Nielsen’s research shows that the most mobile-friendly brands in China today are Apple, WeChat, and Baidu (the worst being H&M, Omega and Ofo). Do you agree? If so, what are they doing right?
Heaven Zang, vice president of PingCoo Technology:
The three names on the top of Nielsen’s table are undoubtedly the biggest names in the mobile era. Apple is one of the greatest companies of this century, which defines innovation and inspiration, and it is now a cornerstone of how we imagine the mobile age would be. WeChat and Baidu, of course, are now in day to day life brands that we interact with and can’t live without.
I believe these brands' success in mobilisation is a result of their enormous data, and the user understanding this generates. Any brand that wants to challenge these three in the mobile age needs to be able to unleash the power of their own data.
Others I'd add to this list of strong mobile contenders, to name but a few: Xiaomi, which connects homes to a mobile app; Starbucks, which serves coffee online; and Nike, which leverages the power of mobile to establish its own community of athletics.
The worst three Nielsen listed, however, may not be my listed names. I reckon the word “worst” is a bit harsh for the three brands.
My spontaneous feeling is that Ofo, as one of the symbols of the mobilization era, should not be on the worst list. Ofo comes under the umbrella of Alibaba group and has dozens of partnerships with Alibaba Apps, which offer quite a flexible user experience. For example, people whose Huabei credit in Alipay is over 750 can rent Ofo bikes without any deposit.
As for H&M, the survey’s result shows that they are not yet well mobilized. I believe this relates to H&M's offline-based sales model. The consumer decision journey and all the comparison processes can take longer on mobile platforms so we can deduce that H&M shoppers prefer shopping in offline scenarios.
Omega, on the other hand, is a premium brand with strict criteria for exposure in high-end environments. Thus I can hardly say mobile would be Omega’s first choice.
We clearly see, and everyone says, that mobile is the future. However, I personally wouldn’t encourage every brand to go digital, or 'go mobile' too aggressively. When planning brand mobilisation, every brand needs to pay much attention to its positioning, tonality, consumers’ preference, segment, market features and so on, otherwise, mobilisation will result in a great loss of the original customers.
Tom Birtwhistle, director of digital strategy, PwC:
It’s no surprise to see the technology and internet brands—Apple, Baidu and WeChat—lead the list. Their entire businesses are built on being able to continuously create world-class digital experiences. WeChat, specifically, has a razor-sharp focus on a mobile-only consumer experience.
In China, mobile is the sun and everything else revolves around it. Over 80% of all e-commerce transactions are on mobile and 90% of Alibaba's 2017 Singles Day GMV was mobile. Today, nearly all brands have responded to this shift with a mobile-first user experience design. Typical examples include optimising the User Interface (UI) for mobile, which includes heavier use of icons, swiping navigation, ultra-fast loading times and prioritising photos or video over text.
Beyond design, we also see brands optimising for mobile browsing patterns that are much shorter than desktop. For example, L'Oréal designs its brand experiences so they convey the key message in just two seconds. We also see the use of location-based advertising, which takes into account the context (location, time of day or weather, for example) of the consumer. Harbin Beer, for instance, uses Meituan-Dianping's location-based advertising platform to target beer drinkers and provide recommendations on nearby restaurants or KTV locations including coupons to drive conversion.
A new shift we are seeing, however, is the emergence of mobile-native experiences. This turns our considerations of the device from an interface into the primary access point. A great example of this is WeChat mini-programs, which enable brands to integrate offline touchpoints with digital experiences including local navigation and discovery, bookings and payments, content, games and coupons. For example, Walmart's 'Scan and Go' application enables shoppers to scan a barcode on items in-store and pay directly within WeChat - eliminating the need to queue up at a cash register.
Benjamin Wei, managing director of GroupM Mobile China:
While I use Apple, WeChat and Baidu apps almost every day, I have never installed the worst ones from Nielsen's research. The winners are easy to interact with, they care about every single 'finger-move' on mobile, and they upgrade regularly according to customer complaints or suggestions.
