With most of China’s families still limited to just one child, the country’s babycare market is a high consumer involvement category. Or put another way, it is a segment where online channels are even more critical for selling items such as Kimberley-Clark’s Huggies diapers. That is the view of Gary Xie, marketing director of Kimberly-Clark China’s baby and childcare group. Xie is responsible for brand marketing, online digital marketing and what is called professional marketing, or selling to hospitals and medical professionals. He also oversees the product development team, which is a mix of both local development and foreign adaptation.
He explains that almost every mother in urban China is a new mother with pressing information needs. “As soon as a mother gets pregnant, she will start off online. The search engine is the entry point for the brand and online is a very important channel for diapers, much more so than for any other FMCG product,” Xie says.
Expectant mothers will then go through vertical websites and forums to get information from others about diapers and babycare in general. Huggies will place ads on some of those sites as well.
But digital is also a channel for brand building. “I put quite a bit of priority on the digital channel,” says Xie. It accounts for more than 30 per cent of his spending, “much heavier than other categories”.
Social media is an essential part of the mix. In China it now includes video, microblog platforms such as Sina Weibo, and the latest star app, WeChat, which has 300 million users. Built by internet and gaming company Tencent, it is similar to other mobile messaging apps, but with some social media features, such as the ability to share content.
Xie notes that unlike other social media, WeChat doesn’t have a commercial model. “You can’t do mass branding on that channel.”
However, it means he can engage directly with his customers. Because of its size and popularity among urban Chinese, it is an important platform for reaching Xie’s target customers, middle and upper income mothers in tier-one and tier-two cities.
WeChat is also a way for consumers to build a connection with the brand, Xie says. His team uses online and offline channels to promote its WeChat account. That includes TV, online TV and office building TV commercials. “Then we try to make friends for the account.”
At the moment, WeChat is playing a central role in a campaign to help mothers locate baby-changing rooms in cities. “It’s very difficult for mothers to find public changing room or public areas,” Xie says. “So we helped build a database of baby-changing rooms in big cities.”
It is a user-generated database. “When mothers find a nice place, they can also report that to us,” says Xie. “Then we release this information on our social media platforms.”
The changing room campaign started in early November, and is already seeing some success. Sales growth rose 40 per cent in the first month, although Xie admits that this was only partly attributable to the campaign.
But aside from the topline results, he is happy with the high reach and positive feedback the campaign has generated. “The brand is really helping customers solve some problems. They feel engaged with the brand.”
Xie’s role at Kimberly-Clark is a major one. The babycare group accounts for more than half of the company’s China sales. He joined the firm in 2006, and prior to taking up his current post in June 2012, he was marketing chief of the family care group.
Looking ahead, Xie says he expects that television will remain China’s dominant channel for media consumption for some time yet. “But the increasing importance of online [media] means you need to pay it more and more attention, and put money behind the channel.”
Online mobile has also grown strongly over the past two years, but is still in its early stages, Xie believes.
The debut of 4G in 2014 will likely push it along, but it has some way to go as a marketing platform in China.
- 2012 Marketing director, baby and childcare, Kimberly-Clark China
- 2006 Marketing director, family care, Kimberly-Clark China
- 2001 Senior brand manager, Danone Biscuit China
As well as providing targeted reach, online video ads intensify brand exposure. Recently an e-commerce provider’s marketing efforts in the drama ‘Hot Mom’ caused brand preference to rise by 18 percentage points. Many advertisers seek to integrate video, social and e-commerce platforms, for example by embedding QR codes in video ads that take users directly to WeChat’s in-app payment service. WeChat’s role here is one of sales conversion, by connecting brand and consumer in a closed-loop marketing strategy.
Sophia Ong, national planning GM, Tencent Online Media Group