They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same goes for the empire of Chinese fashion bloggers. Many bloggers have garnered the trust of million fans over the years, and those fans have become the secret ingredient to their success.
Headlines like “100 cars ($44,910 each) sold out within five minutes of the launch” or “sold out of 80 handbags within 12 minutes” highlights the astonishing power of these bloggers to drive flash sales. However, much of those numbers could be attributed to their loyal fans, according to marketing staff from a luxury brand that put together one of those sales. He anonymously disclosed that a sizable portion of the event’s sales came from fans of the blogger before the sale went live. In many ways, the super fans are the livelihood of a blogger’s business, and they also hold the key for luxury brands that want to access the wealthiest 1 percent of customers.
At the latest influencer conference at FINS (the Fashion influencer New Media summit) in Shanghai last week, 1,000 KOLs (Key Opinion Influencers) from the fashion industry gathered to share their insights. Many of them touched on just how important these super-fans are. The Business Director of the Becky Li (a.k.a. WeChat goddess), Rui Wang, revealed although they only have 1 percent of fans registered as members of her “Fantasy Club,” 20 percent of sales come from that group. It was reported that last year, Becky reached an annual revenue of $7 million (RMB 55 million), which is almost 2 percent of Burberry’s annual revenue from 2016.
So what’s their playbook for building these fan groups? What kind of relationships do they have with them? To get to the bottom of this, Jing Daily spoke with several top influencers to find out.
Bloggers are loyal to their super fans, not brands
Unlike in the west, where post sponsorship is clearly demarcated, China has no regulations concerning how posts get sponsored, so Chinese consumers are often left in dark about any deals influencers have made with the brands they’re posting about. Therefore, many of these consumers have grown skeptical about certain recommendations over the years.
For China’s handbag guru Mr. Bags (a.k.a. Tao Liang), being frank with both the brands he covers and his fans are important to his business. He sees himself as essentially a mediator between the two. “If the style doesn’t look good or it doesn’t really work for Chinese [consumers], I won’t recommend it to Bao Fans (nickname for his fans),” Mr. Bags told Jing Daily. “I will also give direct feedback to brands, like ‘this bag is too big’ or ‘too heavy’ or ‘not as functional.’”
It’s all part of his homework—to listen to fans, understand their pain, and then offer that feedback back to brands. For example, in a collaboration piece with Longchamp last year, he made a mini-size bag with an adjusted shoulder strap designed to fit Asian women better. This strategy apparently works—all $467,560 ( RMB 3.24 million) worth of Longchamp bags sold out in 6 minutes. Mr. Bags sets the bar for bloggers who take a consumer-centric approach by leveraging their fans’ network to brands that want to use those fan groups to beta-test a new product before releasing it to a wider audience.
Greet your super fans personally
Both Mr. Bags and Becky Li also use their WeChat accounts as platforms for giving their fans the spotlight. For example, some of the most popular posts on Becky Li are “fan transformation” posts which show how they look so much better after changing hairstyles or before losing weight. Meanwhile, Mr. Bags focuses more on bags than lifestyle, and so, for example, he has created a section dedicated to Bao Fans who want to showcase their bags, particularly ones associated with an early memory like a first wedding bag, a favorite Valentine gift bag, or someone’s very first Birkin bag.
Hosting fan meetups is the ultimate way to get to know your fans personally. Mr. Bags hosts these frequently and ahead of the event, and he’ll ask fans to submit their latest bag purchase and select a lucky few to attend the event.
He said he aims to collaborate with many different kinds of brands so that he can always deliver new experiences to his bag-hungry fans. For example, at the end of August, he organized a meetup in collaboration with the Swiss jewelry maker Chopard in Shanghai inviting fans to learn more about jewelry and take impressive social media pictures. While the majority of his fans are Chinese international students, the blogger hosted another session in England this September with the luxury department store Harrods, where he introduced the hottest items for the season and offered gifts to his fans. So far, Mr. Bags has hosted meetups in multiple cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen in mainland China, as well as Macau, Paris, and London, and he’s expecting to grow his physical reach out to fans in other parts of the world soon.
Understand them by numbers, too
In the world of WeChat, content might be king, but numbers can tell a better story about fans from a business perspective. Yangfanjame, a blogger who’s known for his satirical posts, joked that “70 percent of my fans are women, 30 percent men, and 2 percent of which are forced to follow by their girlfriend.” He then paused and said, “but it’s knowing those fan numbers by heart that can lead one to build a clear brand.”
Knowing fans by numbers not only helps bloggers tell a better story, but it also helps to make better sales. The e-commerce logistics provider Look—which has partnered with gogoboi, shiliupo, Anne_StyleOnTop, and many A-list bloggers—claims that their big data (drawn from sales figures) can give bloggers a better read on their fan profiles to help bloggers understand what content their fans like to read to what things they actually like to buy—thus unlocking the monetization capability.
The founder of See (a competitor of Look), Wang Xucheng, thinks that giving e-commerce functions to bloggers is a natural progression. “Fans can grow tired of reading content, but purchasing is the opposite,” he said. “Once they trust certain buying channels, they will rely on them for purchases in the long-term. Enabling this function, if operated well, actually helps the blogger to more closely bond with their fans and create a competitive edge over other [sellers].”
In today’s age where anyone is entitled to share their opinion, bloggers’ super fans have become influencers in their own social circles. Brands need to watch for the 1 percent of fans, understand who they are and their shopping habits, instead of remaining fixated on top bloggers’ impressive mass following numbers.