THREE CHINA MARKETING PRIORITIES FOR 2019
With the new year fast approaching, we’ve looked at the key marketing challenges facing brands in China in 2018 and outlined key priorities that will help executives build a healthy, growth-driving and reputation-building communications strategy in 2019.
PRIORITY 1: KEEP YOUR BRAND IN SAFE HANDS
As in the West, working with celebrities or influencers (“Key Opinion Leaders”) is an essential component of successful marketing in China. But as free agents with passionate fan bases, they also open up brands to reputation risk, and it is important to understand the full picture before signing a celebrity or top KOL: Why are they popular and who with? What are their personal values? How will the brand react in times of negative press? Chinese millennials are looking at more than just a KOL’s look: behaviour, beliefs and positive change all drive real trust and respect in any given influencer. And in a field that is constantly evolving, relying solely on one name can be a risky game.
Read more about the ways you can keep your brand in safe hands in our “Deep Dive” feature below by guest writer Marianna Cerini — a prolific writer on Chinese fashion and culture, with works published in the International New York Times, Vogue Italia, CNN Style, WWD, Forbes, Refinery 29, Racked and more.
PRIORITY 2: TACKLE FAKE FOLLOWERS AND FAKE RESULTS
“Fake” was the buzzword of 2018 – but the issue is far from going away in 2019. In January 2018 the New York Times exposed the extent of fake social media accounts across western social media, with up to 60 million fake bots identified on Facebook (3%) and up to 48 million estimated on Twitter (close to 15%). The issue on Chinese social media appears even more severe, with KOL platform Park Lu estimating as many of 40% of Weibo accounts to be automated.
Buying fake fans, likes and comments in China is as easy as ordering any product on Amazon.com (or Taobao in China), and has resulted in an inflation of metrics across the board. In turn, this can put pressure on celebrities, KOLs and even social agencies to play up results with either fake or irrelevant fans that ultimately blur your understanding of real social performance, and could lead to poor investment decisions – for instance, paying more to work with an influencer who has more followers overall but fewer real followers than another influencer in absolute terms.
So what can be done? Despite periodical promises by Weibo and WeChat to carry out system-wide reviews of fake accounts, an efficient cull would not be in their own interest, and so the onus must fall on brands to separate wheat from chaff to get the most out their marketing budget. Remind yourself of the reason you are running social accounts, set targets aligned with this reason, and introduce methodologies to maximise authentic results that will create real business impact.
PRIORITY 3: THINK “GLOBAL” AND “INTEGRATED”
China’s media landscape has become fully integrated, and “traditional media” no longer exist in their own right. Take ELLE China, published by Hearst Media China: forty years from the launch of the print magazine in 1988, the brand now reaches 80 million monthly independent viewers on its website, close to 10 million followers on Weibo, and many more through its WeChat account, ELLEplus mobile app, ELLE active women’s forum, ELLE fashion ceremony and ELLE Merchants Bank co-branded credit card. With close to four million followers, Elle’s Editor-in-Chief Xiaoxue is an influencer in her own right — one of many influential editors and publishers who themselves enjoy social followings rivalling those of their own publications.
Like ELLE China, most media organisations across China broadcast daily across multiple channels and are highly open to brand collaborations covering marketing, advertising and PR activations. Top fashion publications are for the most part run like well-oiled commercial engines, looking to partner on projects that are either lucrative or beneficial to their reputation – preferably both. And like with any commercial venture, deals can be struck at global HQ level, or in China. All these factors require a global and integrated corporate structure for all brand departments to generate value out of any communication campaign.