Facing a hyper-competitive local market, many Chinese brands have been venturing overseas in recent years. If a Chinese brand doesn't have the resources of technology titans like BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent), what are their options available to globally market their products? This article shares digital marketing case studies of smaller and more agile Chinese brands who are succeeding on Amazon Marketplaces while building their own brand.
To begin, we will share key research findings from Millward Brown's 2018 Top 100 Most Valuable Chinese Brands report, followed by two case studies. This particular report is important as it shares how international customers are perceiving Chinese brands. Chinese brands can then take reference from this data to maximise their chances of international success.
International Perception of Chinese Brands
Let's start off with some good news, Chinese brands are narrowing the online awareness gap relative to other international brands based on the chart below:
It should also be no surprise that younger consumers are more likely to associate Chinese brands with positive attributes such as innovation and pay for quality products. Older consumers are less likely to share this opinion and perceive Chinese brands as lacking in quality:
However, brands should note that purchasing intention of international consumers is generally low (5 - 10%). Therefore, it is even more important for digital marketing to reach the consumers who are looking for similar products as that will undoubtedly raise their purchasing intention and conversion rates!
Moving on to purchasing intention breakdown by country, the U.K shows the greatest receptivity to Chinese brands with the greatest resistance from Japan.
To summarise, this research points out that if there was a "perfect" international consumer for Chinese brands, he or she is likely to be fairly young (18 - 24 years old), does online research prior to purchase and lives in the U.K, Germany or Spain.
I tend to agree that younger consumers are more receptive as they have been exposed to quality Chinese products. The geographical findings are interesting as most Chinese brands target the U.S market first through online marketplaces like Amazon and Wish and then expand to other markets. Therefore, Chinese brands may wish to consider U.K, Germany and Spain as secondary markets.
Case Study 1: Anker
This is a Changsha-based company that manufactures accessories like headphones, USB cables, and portable chargers. Its products are sold in more than 30 countries. A majority of sales are direct-to-consumers over the Amazon Marketplace, where a combination of strong reviews, low prices, and prominent placement in search rankings can turn a single product into a lucrative line.
A key part of Anker's success is due to the quality of its products and its successful pivot from laptop batteries to portable handphone chargers. But I will focus instead on its digital marketing strategies instead.
Firstly, Anker is keen to compare its products versus other competitors. This makes perfect sense as Amazon is a marketplace so customers are very likely to shop around anyway. Therefore, why not make the comparison easier for potential customers through striking images (see an example below)? This is also a sign of confidence in their own product. Therefore, Chinese brands should actively explore graphics or tables which illustrates their brands' key competitive strengths.
From what I observe, Anker is running a dual-track strategy: On one hand, it continues to sell through Amazon as this brand has benefited from strong reviews. On the other hand, Anker is also actively engaging existing customers through lucky draws, Power user (lead users who provide feedback on new products) and Star contributors programme (user-generated content) so that second-time buyers or non-Amazon markets may buy directly from their own website.
This is a continuation of Anker's earlier marketing initiatives. When Anker started pivoting to portable handphone chargers in 2012, their team actively approached international influencers and invited them to review their products in the form of blog posts and short videos. This has also generated backlinks that promoted better search engine visibility of Anker's own website. My takeaway is that Chinese brands should not neglect their own international website while focusing exclusively on Amazon Marketplace. After all, Anker has proven that these two channels are complementary.
Case Study 2: Insta360
Insta360 is a Shenzhen-based manufacturer of 360-degree action cameras and is a competitor of GoPro (regarded as the market leader in this category). Insta360 describes itself as a homegrown brand who has relied on speed and innovation, rather than price competition, to stand out.
Like Anker, Insta360 needs to show off its specs. To do so, this brand has tapped on brilliant pictures to show off its best product features on the Amazon Marketplace (see below). Insta360 doesn't employ comparisons on Amazon but there are third-party review sites that compare their product versus GoPro.
User-Generated Content (UGC) is also something that Insta360 actively promotes. “Insta360’s international outlook is part of its DNA. Since our founding, we’ve prioritized building a multinational team, and that has been key to growing a community of users that extends from the US to Germany to Japan,” said Max Richter, Insta360 Marketing Director. “Our core approach to building our brand has been to encourage and promote the amazing content that this community creates, since it speaks better to the benefits of our cameras than we ever could on our own.” To tap onto a quality stream of UGC, Insta360 offers cash rewards to existing users who contribute videos and a free camera to athlete ambassadors who are willing to contribute videos. Insta360 then curates UGC to be featured on its various social media channels like Facebook and YouTube.
Unlike Anker, Insta360 actively cultivates an active network of brick-and-mortar distributors. Why? Insta360 has realised that its product has a relatively higher price and most customers are likely to prefer to touch and feel their product before buying. However, once customers are familiar with this brand, they are more likely to purchase online.
For both Anker and Insta360, it is probably no coincidence that their target customers are fairly young (18 - 24 years old). Therefore, Chinese brands may wish to promote youth-oriented products first when entering international markets.
There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to digital marketing. You need to consider a customer journey approach:
- Inspiration or “Why do customers need your product line?”
- Research or “Why do customers choose your brand instead of a competitor?”
- Purchase or “How can I make it easier to customers to pay for my product”
- Experience or “How can I help my customers realise the most value?”
- Advocacy or “How do I encourage my customers to say something nice about my product?”
After answering the above questions, you may then plan your digital and content marketing accordingly. Authentic content will continue to do well but it often takes great commitment to do so, e.g. providing incentives to existing customers and hiring professional photographers. The key is to stay innovative within your product category and begin with your customers in mind!