Bryce Whitwam
Feb 14, 2022

Chinese culture carriers now the secret to building brands in China

SHANGHAI ZHAN PODCAST: Julien Lapka, China insights guru and founder of the agency Inner Chapter, advises brands to move beyond investing solely in Chinese KOLs and evolve into establishing relationships with Chinese cohort groups.


“Tapping into passion groups is the best way to amplify your brand in China these days”, says insights expert Julien Lapka, “because KOLs often just build short-term awareness, and not long-term brand equity.”

“Building a brand that will last needs to be completely revisited here,”says Lapka, who urges brands to reduce their reliance on influencers like Austin Li.  “He is in complete control of the growth of your brand.”

Brands in China that rely on famous KOLs often face a huge surge of growth within their first launch, but are unable to sustain it afterwards.  With over 300,000 different brands competing on e-commerce platform, Taobao, it’s both challenging and expensive to drive repeat purchases.

Lapka recommends using data points to determine nodes of influence that will serve as an opportunity to tap into common interests and passions that become the foundation of building cohort groups.  Lapka calls these groups “Culture Carriers”.  “It takes more time, but once it catches on, these groups will be happy to share information about what they are consuming”, says Lapka.

Lapka mentions The North Face and Hey Tea 喜茶 as examples of brands effectively using Culture Carriers.  “Gone are the days where you launch a foreign brand in China via an expensive CCTV spot.  You need to focus on cohort groups or a specific geographic area to be successful.”

Julien Lapka

Lapka also warns that brands should distinguish between GenZ insights from Chinese Tier 1 cities and the rest of the country.  “The whole ‘lay-flat’ 躺平 movement as a rejection of societal pressures and hard work doesn’t apply to most of China where there are numerous fresh graduates who are more focused on finding work and paying high rent,” says Lapka.

Julien Lapka's full interview is available on the Shanghai Zhan podcast, a "raw, lively, and regular debate about China tech, advertising, creativity and the intersection of it all", hosted by Ali Kazmi and Bryce Whitwam. The podcast is now available now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, Xiao Yu Zho and via RSS.

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