They have become daily necessities in consumers' mobile internet lives, having successfully trained and educated consumers about surfing apps. Any brand that comes after will have to follow similar user experience models, or get rated as 'unfriendly.'
The 'least-friendly' brands listed here are not that bad, however. I'm just not used to their navigation methods, layouts and interactions. All those unconscious habits I've picked up from the popular apps have become ingrained.
Which mobile platforms can really make or break brands in China? Can you give us any branding examples?
The market is dynamic and what's new, cool and game-changing changes faster than ever before. Today you are in, tomorrow you might be out. In our scope, we would consider highly the mobile platforms (media) that distribute content in the freshest, effective, and even most astonishing ways. Three years ago, that platform was WeChat Moments; two years ago, it was live-streaming; one year ago, it was 15-second videos.
The market is a colosseum where every player keeps showing off new weapons — and every new weapon must be handy. Brands should be wary when selecting platforms that represent niche markets. They might open the gates to a new class of consumers, a minority community or a brand-new consumer need. One recent success story is HaiDiLao, the hotpot restaurant famous for distinctive consumer service. After uploading millions of videos on the music video platform and social media network DouYin, it is now known as an 'open kitchen' where consumers can try their own DIY recipes.
To a lot of brands, going for a niche market via mobile platforms may seem like a one-way ticket to success. But changing positioning always comes with the risk of losing an advantage in previously successful platforms, which could easily break a brand.
I would suggest that sophisticated brands develop their own mobile assets. We have seen many cases in which brand-owned mobile assets, as a complement to paid ads, successfully delivered brand information and broadened sales channels. My client L’Oréal launched in 2014 its try-it-on app Makeup Genius (千妆魔镜), for example. With the help of AR tech, L’Oréal was able to vividly demonstrate the product colours and textures through a front camera. Back when Snapchat stickers were just starting to become a global thing, the pioneering APP was helpful in new product launch, user engagement, community establishment, and sales, with a great saving of media cost.
China's media ecosystem is complex. On one hand, you have massive platforms like WeChat, Weibo and Youku with monthly active users that exceed 500m. You also have a diverse landscape of high growth vertical platforms that typically cater to specific media formats or consumer segments. On the media side, these include: Bilibili in live-streaming, Douyin in short form video and Toutiao in news. Segment-specific platforms include BabyTree for mothers, Little Red Book for fashion, or Pinduoduo for second-hand goods. Having a presence on the platforms is not the hard part, however, the key is to develop and execute a content strategy that engages your target audience. For example, Adidas used Douyin for its sub-brand AdidasNeo as it wanted to target a younger audience. Posts on the platform feature local celebrities in authentic environments, which are less polished than the mainstream content on Weibo or WeChat.
Claire Zhao, general manager of mobile strategy, GroupM China
In my opinion, what has made or broken a brand in recent years is not one single mobile platform but a whole business operation model with internet genes and boosted by venture capital. Take a glance at the names frequently mentioned in the business news in the last two years: even the popular beverage brand Luckin Coffee was backed by an operational team from an internet company (Shenzhou Zhuanche) and up to US$1 billion in venture capital.
But if I had to name one mobile platform as critical to brands, it has to be Tencent's WeChat, which basically is the one single app that connects almost everyone in China, fulfilling all possible demands within the world of social. From one perspective WeChat is no longer a service app, but a management app – you can manage the people in your work and your whole life via WeChat. This is one reason some people are starting to use WeChat less, to escape from this ‘universe’.
Apart from WeChat, if brands want to achieve good performance, the most critical platform will be the vertical players in their respective fields. One of my friends works for a US pizza brand, for example. Their China office in Shanghai was about to close down because of the poor performance. Then the management decided to try the top three takeaway apps - Meituan (美团), Baidu (百度外卖) and Ele.Me (饿了么). They not only tripled their sales, they end up saving the business for APAC.