5 Vital Ways Beauty Brands Can Break Ahead In China’s Digital Landscape

An image from Estée Lauder's Sina Weibo account. The brand was named by L2 Think Tank as the beauty brand with the second-best digital marketing strategy in China. (Sina Weibo/Estée Lauder)

An image from Estée Lauder’s Sina Weibo account. The brand was named by L2 Think Tank as the beauty brand with the second-best digital marketing strategy in China. (Sina Weibo/Estée Lauder)

When it comes to marketing on China’s social media, one of the most active industries in the luxury sphere is beauty. Thanks to luxury beauty brands’ positioning as “accessible” luxury, the need to reach a mass audience prompts them to launch online campaigns at a much higher rate than more “exclusive” categories.

However, a new report states that almost all global beauty companies still have a great deal of room to improve when it comes to their China digital strategies.

In a new report on luxury beauty companies’ digital “proficiency” in China, digital luxury marketing research firm L2 Think Tank argued that only three brands—Lancôme, Estée Lauder, and Sephora—are at the top of their game when it comes to online presence. The three companies were the only to make it into the firm’s “genius” category for digital marketing, while an additional 12 were labeled “gifted” at their digital strategies. Meanwhile, all the additional companies on the 84-brand list were described as either “average,” “challenged,” or “feeble” in their online China presence.

However, there are many things luxury brands can do to get on top of their game in the China digital sphere—which is crucial for an accessible product category such as beauty. Listed below are five key areas brands can start working on to boost their digital presence in China—along with their sales.

When it comes to social media, branch out beyond Weibo. Almost all the brands studied by L2 (94 percent) have accounts on Sina’s top microblogging platform Weibo (which recently rebranded from the name Sina Weibo), showing that they value social media as a key marketing platform. However, despite all the buzz about mobile messaging app WeChat, which boasts around 600 million users, only 61 percent of beauty brands have active accounts. For brands that aren’t on WeChat yet, now is the time to start. A recent Chinese government report found that Weibo is losing followers, while 37 percent of those who stopped using Sina Weibo began using WeChat. Brands should also assess whether or not smaller social media networks can offer them access to certain demographics their competitors aren’t reaching—usage rates of Youku, Tencent Weibo, Renren, Tudou, and Douban are all low.

Go mobile. In addition to WeChat, a comprehensive mobile strategy is a must for the China market. The report found that although mobile accounts for 49 percent of all beauty brand searches on Baidu, less than one third of the brands studied have a mobile-optimized site. Furthermore, one fourth of the brands who do have WeChat accounts link them to desktop sites rather than mobile, and only 13 brands have links directly to e-commerce on their mobile sites— showing that this is clearly an area where brands who step up their game can pull ahead of the competition.

Embrace e-commerce. While buying cosmetics is still mainly relegated to a physical store counter in the United States, L2 finds that Chinese consumers are much more open to buying beauty products online. According to 2012 statistics from Euromonitor, online shopping already accounted for 20.1 percent of color cosmetics sales in China, compared to only 5.1 percent in the United States. Chinese consumers also bought fragrances and skincare products online at higher rates than those in the United States. While developing a solid e-commerce strategy is important in any market, the numbers show that it’s becoming imperative for success in China. 

Don’t skimp on a solid SEO strategy. According to the report, many brands in China are missing the benefits of attracting customers searching for their brand names online. L2 finds that only 6 percent of beauty brands are in the first search position on Baidu when their name is searched on mobile devices, while 57 percent are outside the top three positions. The numbers are better for desktop searches with 51 percent of brands earning the top search spot for their name, but it goes without saying that the other 49 percent should be looking at ways to get to that position.

Make sure websites are fast and user-friendly. According to the L2 report, many brands are also lacking in basic website features that would boost both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce customers, including a fast site speed, toll-free customer service, and a store locator. International brands have more features on their U.S. sites than their China sites in all but one of 10 features surveyed, despite the importance of the digital sphere to Chinese customers. The one feature seen more commonly among beauty brands in China is a loyalty program. This is likely based on the fact that 96 percent of Chinese consumers are more likely to visit retailers with a loyalty program, says the report, but many brands have yet to take advantage of this—only 34 percent of all brands surveyed feature one.

 

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