Jul 9, 2014

China's digital drivers: Digital platforms a slam dunk for Li-Ning

PROMOTIONAL FEATURE: Catherine Teng explains why digital platforms can be more valuable than traditional channels in giving sports enthusiasts a real experience of the brand.

Teng: Online followers “are advocates for continuous brand improvement”
Teng: Online followers “are advocates for continuous brand improvement”

For sports brand Li-Ning, digital platforms are now the most important engagement channels for reaching target audiences. Chief marketing officer and group vice-president Catherine Teng says social networks and digital venues have already overtaken traditional media to become the “new brand experience platforms.” 

The firm continuously invests in growing its digital capabilities, which are aimed at providing the brand, product and sports competition experiences that consumers seek, says Teng. 

Li-Ning’s digital platforms are also intended to support the full online and offline marketing and customer engagement process, from brand recognition to actual purchase.

Li-Ning, which takes its name from its founder, a multiple Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast, has accumulated a large number of loyal users on WeChat and other social networks, who act as brand ambassadors. “They broadcast their good feelings about the brand and also are advocates for continuous perfection and brand improvement,” says Teng.

One of Li-Ning’s biggest breakthroughs has been the signing of Miami Heat National Basketball Association star Dwayne Wade. ‘The Way of Wade’ (WoW) platform is now building a presence in the North American market as well as at home, according to Teng. 

WoW China generated interaction with more than 40 million consumers last summer through the launch of limited edition products and a series of online and in-store events, which set off a surge in sales.

Teng says WoW exemplifies the company’s efforts to put digital at the core of its entire sales and marketing process, using online orders to drive consumers to retail stores. 

But she cites other examples, such as in basketball, where the company has leveraged its position as senior sponsor of the Chinese Basketball Association. Last season, it built an online game in which fans could choose their own name and number to create personalised CBA jerseys to go into battle alongside their own team and stars.

Li-Ning has also combined online and offline for running shoes. It sponsors 10km races around China, and its online platform allows runners to share this and other experiences, while also encouraging consumers into its retail points. 

Another initiative has been the ‘Let’s shine on-campus’ campaign in partnership with Renren, a popular social network with students. To support this, Li-Ning also struck a co-operation agreement with influential style website Yoho and signed up celebrities such as movie star Cheng Kai.

More than 100,000 people took part in discussions online, in turn influencing the 24 million student visitors, Teng says. Thanks to social network use, more than 60 per cent of browser traffic and visitors came from non-advertising sources. 

Teng sees opportunities arising from the coming wearable technology revolution and the extension of affordable smartphones into rural and other difficult-to-reach consumer segments in the region.

But digital technologies also bring fresh challenges, such as how to balance the traditional and digital media mix across different tiered cities and communities with very different levels of information access.

Teng says her prime responsibility is to build a “powerful brand asset” and to lead the company’s brand growth strategy. 

Her priority is to develop brand categories and also to create “different kinds of brand experiences for consumers.”

Prior to joining Li-Ning, Teng was managing director at General Mills Taiwan, and before that spent six years as the regional franchise director for Johnson & Johnson.

She came into marketing almost by accident. Her early academic training was in liberal arts, but her first full-time job was as an assistant brand manager at P&G. “Since then, I have had opportunities to work on different brands in different markets. I still feel new and excited to learn how to effectively communicate a brand to target consumers.”


  • 2012 Group vice-president and chief marketing officer of the Li-Ning brand
  • 2009 Managing director, General Mills Taiwan
  • 2003 Regional franchise director, Johnson & Johnson
  • 2002 Marketing director, Greater China, P&G


Sophia Ong, national planning GM, Tencent Online Media Group

The core audience for sports brands is youths, who are also the most active social networkers. Social networks make it easy for brands to enter consumers’ lives and, using celebrity endorsers, create a ‘fan-based economy’. This can help increase brand loyalty and promote online sales. The biggest change is the use of mobile to connect online and offline experiences. During the World Cup, Tencent will conduct interviews with sports stars and organise interactive commentaries via WeChat to create more opportunities for brands.



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