How Evernote Reached 4 Million Users in China Within 1 Year



It’s a million-dollar question: how can tech start-ups gain access to China’s huge market? That’s not an easy question to answer. China is culturally unique, and its Great Firewall, along with the rapid proliferation of cloned products, can trip up even the smartest companies. Google and Groupon are two notable examples of companies that have failed to establish a foothold in the Chinese market.

Still, there are success stories. Take Evernote. After just one year in China, the popular note-taking app now has four million Chinese users. In this Localization Insight post, we’ll dig into the story of Evernote’s localization efforts in China, and draw out some key lessons for bringing apps to the world’s largest country.

(Photo: source)


An Easy-to-Recall Chinese Name

Evernote launched its localized service in China in May 2012. In a blog post announcing the launch, Evernote unveiled its Chinese brand name, Yinxiang Biji (印象笔记), which means Memory Note or Impression Notes.

Instead of translating its name based on pronunciation—as Google did (Gu Ge 谷歌)—Evernote chose to base its Chinese name on the app’s actual function. This makes it easier to relate the product to its uses. As a bonus, Evernote built a memorable pun into its Chinese brand. The second character of the brand name, 象, means “elephant”—which just happens to be the logo of Evernote, making the brand name easier to remember.

In another savvy move, Evernote chose a name that’s easy for Chinese users to pronounce. In general, “L” and “R” sounds are difficult for native Mandarin speakers to say (which means that “Flipboard” needs to take more efforts on its Chinese brand name). Yinxiang Biji, however, is easy for Mandarin speakers to say, and easy for them to remember.Chinese characters

(Image: source)


An Overseas Data Center in China

Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote, has noted that the most common request from users in China is for faster, more stable, and more compatible customer service. But because of the Great Firewall of China, Chinese users who want access to overseas networks have to deal with slow connection speeds. So, because data centers are often located outside of China, synchronization can be slow and frustrating.

As part of its effort to win customers in China, Evernote established its first overseas data center there. Apparently, the best solution to the terrible connection speed between China and the U.S. is to host the service inside the Great Firewall.


Security and Privacy for User Data

A common concern among Chinese technology users today is limited security and privacy online. When Yinxiang Biji was launched, its China team wrote an open letter to potential users, highlighting that they would adhere to the three laws of data protection developed by Evernote CEO Libin: user data would be personal, protected, and portable. The company has emphasized its dedication to securing the privacy of user data since the very beginning. Furthermore, users can still freely choose between Yinxiang Biji and Evernote International if they feel uncertain about Yinxiang Biji’s security.


Original Features in the Localized Version Can Be Accessed Quickly

After the launch of Evernote China (Yinxiang Biji), users complained that many features supported in Evernote’s international version were absent, such as Share (shown in the image below), the IFTTT Feature, and Toolbox. In response, after just a month Yinxiang Biji started providing applications like Evernote Food, Evernote Hello, Evernote Clipper, and Evernote Peak. Now, Yinxiang Biji supports almost all of Evernote’s integration.A screenshot of China's Evernote

(Yinxiang Biji supports Skitch, Penultimate, Web Clipper, Evernote Hello, Evernote Food, etc.)


Tailor-made Features and Integration in China

Besides including features that Evernote already has in its international version, Yinxiang Biji has localized its product with features and integration that are tailor-made for China. Since access to the 3G network is still expensive in China, Internet users prefer accessing mobile applications through WiFi. Accordingly, Yinxiang Biji includes a “sync only with WiFi” feature for users in China.

Just a few months after launching, Yinxiang Biji released its API for integration with local apps. The Yinxiang Biji app store, launched in December 2013, doesn’t just target international apps such as Pocket and IFTTT. It also integrates with local apps such as Weibo, Duoguo (a restaurant guide website), and UC browsers.

China's Evernote version

(Yinxiang Biji’s Trunk: link)

Yinxiang Biji has also integrated with Weibo and WeChat in an innovative way. Yinxiang Biji users can save their clipped content through their Weibo and WeChat accounts by simply creating an integral account. Outside of China, Evernote had offered this feature for Twitter users, but the tool was unpopular, and Evernote phased it out. Since it’s very popular to use messaging apps in China, though, Yinxiang Biji’s developers made sure to include this feature.

