Helen Roxburgh
Jan 29, 2018

CNY 'great migration' equals opportunity for mobile-savvy marketers

With millions of trips made by road, rail and sea, the Lunar New Year holiday has created a captive mobile audience for marketers.

Chinese passengers returning from the Chinese Lunar New Year crowd Nanchang Railway Station on 12 February 2017.
Chinese passengers returning from the Chinese Lunar New Year crowd Nanchang Railway Station on 12 February 2017.

In excess of 3 billion trips were made during the lunar new year holiday period last year, the largest annual human migration in the world. This staggering mass movement during chunyun included over 2.5 billion road journeys, 356 million train journeys, 43.5 million trips made by boat and 58 million plane journeys. Beijing West train station saw almost 15 million travellers pass through its doors in the annual rush.

The weeks before and during Lunar New Year are traditionally a time of gifting, overeating and over-drinking, and this unprecedented period of travel offers brands a unique chance to reach out to customers—not just travelling in China, but increasingly overseas too.

Chinese consumers spent RMB 462 billion during the 2017 Lunar New Year holiday, surging 48.1% year on year, according to collected data from payment processor Union Pay, totalling over 343 million transactions during the holiday. Most of this went on travel, eating and tourism—transactions linked to public transport and tourist attractions soared 33.7% and 29.1%, respectively, as more Chinese spent the week-long holiday travelling.

According to Alibaba figures, the daily average transaction on its shopping platforms Tmall and Taobao during the New Year has grown by 42% and 36% year on year respectively between 2016 and 2017, showing consumers are increasingly receptive to spending at this time of year.

Consumers are increasingly attached to their mobiles during the holiday, with 760,000 digital hongbao being sent every second on the eve of Chinese New Year—46 million given altogether over six days of the holiday. Mobile payments jumped 21-fold on the previous year, according to UnionPay, as the consumer’s mobile phone becomes an essential part of the New Year spending tradition.

People waiting at Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station on February 15, 2015 (AFP)

The travel habits of consumers during this period can help marketers target holidaymakers. With more location-based targeted marketing and geo-location capabilities, there is greater potential than ever for brands to reach mobile-happy crowds as they move. So understanding travel patterns is a big opportunity for brands to use the research behind travel and reach out to Chinese tourists during the Lunar New Year.

“When it comes to festive holidays, mobile devices are essential in consumers’ daily lives while travelling,” says Victor Wu, CEO at Vpon Big Data Group. “Reaching tourists via mobile devices is key not just because of the high stickiness, but more importantly, mobile device can capture data far more accurately and comprehensively. Mobile allows us to collect the data from both cookies and device ID, a more in-depth behaviour data, including the geo-location identified by GPS.”

Research by Vpon has found that the clickthrough rate of mobile adverts in travelling destinations was on average 25% higher than when Chinese travellers were at home. In addition, during the Chinese New Year travel period in 2017, there was a fivefold increase in the number of Chinese travellers logging into their mobile phone while abroad.

Successful cross-border marketing campaigns led to a 260% increase in the number of overseas transactions from Chinese tourists, according to American Express figures, and Vpon analysis suggests Chinese tourists abroad are most responsive and active digitally in the morning and the night time, suggesting this is the most effective time to target consumers when they are travelling.

Reaching overseas consumers in landmark destinations has become a key marketing tactic too, especially locations like New York’s Times Square, which has become a popular destination during Chinese New Year. Chinese brands have chosen to place adverts in Chinese on the famous boards in the hope that tourists will share them on social media, and become loyal spenders both abroad and at home. Chinese milk giant Mengniu posted an ad there during the Lunar holiday last year, as did lower-profile Chinese brands.

“Thanks to the mobile nature of the device it allows us to trace the Chinese tourists’ footprints across the globe, enabling us to deliver them the mobile ad throughout their entire travel journey; pre, during, and after-trip,” adds Wu.

Over chunyun, many travellers also spend long hours on trains and buses, with nothing but mobile phones for company, marking a great opportunity for mobile advertising.

“The most important rule is to engage with the consumers where they want to be engaged with you and when it comes to China, mobile is everything,” says Ofri Cohen, managing director for APAC at Emarsys. “Especially when all the nation is on the move, mobile plays a critical role in the competition for the consumer’s attention.”

The capacity to target consumers on the move presents potential to push coupons to travellers in the vicinity of particular restaurants and stores, attract travellers to individual tourist destinations, advertise a particular tourist bus—all as the consumer nears the relevant locations.

“Given a short travel period, elevating the impulsiveness of the Chinese tourists is the key,” adds Victor Wu. “Particularly for brands who would like to bring more O2O activities, increase footfalls, boost coupon download rate and drive purchases, the ad message has to be straightforward and impactful, able to trigger their immediate actions.

“We can reach the audience who is now currently at the travelling destinations and has previous exposure or engagement to the ad in their pre-trip stage. We can also prospect the Chinese tourists who are currently at the traveling destinations by detecting them geo-location to broaden the reach.”

Brands have also used less high-tech ways to reach travelling consumers. Mengniu, which used a fleet of branded shuttle buses to bring travellers home to remote regions of China as part of its ‘Happiness Moment’ campaign. The campaign, which included research of its consumers over their Lunar holiday travel plans, also included virtual letters and dinners for those who couldn’t make it home for the holiday, and sent travellers away with a gift package of Mengniu goods and products. The campaign had over 3 billion media impressions and 17.5 million site views.

Travellers at Chenzhou Railway Station, January 2017. He maofeng / Imaginechina (AFP)

Savvy brands can capitalise on the emotions of their consumers during this time of travel and journeying. In an emotionally-charged video advert last year year, airline Jetstar offered to waive fees and fare charges for those with flights booked for the Lunar New Year, encouraging them instead to spend time at home with their families.

Marketers also suggest that as most tourists start planning their trips two-three months in advance, this is the key time for brands to start targeting tourists, and introducing concepts and marketing themes, rather than just targeting them when they are actually on the move. Brands need to build a relationship with their consumer in advance of the holiday, and maintain it afterwards.

“We have noticed that tourists are rarely take action when they first see the mobile ad; they are being influenced by multiple ad exposure,” Wu adds. “Therefore, intensive communication along during their trip is essential, while LBS (location-based service) targeting to a small area would undermine the effectiveness of the strategy.”

“This opportunity must be exploited as part of a long-term strategy rather than by ad hoc efforts,” agrees Cohen. “The more we know about our customers before the holidays, the more accurate we can get by optimising the content, channel, engagement time, incentive and all other aspects that makes a campaign really personalised, during the holidays.”

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