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From Mobile-First to Mobile-Only: lessons learned in China

As today’s “wild wild west”, China is both fascinating and intimidating for many mobile marketers. Who best to help us navigate its challenges than Bertrand Schmitt, who started AppAnnie from China 10 years ago, and has since been measuring it become a behemoth of the mobile market?

To launch my podcast season “Growth Hacking is Dead, Long Live Growth Marketing”, I asked Bertrand to share what lessons we can learn from Chinese mobile apps.

Here are some excerpts. Tune in to the #GrowthHacking is Dead, Long Live #GrowthMarketing podcast to hear more.

“To capture that huge opportunity is a tough one, because the reality is, in China, there’s a lot of extremely successful local Chinese companies. They are going global, and there’s also a few global companies, like Amazon for instance, who are trying to play in the Chinese market. There, you will see huge companies that are doing really good. I’m not sure it’s a mobile first market anymore, probably a mobile only market in China these days.

Take Ali Baba: 80% of all their transactions are happening through their mobile app. So, what’s happening is you’re doing everything for your mobile app. You stop investing in anything else because there is less return, less benefit. You put an enormous amount of firepower in development and improvement of this app at every level.

Another piece is that UX expectations are really different from user expectations outside China. And that’s important to keep in mind. It was already true on the web; if you go to a website in China, in Japan, or in the US, you’ll see massive differences between western style of design and eastern style. This is something that is done as well in apps; the twist is that probably many Chinese companies have better apps than their western counterparts, at least it was the case initially, because its user base shifted massively and quickly to mobile. Just a few years ago some of the most massive global and internet companies were not yet fully into apps and not putting enough resources to really get to the level of user experience. I guess the gap has been bridged at this stage, but there are still really different styles of UX.

But it’s not just about UX. Think about online delivery in China – people’s expectations are already set that some of this should happen within a few hours, same-day type of deliveries. The whole ecosystem, whatever you might expect, or what you think is normal in this or that market, might be very different in China. It’s possible because you have a lower cost of labor, a very aggressive level of competition, and you have an ability to play and risk a very different business model very quickly. So, that’s also some of what western companies, or Japanese or Korean companies, have to think about before they go into the China market. Expectations are really set up in a different way at every level of the value chain that users are experiencing.

Another thing in the China market, and probably true in India as well, is that one could argue that mobile and apps are even more successful there because people didn’t have easy access to a PC or laptop. It would be a shared laptop, or it would not even be readily accessible. So people moved from no online connection to always-on mobile connection, and were ready to basically change habits pretty quickly. They were willing to do that because it was such a gap.

Take Facebook; it was initially designed on the web, and it had to commit to really transform itself for mobile and optimize itself. So China really benefited from some of these trends. It’s a huge user base, and also a base that was ready to make a big leap forward. It was not always the case with some other platforms. ”

Find out how you can apply these principles to your business – and scale up real fast. More of App Annie’s data in The Mobile Native’s Guide to Marketing.

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Aurelie Guerrieri

Aurelie is the Founder & President of Akila One, a growth-focused consultancy working with CEOs of digital companies such as LoopUp (IPO’d), Madison-Reed, Udacity, SimplyHired, Koru, FileRight. Most recently, Akila One helped Inventhys (IBM IoT channel) evangelize successful business models in IoT, MobPartner expands to the US and get sold to Cheetah Mobile, Viber to launch in-chat m-commerce, Deloitte to understand the impact of digital innovation on pharma, and IAC to increase its apps monetization double-digits. Earlier in her career, she ran Cheetah Mobile’s global B2B marketing and business development organizations, was instrumental in building QuinStreet towards its IPO, and grow SendMe to $120M annual mobile revenues. McKinsey-trained, she holds an MBA and an MSc in Engineering Chemistry. Aurelie is President Emeritus of Women in Wireless, which she grew to more than 12,000 members worldwide. Aurelie is the author of The Mobile Native’s Guide to Marketing, published with AppAnnie, and a sought-after conference speaker and contributor to media publications. In 2016, she was named one of 25 Mobile Women to Watch by Mobile Marketer, considered the most prestigious award for female executives in the mobile marketing industry.