“To Be Successful In China, You Have To Be Everywhere”
Although the New York-based digital marketing company Wunderman is perhaps best known for the creation of the 1-800 toll-free number for businesses and the first ever customer rewards program for American Express, the number one global digital network is now a major marketing force in China. Jing Daily caught up with Bryce Whitwam, Managing Director of Wunderman Shanghai, about the importance of social media and digital strategy in China, where the business operates seven offices. In the interview below, conducted via email, he discusses his successes with Chinese social media, the importance of engagement strategies for luxury brands, and his opinion of the major brand standouts when it comes to digital marketing in China.
How would you describe Wunderman’s role in China?
With seven offices, Wunderman is one of the largest full service advertising agencies dedicated to digital marketing in China. We provide the most complete turnkey offering in the country, including full service creative, digital tracking and data analytics, social media, CRM solutions, mobile, and digital production teams. Yes, we don’t like to consider ourselves a digital agency because so much of advertising now is digital anyway. We like to think of ourselves as an agency that evolves with the changing times.
Give us a sense of the advertising and marketing landscape in China. Why are social media and digital marketing so important?
The advertising and marketing landscape in China is, like everywhere else, going through a massive transformation, but the change here is slightly different. With tight regulations on television content, Chinese have flooded to video websites for their entertainment. They engage far more on social media than their Western counterparts. And they trust recommendations from other netizens as much as their own friends and colleagues. E-commerce is not just a convenient thing as it is in the West; it’s an evolved retail channel allowing brands a connection to millions of consumers that no one ever imagined.
Digital and social play an important role in both awareness and consideration phases, particularly in luxury goods where consumers are eager to show off their new luxury purchase or discover some new limited edition find. In a place where everyone is in fear of getting ripped off, social media allows consumers an open access to product owners to gauge opinions and recommendations.
In terms of social media and digital marketing, what approaches work best in the Chinese market? How is China different from other countries in this regard?
The China digital/social media landscape is highly fragmented and there’s no single Facebook/Twitter channel, but in fact several different versions targeting different groups. There’s no single place where everyone goes, and to be successful in China, you have to be everywhere, which poses an enormous challenge. We recommend to our clients to take a micro-strategy approach, lead with campaigns that excite and entertain consumers, while giving them opportunities to learn more about your brand, and yes, you can lead them to a purchase opportunity while you’re at it. Our most successful campaigns have been those that have taken a single idea and expanded it through a myriad of different executions. Ultimately you need to get people involved, and if you compare Chinese social media content to what is seen in the West, you will see stuff that’s really amped up and engaging. In that way, social media here is way ahead of the West.
What are some of the common mistakes brands make when marketing to upscale Chinese consumers?
Upscale brands often fail to take into account that their target audience in China is way younger to the group they normally target in Europe. Of course there’s a certain image that luxury brands need to project but it’s done much more conservatively than it needs to be, and the engagement strategy has to be more engaging than print ads at the airport or some VIP event. It’s therefore not a coincidence to see marketers from the fast-moving consumer goods business moving into the luxury gigs where they can value from their channel marketing expertise.
There are still many, many brands that the Chinese don’t know about but would love to learn about. Those brands that connect with Chinese consumers are those willing to invest in China for the long term. There are no short-term winners here.
What advice about social media and digital marketing would you give a company trying to break into the China luxury market?
China’s most famous blogger, Han Han, once said that brands forget that Chinese computer consists of both a screen but also a keyboard. His point here is that China social media is much more two-way, involved and engaging than what you might see on Facebook. Your task as a brand, therefore, is to create campaigns that get Chinese netizens to participate, not just to watch. To make matters more challenging, the average Chinese follows only eight companies on their Weibo, compared to 15 companies for the average American. Your social media campaigns, therefore, need to be “dialed up,” providing content that followers can’t wait to forward to their friends. If you’re simply posting product pictures you will lose. You need to give your local teams in China a lot more leverage to do what they want. Luxury is no different from any other category.
Tell us about one or two of your recent social media and digital marketing campaigns that were especially successful.
In the luxury category, Wunderman’s “Evoque My Style” campaign for Land Rover stands out to me as both an engaging and highly effective use of social media. The campaign ran for almost six months through various integrated phases that included a series of opportunities for netizens to contribute content, participate in activities, and interact with a virtual Range Rover Evoque online. The campaign was successful because it was executed throughout a series of channels under one single campaign umbrella, allowing potential customers to sign up and learn more about the car. The campaign was effective one of the most effective Land Rover campaigns to date, with leads conversion exceeding 80 percent.
What are some other social media and digital marketing campaigns you’ve come across lately that were especially effective—ones you wished you’d done?
I quite like what Burberry is doing on social media because they are transcending their brand into a consumer life space. Their Burberry Music platform on creative social site, Douban, but also on Weibo, is very innovative and creates a unique activation connection emphasizing the unique “Britishness” of the brand via UK music. Coach has been doing some exciting things recently on WeChat. I particularly like how they are integrating their celebrity endorsements into the platform.
In your opinion, which global luxury brands have been most successful in their social media and digital marketing in China?
To me, the automobile brands lead the pack on social media and digital marketing in China. Audi, BMW, Land Rover, and MINI all lead the field because they have such reach and integration amongst all the different platforms. Estée Lauder is also a major standout. Like Burberry, they are willing to go beyond simple product postings and create content the leads to consumer involvement.
How would you describe your dream client?
I’m very lucky that I have many dream clients. They are especially open-minded and above all, willing to try new ideas, but most importantly they are willing to take chances and are not necessarily worried about failure. They demand their agencies to be proactive and involved in their business. They share feedback on a quarterly basis and work with us to improve our mutual performance.
Anything else you’d like to add?
China’s social media space offers an enormous opportunity for luxury brands to connect with Chinese consumers who are eager to learn more about new brands. But this engagement is not simply about posting Facebook-like content onto Weibo, but providing originally created integrated programs that extend across different channels. It requires money: you have to invest in Baidu search to get noticed because the platform is largely “pay to play” so organic search is relatively ineffective as it might be in other markets. You have to develop the content and you need to make sure you have a response team, either in house or via an outside agency, to reply to consumers’ inquiries. Bottom line: it’s not easy and requires both a substantial investment and a long-term commitment.
Bryce Whitwam may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.