Many brands, when attempting to enter markets outside their home country, consider establishing a new official website and translating the website into the corresponding language of the target country. However, in China, due to the restrictions imposed by the ICP license, this strategy is not feasible for many overseas brands. So, what is an ICP license? For overseas brands without an ICP license, how can they enter the Chinese market without a brand’s official website?

What is an ICP license?

ICP license refers to the “Internet Content Provider License” issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) of the People’s Republic of China. Any business website that operates for profit or provides profit-making platforms to others must apply for registration and record filing with the MIIT.

The Importance of ICP

Having an ICP license means that the platform has completed the registration and obtained the qualification for legal operation. In other words, an ICP license is a necessary requirement for your website to be indexed by Baidu, the major search engine in China (as Google is not allowed in China).

Of course, overseas brands can choose to host their websites on servers located outside China, which, in principle, does not involve conducting internet information services within China and therefore does not require an ICP license. However, hosting servers outside mainland China can result in significantly slower website speed and greatly reduced user experience. Furthermore, some websites hosted on servers outside mainland China may not display their content completely to Chinese users, which significantly undermines the credibility of the website.

Conditions for Obtaining an ICP License 

ICP licenses are divided into two categories: for non-profit websites, ICP filing is required, while for for-profit internet information services, an ICP commercial license is needed. For overseas brands, if you want to apply for an ICP license for your company, you must have a registered company or office in China.

Is it possible to conduct digital marketing in China without an ICP license?

The answer is yes. Even without an ICP license and a Chinese website, brands can still engage in digital marketing in China and achieve success.

This is related to the online habits of Chinese internet users. In China, users are not accustomed to using brand websites and tend to rely on comprehensive platforms for information. Therefore, rather than visiting individual brand websites to access product and brand information, Chinese consumers prefer to follow official brand accounts on social media platforms such as WeChat, Xiaohongshu (Red), Douyin (TikTok), and receive regular updates. Similarly, instead of making purchases directly on brand websites, Chinese consumers prefer to shop on comprehensive e-commerce platforms such as Taobao,, Tmall, and others.

The good news is that for overseas brands, it is possible to engage in digital marketing and cross-border e-commerce in China through various channels without the need to establish a physical presence or register a company in China.

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Social Media

In China, consumers are not likely to choose products they have never heard of before. Therefore, brand awareness and reputation are crucial factors influencing consumer purchasing decisions. Social media platforms in China serve as the best places to build brand reputation, and establishing official accounts across multiple platforms helps establish brand authority in the minds of consumers.


WeChat is the largest social media platform in China.

WeChat is the largest social media platform in China, with a daily active user base of 1.09 billion. It is an essential social media platform for Chinese people. Overseas brands can create WeChat Official Accounts and WeChat Mini Programs on WeChat to communicate with consumers and potential customers.

WeChat Official Accounts function similarly to brand blogs, providing channels for new product releases, brand public relations, customer service, and even coupon distribution. Once users subscribe to WeChat Official Accounts, they receive automatic updates on the latest content, helping strengthen brand awareness among users.

WeChat Mini Programs, on the other hand, are applications embedded within the WeChat ecosystem. Consumers can browse products, view product details, add items to the shopping cart, and even make direct purchases within WeChat Mini Programs, without the need to download a separate app or open a browser. Compared to WeChat Official Accounts, WeChat Mini Programs are more flexible and resemble traditional mobile brand websites, offering consumers a better interactive experience.

Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book)

Xiaohongshu is an important platform for product recommendations in China, primarily focusing on visual and written content. Chinese consumers highly value the reviews and recommendations from fellow users on Xiaohongshu when making purchase decisions. Therefore, for foreign brands, Xiaohongshu serves as a crucial platform for building reputation.

little red book : popular KOC KOL platform in china

To establish a strong reputation, foreign brands need to create an official certified account on Xiaohongshu and consistently share content. Additionally, collaborating with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) or Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs) is essential to leverage their fan base and influence in order to enhance brand reputation.

Douyin (TikTok)

Douyin, the largest short video and live streaming platform in China, boasts over 920 million daily active users. Foreign brands can open certified official accounts on Douyin, where they can share short videos and conduct live streaming. It is also important for brands to collaborate with KOLs or KOCs to tap into their influence and gain better brand exposure.

Search Engine

As mentioned earlier, not having an ICP license means that foreign brands cannot establish an official website in China. However, the absence of an official website does not mean that brands cannot perform search engine optimization on Baidu, the most important search engine in China. On the contrary, due to the lack of an official website, positive exposure brought by authoritative institutions becomes even more important for enhancing brand authority.

Baidu Baijia Account

Even without registering a company or having an office in mainland China, without an official website or an ICP license, foreign brands can still create a certified official account on Baidu Baijia and regularly publish articles. This helps foreign brands have an official channel of communication on Baidu, the leading search engine in China.

Press Releases

Brands can also collaborate with news agencies to release press releases, using these official communication channels to indirectly prove the brand’s authority and gain more exposure. Common press releases may include brand participation in industry exhibitions, awards received domestically and internationally, the use of patented technologies, and the adoption of ESG initiatives, among others.

General e-commerce Platforms

Compared to ordering directly from brand websites, Chinese consumers tend to prefer learning about products on social media and making purchases on general e-commerce platforms such as and Tmall. This not only eliminates the hassle of registering on various brand websites but also allows them to benefit from the complete logistics and return systems provided by these e-commerce platforms, giving consumers peace of mind when making purchases. Therefore, many foreign brands, even if they have established official websites in China and obtained ICP licenses, view their websites merely as authoritative showcases and do not expect to generate direct orders through their websites.

In China, overseas brands without registered companies can engage in cross-border e-commerce business through platforms like Tmall and

Tmall International

Tmall Global, a platform under Alibaba, is the most trusted platform for Chinese consumers to purchase imported products. As of now, there are over 29,000 foreign brands from 87 countries and regions that have joined Tmall Global. These brands cover more than 5,800 categories, with over 80% of them entering China for the first time.

There are two types of listings on Tmall International:

  • Tmall Self-Operated Stores: Brands act as suppliers and sell their products to Tmall, which is responsible for sales and related services such as delivery.
  • Brand Flagship Stores: Brands open their own stores on Tmall and pay fees to have control over the creation, management, and operation of their stores.

JD International

JD International is a brand under JD Group that focuses on cross-border trade of imported products. It has gained a high reputation among Chinese consumers with its efficient logistics services.

There are two types of stores on JD Worldwide:

  • JD Self-Operated Stores: Products in self-operated stores are purchased, transported, and sold by JD itself. These products are marked as “Self-Operated” on their product pages. Brands can leverage JD’s logistics and after-sales services.
  • JD Flagship Stores: JD Brand or exclusive authorized merchants can open flagship stores on the platform. JD charges an annual fee and is not involved in store operations, except for merchant management and customer service (refunds, complaints, etc.).

In summary, while an ICP license is a prerequisite for establishing an official website in China, not having an ICP license does not mean that brands cannot engage in digital marketing in China. You can still conduct successful online marketing activities through social media, search engines, and general e-commerce platforms.

STAiiRS is a French company specializing in digital marketing services with extensive experience in the Chinese market. Whether you want to increase brand awareness, boost sales, or gain further insights into the Chinese market and engage with potential consumers, we can provide you with comprehensive digital marketing solutions, ranging from handling ICP licenses to social media and search engine marketing.

Contact STAiiRS to know more digital marketing information in China.