoke Chinese, of course, but in these months far from China, but close to Chinese speakers, I had the chance to both challenges myself and learn more Chinese words.
Lastly, remember that it is not about language itself but culture: especially if you are a flexpat who doesn’t live in China, you may not have the fortune of being immersed in the Chinese culture, so it is important to study it hard. Business etiquette even online is important: how to approach new customers online? What to say? What level of formality did you need to keep? What I have learned is that Chinese customers are a bit cautious with foreign brands and people, so be humble and kind, tell them a story, maybe a bit of your story, and then ask what they think about the company or the brand. This approach is quite positive, and the client feels important to you.
Last bit of advice for flexpats?
To conclude, I can say that flexpats could help foreign companies to enter the Chinese market from outside China. You just need to consider a few elements:
1. speaking Chinese and knowing Chinese culture;
2. keep in mind that Chinese social media are complex to manage, so it is essential to find the right strategy;
3. focus on the product and on Customers, then on advertisements and KOLs;
4. never stop learning: Chinese social media evolve month by month, as well as consumers’ trends;
5. to turn the pinwheel, it is indispensable to keep growing and find a new way to succeed in the market.