Screenshots of Evernote clipped in phone message app

(Images of storing article in Yinxiang Biji via WeChat: source)

Although Yinxiang Biji’s integration with local social media isn’t perfect—for instance, it does not yet support the sharing feature for social media—developers have been proactive in creating apps for local use.


Localized Marketing Strategies

Yinxiang Biji also has marketing strategies tailored to the Chinese market, with an official blog and Weibo, and with content that is specifically targeted to users in China. For instance, Yinxiang Biji has invited users to write about how they use Evernote to make traveling easier. That content is sure to be popular in China, where traveling is all the rage.a screenshot of customer's review of Evernote

(Travellers Using Evernote Campaign: link)


Localized Customer Service

Evernote also takes pride in its customer service. As mentioned, people in China are heavy users of messaging apps. To better serve its Chinese users, Yinxiang Biji supports real-time customer support on local social media. While international users won’t always get a response from Evernote’s official Facebook page or Twitter account, users in China will consistently get a response when they communicate with Evernote’s official Weibo and WeChat accounts. That kind of localized approach to social media and customer service ensures that Evernote will be more attentive to the needs of its customers in China.

China Evernote screenshot

(Yinxiang Biji’s official Weibo account: link)


How to Run an App in China

Edith Yeung, VP of Business Development for Dolphin Browser, recently told TheNextWeb that culturalization is the key to success in new markets. Entering new markets is not just about translating a language—it’s about having relevant content and relevant services that are attuned to the culture of a particular country. That approach certainly characterizes Evernote’s strategies in China. What they have done goes far beyond a simple English-to-Mandarin translation.

From watching Evernote closely, we’ve come up with four major lessons for anyone trying to enter the Chinese market.


1. Think Global from Day 1

According to Libin, Evernote’s leaders have wanted to reach out to China since their early start-up days. Thinking globally for your app from day one is important, both in terms of product design and business development. Bringing your product to the world shouldn’t just be an afterthought.


2. Localize, Don’t Just Translate

Translating your app is just the first step in reaching out to new markets like China. You have research the new market, understand the environment, and develop integration strategies that are suited to a given culture.


3. Know that Chinese Users Are Chat App Addicts

In China, there are many issues you have to cope with: censorship, new user habits, competitors, lax copyright enforcement, and so on. But, as Evernote demonstrates, a few clever strategies, based on a careful observation of customer preferences in China, can help you reach new users. In particular, remember that messaging apps are very, very popular in China—much more so than in the United States. Integrating your app with local social media is a good start in bringing your product closer to Chinese users.


4. Get the Perfect Chinese Translation for Your Brand Name

Brand name translation is not about getting something exotic to put on your logo. Your brand should already have value even before people hear the translated name. And the name shouldn’t just be a direct phonetic translation—it should be something that will be memorable, appealing, and easy to pronounce for Chinese customers. To use a Chinese idiom, having a good brand translation is like getting the dragon a pair of eyes.


Your turn!

Is your product available in China now, or are you planning to bring it here? Do you have anything to share? Feel free leave your comments below!

More Resources

[Analysis] What to learn from @Evernote “China Strategy” & Execution – Another extensive analysis of Evernote’s strategies in China by Chenyu Z. Provides some excellent detail on WeChat-Evernote integration.


Localization Insight is a blog post series written by OneSky that offers cutting-edge insights into localization in the mobile and web application industries. Please stay tuned by subscribing to our blog!


Reference: Geekpark (in Chinese), Techweb

Featured photo credit: Connie Ma

Patrick Yip

Patrick Yip is the former Head of Marketing at OneSky. Heavily attracted to any brilliant growth strategy, well-crafted content and the idea of making the Internet globally accessible.

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2 Responses

  1. Derek says:

    It is really a great achievement of Evernote, It is not easy to reached 4 million users in china within 1 year. Keep it up and also thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  2. Anna Finke says:

    Is there any way to use Chinese servers when within China? I registered originally in Germany and am using evernote now in China. It’s incredibly slow, sometimes taking hours for small syncs.

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