This is the final part of my 4-part series looking at Chinese platforms that you might not have considered before for your China marketing. Today I’m going to look at how you can leverage Toutiao’s AI to target Chinese consumers for your brand.
Toutiao (AKA Jinri Toutiao, “today’s headlines”) is an online platform dedicated to sharing diverse news stories and information. It uses machine learning to analyse individual reading preferences and tailor content to each user, boosting relevance to maximize engagement.
Basics of Toutiao
Website: Official Website
Parent Company: ByteDance
Monthly Users: 200 million (info per 5/2019)
What is Toutiao?
Toutiao is an AI based news aggregator, which has often been compared to Flipboard, although as is usually the case in this kind of comparison, Toutiao actually offers more possibilities for advertisers than it’s western so-called counterpart.
Users have an endless feed of news and videos selected by artificial intelligence, personalised according to a their location, interests, reading history, clicks and browser history, and even phone model. This is a sharp contrast to what readers are offered on state owned media platforms. The recommended content includes articles about music, videos, gaming or shopping, not only about current affairs. This curated feed allows marketers to leverage Toutiao’s AI to target Chinese consumers for their brand.
Who makes up the Toutiao audience?
As you can see from the image below, it’s male dominated, meaning that topics such as technology are always popular. Users also tend to be well educated
The platform also offers the option for paid content, where the most popular purchased categories are finance, parenting, health, workplace skills and Chinese history.
Where is the content from?
Toutiao distributes rather than creates their own content so the origin can be from official state news sites, traditional media or companies. Since 2018, Toutiao has a cooperation agreement with Buzzfeed, making their content partially available also via the platform.
Compared to many other platforms, Toutiao doesn’t have such a “busy” user interface – there is no messaging, and users are mostly here to read (although they will also see content from other Bytedance apps, such as Douyin, in their feeds.)
Why use Toutiao for advertising?
Toutiao differentiates itself from other news aggregators in China with power of its AI and powerful data analysis. The AI assesses preferences based on the individual reading, viewing & search history, combined with information on interests and hobbies to come up with accurately targeted content for users. This includes related topics in the tailored feed. If you use this properly, you can leverage Toutiao’s AI to target Chinese consumers – be those existing clients or potential new ones.
Toutiao is also a cost effective way to do advertising in China, due to the detailed targeting which is possible – it can be 2-3 times cheaper than Douyin or 5 times cheaper than WeChat image
There is the possibility for you to upload the traits of your target users from an existing database and for Toutiao to use those factors to identify lookalike audiences for you.
This level of personalisation practically guarantees that your ads are always shown to the right users whatever your industry. Ads are blended with organic content, which increases the levels of user engagement.
3 Key Ways to do Marketing on Toutiao
There are 3 key ways to do marketing on Toutiao
- Content marketing
- Cooperation with the platform
Again, there are 3 main options here, meaning that you have huge flexibility as an advertiser and can tailor your ads to fit your audience’s preferences. Make sure you use this to leverage Toutiao’s AI to target Chinese consumers for your niche.
Information flow ads
This is the most common kind of ad where banner ads are interspersed within the feed of a user. These kinds of ads can be in the form of an image, a carousel or a video.
Full page open ads
These open up on the full screen of a mobile phone, to have a strong visual impact on users. This is a premium option.
Page Detail ads
As with information flow ads, these can be made in different formats to best fit the interests of your users. They appear on the product details page after a user has finished reading an article or watching a video.
If the consumer clicks on the link, they are taken to a landing page about the product.
Toutiao Brand Account
Brands can manage their content via an own official brand account which will allow them to engage with users directly.
In the beginning, brand accounts on Toutiao simply synched with the parallel Weibo and WeChat accounts to further distribute the content to additional traffic. This method is still often used and has the advantage that it doesn’t really require any extra resources within your team.
The other option is to create customised content specifically for Toutiao (although you can also drive traffic to a WeChat account from there) if you are able to have a separate strategy for the platform with the resources to generate (even) more content.
Cooperation with Toutiao KOLs
Since a couple of years, Toutiao places value on high, quality original content, so brands are encouraged to cooperate with KOLs who produce such content. These kinds of cooperations can really drive brand awareness as well as traffic to the brand account.
The KOL may prepare an in-depth review of a topic related to the product, or make comments showcasing your brand in a positive light, whilst demonstrating their own expertise.
Direct Cooperation with Toutiao
If your brand has sufficient budget then there is also the option of cooperating directly with Toutiao for short campaigns.
Eg. Marvel did this for the Avengers 4 release in 2019, with a gamified campaign that combined online and offline.
During 2020, Toutiao took steps to move closer to becoming a super-app and to challenge the big 3 of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. They used they geo-location AI to offer users recommendations based on local tastes such as food, fitness offers or jobs available in the vicinity.
Cooperation was also the name of the game in 2020 as Toutiao started with livestreaming and ecommerce cooperations. The platform also worked with partners to bring events such as fashion shows or industry conferences to their users.
The platform also took steps to drastically reduce clickbait and fake news, ensuring a high quality user experience for users.
How to effectively leverage Toutiao’s AI to target Chinese consumers for your brand?
Toutiao is an excellent place for you to advertise your brand if you are targeting well-educated (often male) users in upper tier cities. Compared to other Chinese platforms the cost per click is extremely reasonable and users are more focused and engaged.
During 2020 even an increasing number of older readers (= 46+!) moved to consuming content also via Toutiao, and the number of users grew by 7.1% year on year.
As with any social media platform, Toutiao will give the best results if you have a targeted strategy and content creation programme (& of course budget). Presenting readers with your brand stories written in a concise and engaging manor will drive more engagement than simply showing an ad. In order to retain customers’ attention for your brand content, you need to offer the stories in a variety of formats, as with other media.
Use the power of the AI statistics to work out which kinds of content work best for your audience and tweak future content to better meet their requirements. The main advantage of Toutiao over say Weibo is that you can do such precise segmentation and targeting of your customers so leverage this to get maximum return on your marketing spend.
China’s big data systems offer extremely detailed targeting, especially on Toutiao, so you need to take full advantage of this, whilst at the same time delivering your target audience a never-ending stream of fresh engaging content about your brand. You probably need to engage the services of a specialist to do this for you as Chinese consumers are permanently “content hungry” but also extremely sensitive to any signs of cultural tone deafness.
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