China’s mobile market is notoriously difficult to penetrate. Case in point: right now, nine of the country’s top ten highest-grossing iPhone apps come from Chinese developers. But in February, an app from Brazilian developer Movile called PlayKids managed to crack the top 5 grossing list in the “kids” category. How did a foreign entertainment and education app start raking in downloads and cash in the Middle Kingdom? I spoke with PlayKids head of global expansion Eduardo Henrique to find out.

License the right content

First and foremost is licensing local content. Henrique called this “the most important adaptation.” “All content that you see on PlayKids is different country by country,” he said, “because we bring in local content to adapt the platform for the local market.” That might seem obvious, but which content will appeal to Chinese kids isn’t always clear, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of offering only foreign content and marketing the app as one of the billion other “English learning” educational apps out there.

To find the right content, PlayKids did its research and came across Chinese content provider Beva. Beva was perfect for PlayKids, Henrique says. “Their content is very focused on kids under five, [which] is our target,” he told me, “and they’re a huge success in China.” Beva’s 20-billion-plus views across China’s streaming platforms convinced PlayKids that they were the right content provider to partner with, so the company licensed a lot of Beva’s content. The result, as PlayKids’s app rankings bear out, have been very well received.

Translate your content and your marketing

Wholesale translation into the local language is another important step, according to Henrique, and that doesn’t necessarily mean going word-for-word. All of the app’s spoken audio was re-recorded in Chinese; no corners were cut. But PlayKids also came up with a Chinese-language description and screenshots for the Chinese app store, and these marketing materials aren’t just translations of the English app store content. “The [Chinese] description is totally different,” Henrique said, because it places more emphasis on the importance of educational entertainment and the educational activities in the app. That’s hugely important, he said, because the app description and screenshots on the app store are usually the first thing your users see. PlayKids hired local experts and did focus groups to figure out what sort of marketing appealed most to Chinese parents.

PlayKids has also partnered with local ad networks including Tencent’s and Baidu’s, and Henrique said the app is also moving into Chinese social media. “In the West we use Facebook a lot, but we don’t have Facebook in China so we have to adapt the marketing to the local players.” That’s why PlayKids is setting up a WeChat account that will begin operation sometime this month.


Localize your culture

Another key to success: adapt to the local culture! PlayKids is a Netflix-like app that allows kids to watch episodes of various education kids shows, Henrique told me. But because young children can’t read, the app is navigated visually with a cute train: each boxcar attached to the train can be tapped to open up a show or educational game. But in honor of Chinese new year, PlayKids gave the app an (optional) visual overhaul for Chinese new year, complete with traditional colors, lions, dragons, lanterns, and fireworks. That may seem like a simple thing, but for children—who are often drawn to and comforted by the familiar—it’s a big deal.

Understand the differences, and move fast

I asked Henrique what he would recommend other app developers interested in China do if they want to enter the market. “My advice first is to understand the local differences,” he said. “So hire a Chinese country manager that will help you to plan how to localize the product. That’s mandatory.”

“The other advice is that you have to move fast,” Henrique continued. “In China, competitors are extremely agile […] You have to adapt fast and innovate fast because your competitors will copy you, and if they are more adapted to the local market you will lose the competition. So launch, iterate fast, launch new versions, listen to your users, and innovate fast.”

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