China e-commerce is expected to be worth $1.8 trillion by 2022 according to a report by Forrester. Discovering and deploying the right strategies for brand building is like driving a car on a sheet of ice: it takes a while to get any speed and steering and doesn’t necessarily mean a change of direction.
Building a brand that can penetrate the Chinese market means it must distinguishable from like products on the market. Although traditional ways to promote a brand in China can be similar to other markets, e-commerce is different there than other areas of the world and certainly requires a plan (China’s internet penetration has reached 59.6% as of December 2018).
Understanding Chinese E-commerce and Online Behavior
Most Chinese spend three hours a day on their smartphones, ranking second in the world, and mostly on social media and e-commerce platforms. Thus, brands with prominent mobile presence are gaining traction the fastest.
Second, China has a domestic substitute for most international websites and social media platforms. Several equivalents to Facebook exist including:
The biggest social media platform of them all is WeChat, which has an estimated one billion users in China, becoming a ubiquitous phenomenon that merges social and professional. WeChat combines a head-spinning number of functions with texting, digital wallet, e-commerce shops via official accounts, delivery tracking, review creation, VIP points management, powerful search, social fitness, news/media delivery, Facebook-like “Moments” sharing, and on and on. Every week, WeChat announces new functionality.
The social media landscape is highly dynamic with many new apps emerging and more established ones evolving. Successful brand builders in China e-commerce include leveraging social media as a part of their overall strategy.
Brand Building Strategies for China E-commerce Efforts
Consider these brand building ideas.
Short videos are adored by Chinese consumers with hundreds of millions of views each year. The short video platform Miaopai has become an attractive channel for short videos that represent brands. Also using Weibo posts (similar to Instagram stories) is another platform that can increase your brand’s visibility. Just remember these are five second videos, so make it count.
Omnichannel e-commerce is a necessity in today’s market. E-commerce powerhouses Alibaba, Tencent, and JD.com use this tactic after spending years of building up offline investments. Alibaba rolled out a “new retail” omnichannel policy in 2018, which as detailed by the company removes the boundary between online and offline (O2O) commerce to fulfil the personalized needs of each customer.
While this concept of the integration of O2O commerce isn’t new, the focus is on greater customer-centric engagement, achieved by using data technology.
Group purchases are growing in popularity and are based on the split/share model. The Pinduoduo’s social media model encourages a group of people to buy together for larger discounts. It now makes up a significant share of online sales for brands.
Generating Online Buzz
The generation and maintenance of online buzz is critical to brand building in China. You can do this with a consistent presence on social media platforms like WeChat, Weibo, Youku, and Tudou, as well as online shopping websites like Taobao. Brands are using news websites like Sine China and online communities like Douban for content placement. Content that resonates with buyers on these platforms is engaging, entertaining, and informative.
Be aware that consumers have the ability to provide immediate feedback on these social channels. Brands that are making headway here watch this in real-time to preserve their brand’s image.
Taking Advantage of the Right-Now Market
Nothing captures the essence of a right-now market more than the WeChat Mini-Programs. These are “sub-applications” within WeChat’s ecosystem. Brands are using mini-programs to create experience-specific e-commerce features without having to navigate a cumbersome website. When initially launched, the system had its share of bugs and growing pains. Within nine months, however, the program boasted 1M+ apps and developers (and still growing).
WeChat mini-programs are “disposable” real-time campaigns that can be posted instantly and removed just as quickly. Crafting a successful mini-program plays on the desire for consumers to have that product right now. Because of the success of WeChat’s mini-programs, other brands are following suit – like JD.com with its own mini-program developer kits.
Building a brand for the China e-commerce market will be a different experience than any other market. Let us be your brand ambassador to help with everything from strategy, platform set-up, transaction management, bringing goods into country, and more. Let’s talk today.