An unprecedented opportunity.
China’s biggest social networks can be incredibly fertile ground for successful marketing to China’s growing consumer base. One aspect of social-media usage in China stands out compared with that of other countries: it has a greater influence on purchasing decisions for consumers in China than for those anywhere else in the world. Chinese consumers say they are more likely to consider buying a product if they see it discussed positively on a social-media site, and more likely to actually purchase a product or service if a friend or acquaintance recommends it on a social-media site. This is explained by a cultural twist where: Chinese consumers disproportionately value peer-to-peer recommendations, as the Chinese are more skeptical of formal institutions.
Sina Weibo – the most significant of China’s diverse archipelago of social networking hubs – boasts 368 million active users, predominately in their twenties and early thirties, are higher income earners (more than 8,000 renminbi (about $1,300) a month), are much more likely to live in Tier 1 cities, and who buy 54% of China’s goods and services. Furthermore 140 characters in Chinese is able to express a lot more than in a western language, Weibo has also pioneered the inclusion of video and photographic images in their posts. The facts are clear: Weibo presents a huge opportunity to market to China’s most influential consumer segment.
But how do Western companies succeed at Weibo marketing? Here we look at several case studies of social media success, from well-constructed marketing campaigns to simple re-posts that have echoed through the online masses.
1) The Masterstroke: Dove Chocolate and Valentine’s Day
Dove Chocolate, a subsidiary of American confectionary company Mars, scored a flashy online marketing coup with its viral campaign on Valentine’s Day, 2012. Dove engaged the savvy marketers at SapientNitro, a Shanghai-based agency, who came up with a way to promote Dove chocolate without any external costs.
To attract users’ attention, SapientNitro used the story of installation artist Ma Jin, who wanted to build a life-size fantasy carriage out of Dove’s distinctive heart-shaped tins. In a concise but heartfelt webcam video, Ma explained his plan to surprise his sweetheart with his home-made gift made from chocolate boxes, and asks fellow users to send him their empty boxes to help him complete his project.
SapientNitro’s idea paid off big time. The simple video engaged users’ emotions, and asked them to engage with the consumer product, but in an elegant twist, didn’t specifically suggest buying anything. With its simplicity, emotional appeal, and heartfelt call for users’ participation, the video was loaded with viral potential. As noted on techinasia.ca, the resulting statistics proved SapientNitro’s social media brilliance: the video was reposted 47,000 times, and attracted 34,000 comments. In the end, sales of Dove’s Valentine’s Day product increased 226%.
2) The Timely Post: Durex Condoms and the Beijing floods
Sometimes companies hire cutting-edge agencies to handle their Weibo marketing. Other times, users give out brand image-building content for free. So it was with one popular Weibo user, who regularly produces humorous content for his 8,000 followers, during the large-scale flooding that Beijing experienced in 2011. The Weibo user demonstrated an unorthodox use of condoms, stretching them over his sneakers to make for an impermeable layer that protected his feet from the floodwaters.
Durex had some quick-thinking Weibo guru, who, two minutes after the user published his original content, re-posted on the condom manufacturer`s weibo account to its 100,000 followers, and interacted with them live as they replied.
Durex’s move, a costless repost that relied only on social media vigilance and timely action, resulted in a further 40,000 reposts and 7,000 comments. As a major natural event that caused more annoyance than destruction, the floods were a perfect example of a hot trending topic where smart marketers can jump in to remind users of a product with a humorous or playful post.
3) The Official Online Campaign: Coca Cola’s Customized Bottles
Coca Cola launched its most recent global advertising campaign earlier this year in Europe, where it sells bottles with names common in each major European country to boost sales. In China, Coke has also altered its labels for the promotion, but put short phrases like “beautiful girl” on the bottles, rather than common names.
Online, however, Coke recently took the customization one step further, and allowed users to order personally customized bottles online through Weibo Wallet, Sina’s nascent social media payment service. To sweeten the deal, Coke charged users only the shipping fees, 20 Yuan, to support its 5-day promotion. Coke also posted pictures of celebrities holding their personalized bottles, and buyers followed suit, posting pictures of themselves holding their personalized bottles to share with their friends and Weibo followers.
Methodical, logical, and successful, Coke’s flashy and expensive approach to Weibo marketing suits the stature of the multinational beverage corporation, and is conducted in harmony with advertising in other forms of media. With the combination of depicting celebrities holding personalized Cokes and enabling consumers to obtain them at a reasonable price, Coke generated significant Weibo buzz in the form of thousands of personalized images that reinforce the popularity of the brand and its status as a drink of choice for young people. Although it invested more in its marketing push, and sold hundreds of thousands of personalized bottles at a loss, Coke will definitely reap the benefit of such a unique online campaign.
A Question of Interactivity
Outside of campaigns and special events, brands fare best on Weibo when they integrate customer service into their social media platform. Retail and household products brands from Burberry to IKEA have made this important move, responding to customer’s inquiries and problems directly. This helps reinforce the image of a foreign brand that is both responsible when it comes to its products, and engaged in local Chinese consumers. Combined with regular commenting and posting, this strategy helps to cultivate an image of a company as a lively and responsive organization.
Above all, the key feature of these three very different examples of marketing on Weibo is the ability to create and develop a conversation. Companies that are able to synchronize their online marketing with the conversational nature of social media succeed on Weibo, while those that aren’t able to provide conversation-provoking content are left behind.
In the case of Coke’s campaign, the conversation was about the product itself, the excitement of having a personalized version of such a ubiquitous mass-produced article. For Dove and for Durex, the conversations were already going on, but both companies managed to spin trending topics (Valentine’s Day and the 2011 floods) in the direction of their products. And while Coke’s campaign was certainly a success, brands with far more limited advertising budgets can still make a huge impact on Weibo by harnessing the creativity of China’s new net-savvy young agencies.