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Product promotion in China: how to get the most bang for your buck

November 12, 2019 |   Ada Wang

Yesterday was Single’s Day, China’s – and the world’s – largest shopping extravaganza. At the end of the event, gross merchandising value (GMV) stood at 268.4 billion yuan ($38.3 billion), an increase of just under a 26% from last year. Given the success of the shopping festival, it’s no surprise that many brands wishing to grab the attention of Chinese online shoppers are eager to jump on the bandwagon.

At Sinorbis, however, we strongly advise our clients against this. Last year, around 180,000 Chinese and international brands took part in the festival, and that number is likely to grow this year – and all of those brands are competing for attention and sales. To have even the slightest hope of being heard above the noise requires a massive investment, and even that is no guarantee. It’s like trying to take out an ad in the Super Bowl – only the biggest brands with the biggest budgets are going to stand a chance.

That being said, there are plenty of e-commerce festivals throughout the year where international brands are able to gain much more traction. For example, there’s Black Friday, the US shopping festival that has been wholeheartedly embraced by Chinese consumers. This festival, which this year is on 27 November, just two weeks after Singles’ Day, is much more focused on foreign goods, making it perfect for international brands, particularly those that sell cosmetics, luxury products and electronic goods

Whichever e-commerce festival you decide to set your sights on, or whether you decide to eschew e-commerce festivals altogether, it’s important to know how to structure a product promotion in China to get the most bang for your buck. To that end, here are our 5 top tips for product promotion in China.

1. Start early

A successful product promotion is all in the planning, and this should begin at least six months out from when you want to run your campaign in China. This is especially true if you want to partake in a shopping festival. A long lead gives you plenty of time to pinpoint the demographics you wish you target, and to test branding and messaging that will appeal to those markets, giving you the best chance of being heard above your competitors.

Remember, too, that often there is a lot of activity in the weeks leading up to festivals – during the Lunar festival, for example, people often begin looking for gifts for their family and friends in the 2–4 weeks prior – so you may want to start running your promotion before the festival actually begins.

2. Invest in good creative

While you might think you have a good idea about Chinese aesthetics, the fact is that unless you were raised or immersed in that culture for a long time, there are many cultural nuances you will miss. That’s why every year we see even the biggest brands make missteps with gaudy, kitschy or even disturbing designs that are roundly mocked by Chinese consumers. Just this year, Burberry ran a Chinese New Year campaign with “creepy” family portraits, which Chinese netizens said “gave them goosebumps” and looked like a horror movie poster about “a group of people who plan to kill this ultra-rich grandma and keenly fight over her inheritance”.

Burberry Lunar New Year campaign

Due to the backlash, Burberry quietly took down the offending portraits from social media.

That’s why it’s important to invest in good creative that appeals to Chinese audiences and is mindful about cultural sensitivities. This means ideally using a native Chinese designer, who will have an innate understanding of this, and steering clear of overused tropes.

3. Think engaging content rather than price promotions

Because of the multitude of channels at Western marketers’ disposal – TV, radio, billboards, newspapers, email, social media, websites – Western marketers tend to have a promotion-centric mindset, because each channel needs to generate immediate results and prove that it’s earning an ROI. This creates a tendency for price-based promotions.

China’s mobile-centric platform, however, calls for a different mindset. Rather than price-based promotions (on which it’s difficult for international brands to compete with local products anyway), China’s mobile-first environment encourages marketers to focus on content-based experiences that connects with consumers and breeds more long-term behavioural changes. It’s about fostering relationships with consumers that encourage them to buy out of passion and joy, rather than just to save money.

To run a successful product promotion, it’s worth thinking beyond buy-one-get-one-free promotions (which train consumers to buy only when things are on sale) and instead considering how to create content that is highly engaging and shareable, to encourage virality and cultivate your customers’ emotional connection to the brand. Do this well, and the benefits you receive won’t just be in the immediate aftermath of the promotion, but will extend well beyond this timeframe.

4. Get your target audience involved

Following on from the previous point, nothing promotes engagement and virality quite like audience participation. Encourage fun and authentic user-generated content, such as photos or videos, with an old-fashioned competition. Health vitamin and supplement brands, for example, could put together a prize containing their products for the best short video that shows the most creative way of improving health and vitality.

If you’re a new brand who might struggle to get users to contribute, KOLs can also be used to leverage their influence to increase participation within the audience segment you’re trying to reach.

Again, this type of campaign has long-term benefits, as the content generated can then be leveraged for future posts on WeChat, Douyin and other social media platforms.

5. Create a dedicated landing page

Once you’ve landed on the theme and messaging of your product promotion, it’s important to create a dedicated landing page. This will be the central location where you will drive all your campaign traffic from social media, partner websites, paid media and so on.

It may seem like a minor detail, but research has shown that driving traffic to a focused landing page rather than a more generic page increases conversion rates by over 100%. In other words, you’d be crazy not to do it.

These 5 tips will help ensure that, whatever time of year you decide to run your product promotion in China, you will give yourself the best chances of connecting with the Chinese consumer.

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