Bryce Whitwam
May 28, 2015

China's real No. 1 brand didn't even make the list

This is the only brand that matters today in China.

China's real No. 1 brand didn't even make the list

No, it’s not Apple, Coca-Cola, Baidu or Tencent, but it’s a brand that has captured China by storm. This brand has left traditional advertising a long time ago and has stopped digital banner ads and websites. This brand puts almost all of its investment into mobile.

This brand is the Chinese consumer. 

Chinese consumers are really now committed to one brand: themselves, and spend a majority of their waking hours focused on building and promoting their brand to their circle of friends through WeChat. They also look to these friends for advice for purchase decisions, many of whom consider themselves experts. According to a recent MEC consumption-trends study, 31 per cent of consumers said they considered themselves as high-tech experts within their communities.

Mobile is the tool of the brand consumer and China now has leapfrogged other markets in hours spent on mobile devices, it’s replaced televisions and computers to become the sole entertainment device for video, games, chatting with friends and shopping.   

And now with the diminishing role of Weibo, combined with the restrictive WeChat environment, it’s becoming next to impossible to reach consumers these days on their favorite social channels. Chinese consumers are ignoring direct brand communications with a vengeance.

Some brands have given up entirely in the digital space or are just waiting at the end of the customer journey to engage. Marketing managers have long reacted to the transformation of the market through a radical shift in media spend towards digital, but some are now abandoning previous consumer engagement practices in favor of a pure e-commerce strategy because it’s the channel that can finally show top management that digital marketing spend works. Unfortunately, a pure trade-marketing ecommerce strategy cannot drive brand awareness alone and the result is often discounts to hit volume targets.

Those still in the game claim that they don’t do advertising but can instead rely on content marketing, which is really just a fancy term for something quick and tactical with low production costs that can be viewed on a phone.   Their rallying cry is “always on”, a strategy that simply translates to doing a lot more frequent communications because consumers now digest and abandon branded content in a matter of minutes and over a broad spectrum of channels.

Under the banner of “always on”, consumers are now so bombarded with mundane content that they generally ignore it. And it’s clear that no brand can deliver consistent, engaging and relevant consumer content on a daily basis, especially in China where content needs to be highly engaging to be effective.

It’s time brands stop with the “always on” and start getting back quality content that consumer’s value because they see it relevant to their daily lives. China’s consumers are looking for experiential consumption opportunities beyond product benefits, experiences that stimulate, educate and provoke. According to MEC, 84 per cent of consumers surveyed want more amiable experiences throughout the entire customer journey, which is an increase from 47 per cent in 2010. 

And yes, traditional retail still plays an important part in the experiential/validation process. GroupM’s 2015 “Winning in China” study shows an average of 30 per cent of ecommerce consumers still expect offline experiences through product engagement before purchasing online.

Branded content can be relevant when it’s positioned at the right place and at the right time, and that’s when CRM data and profiling come in. By combining consumer behavior with transactional data, brands can map customer journeys and tailor content messages. 

Agenda Shanghai’s recent campaign for Ecco Shoes, called the “O2 360 Challenge”, is a fantastic example demonstrating successful content marketing. Ecco partnered with Gortex to create a breathable, waterproof, yet comfortable casual shoe; but it needed people to come to the store and try them to close the sale. 

The “O2 360 Challenge” began with an awareness video using a famous travel blogger who encouraged his fans to go to the store and take the challenge for themselves to understand the waterproof capabilities of the shoe. An online simulation game was also developed to re-create the challenge using different weather conditions. 

In just one month 34,875 people went to the store to take the challenge. The brand sold more than 10,000 pairs of the shoe, selling out in the first week of the promotion. Engaging consumers both offline and online also impacted sales of all Ecco brands, as sales increased a whopping 300 per cent during the campaign.

So marketers shouldn’t need to worry if their brand didn’t make the top of the list. In today’s China, partnering with and engaging the real #1 ranked brand, the consumer, is what matters most.

Bryce Whitwam is managing director of Wunderman Shanghai




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