The business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing landscape is constantly shifting and evolving. The two key drivers of this constant evolution are changes in customer behaviour and technology advances. Winning B2C marketing requires businesses to leverage new consumer insights to stay ahead of the competition and leverage technology to cost-effectively engage consumers.
In China, customer behaviour and technology advances are often packaged together, e.g. the all-pervasive WeChat messaging app that has evolved into a “super-app” that incorporates digital payment, e-commerce, food delivery and ride-hailing. As such, Chinese B2C marketing often requires rapid iteration and adaptation of global marketing playbooks.
To bring these concepts to life, this article highlights three companies that have mastered B2C digital marketing in China. These companies, which includes native Chinese companies, were selected based on their ability to stay on top of changing consumer behaviour, offering complementary services and creative leveraging of technology.
Founded in 2014 as a weight-loss mobile app, Qing+ has transformed itself into China’s version of Weight Watchers. This company’s original premise was simple, asking users to provide their existing weight, target weight, and weight-loss deadline. With this information, Qing+ app worked out a plan that included recommended daily diet and exercises. Users may also seek professional fitness coaches through Qing+ to supervise their weight-loss regime.
With data collected from its mostly female user base and an active community sharing feedback and numerous weight-loss selfies, Qing+ soon realised that it could provide additional complementary services. After evaluation, Qing+ launched services such as providing low-calorie takeaway meals, intense 7-day weight-loss boot camps, and 7-minute exercise videos.
As of Jun 2017, Qing+ has garnered over 30 million downloads and about 600,000 daily active users. To support its rapid growth, this company had closed C round funding of 60 million renminbi in May 2017.
- Build a community: Qing+ forum has served as a focal point for its users to share tips in relation to their weight-loss journey and serve as product ambassadors. User inputs also served as an invaluable source of product inspiration. However, a forum feature is not suited for not all apps. If so, you should think about features that allow users to interact with your brand and form a community that features User Generated Content (UGC) which will enhance the authenticity of your brand.
- Multimedia content is king: Weight loss can be a long and sometimes daunting process. Users are going to get bored and distracted by other products. To provide a fresher experience, Qing+ had initially incorporated user-contributed videos. Subsequently, Qing+ provided more professional content, e.g. yoga teachers demonstrating a range of 20-minute yoga videos. Likewise, you may consider incorporating multimedia content from super-users or selected influencers as this will add more value to your users.
- Focus relentlessly on target segment: From the start, Qing+ had identified female users as a target segment. Through active listening to its user base and analysing user behavioural data, Qing+ had uncovered complementary services such as low-calorie takeaway meals and intense 7-day weight-loss boot camps. You may only be scratching the surface of users’ requirements with your initial product. Keep on listening to your target segment and offer complementary products.
Secoo was founded in 2008 as a platform dedicated to selling second-hand luxury goods. As China does not have an effective credit rating system or independent appraisal services for these goods, Secoo did not see any significant growth after three years.
- Pivot: Secoo had met with several obstacles with its original business model as explained earlier. However, Secoo had pivoted to sell first-hand luxury goods instead and relies on complementary services. Therefore, if you aren’t achieving traction, a pivot may be necessary for your brand to achieve growth.
- Understand customer journey: Even if its original business model didn’t deliver growth, Secoo was able to leverage its understanding of its customers’ journey to retain them over a longer period. Return business is absolutely critical to the cost of acquiring a new customer is too high. Therefore, your brand should obtain an in-depth understanding of customer journey as a pillar B2C of success is to attract return business and users.
- Online-offline integration: As Secoo sought to move up the value chain, it realised that customers are seeking “discovery experiences”. The next wave for retail’s future will spur inspiration and imagination, capture experiences that happen in stores, “I went to the store to buy a bag and bought an outfit as well that went well with it”. As such, Secoo established five offline experience centers, two high-end hotels, and a bunch of flagship stores. According to previous reports, the five offline experience centers will be in Tianjin, Qingdao, Changsha, Hangzhou and Xiamen. After introducing these centres in 2016, Secoo recorded a 30% year-on-year revenue increase in the first half of 2017. Therefore, your brand should obtain an in-depth understanding of customer journey as a pillar B2C of success is to attract return business and users.
Avocados are big business in China: China imported 32,100 tons of avocado in 2017, increasing more than 1,000 times from just 31.8 tons in 2011. China’s avocado imports grew 28% year-on-year in 2017, with the import value hitting an all-time high of USD 105 million. I have included avocado in this study as it is a prime example of a premium food product which is sought after in the increasingly affluent Chinese market.
Generally, Chinese are more familiar with sweet, crisp and juicy fruits, but the taste of avocado with its low water content, lack of sweetness and the high price meant that it wasn’t initially popular in China. In 2007, Mr. Zhao Guozhang, the founder of “Fruit Day” or "天天果园" based in Shanghai, liked the taste of avocado and introduced the fruit domestically. Mr. Zhao noticed that avocados met nutritional needs of different groups such as the elderly, children, pregnant women and vegetarians. Through physical stores, web pages, and Weibo, Fruit Day publicised the benefits of avocado’s different nutrients to different groups of people. Fruit Day also gamified their social network marketing, offering small prizes to enhance their avocado understanding.
Subsequently, avocado marketing took a life of its own, with nutritionists affirming the nutritional value of avocado, e.g. dietary fibre and potassium content per 100g. The popularity of the fruit attracted more suppliers seeking to meet the increased demand of more health-conscious and affluent Chinese consumers.
- Selling to multiple segments: Based on an official survey conducted by China National Bureau of Statistics, propensity to try new products for consumers ranged from 19 – 25% for different groups of consumers aged between 20 to 60 years old. Like Fruit Day, your brand should explore how to appeal to different age segments as new consumers may come from all ages.
- Gamify: Learning about a product shouldn’t be boring. B2C marketing in China typically taps on various games, so keep it light-hearted and offer prizes through Wechat as well as Weibo. In addition, your brand may wish to invite customers to physical stores to experience the product. For example, you may wish to team up with a mobile game to offer healthy fruits at stores as prizes when players get to a certain game level. Remember, gamification incorporates fun and an element of competition to a marketing strategy.
B2C marketers in China will need to build their own detailed dashboards to meld offline and online data together, see which campaigns are working, which need some refinements, and which should be scrapped altogether.