How Douyin Drives Sales: One KOL Shares Experience with China’s Viral Video App

Short video apps, such as China’s Douyin, have become an important marketing tool targeting the short attention spans of Gen-Z consumers, and the trend seems to be getting stronger, which leads to the question of whether Douyin can benefit luxury brands in China.

Douyin, which boasts 150 million daily active users, has transformed from a primarily lip-syncing app into a more informative and entertaining one, with 15-second videos spanning a range of subjects. Despite skepticism from some experts on Douyin’s value for marketers and luxury brands, fashion and lifestyle brands continue to build their presence on the platform, including Dior, Estee Lauder, Michael Kors, and Adidas Neo.

Beijing-based key opinion leader (KOL) and multilingual French chef Antoine Bunel, who has worked with more than 45 brands and retailers, including JD.com, Tmall, Mercedes-Benz, and GQ, to distribute lifestyle content on Weibo, WeChat, Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) and now Douyin, shared his thoughts on how luxury brands can leverage the platform and learn from their followers.

Photo of Antoine’s Douyin

Antoine Bunel has gained more than 370,000 followers on his popular Douyin account. Screenshot of Bunel’s Douyin

Since starting on Douyin in March, Bunel has amassed more than 370,000 followers and nearly 50 million total views. One of the key benefits of using Douyin to reach this audience, Bunel said, is that brands can learn about customers by engaging with the commenters, a point that he says brands sometimes forget. In fact, Douyin is one of the Chinese social media platforms most conducive for comments and engagement, according to ParkLu.

The platform has helped Bunel learn about his followers, especially with his recent collaboration with Galeries Lafayette in Paris. “You think of ‘Douyin millennials,’ you think no spending power. But that’s wrong,” Bunel said. “Because…a lot of the comments [on the Lafayette videos] were from young, but affluent Chinese people,…[who] told me they’ve been there or are planning to go.”

His followers, who are mostly in their 30s and 40s, post questions about products, recipes, or brands, giving Bunel the chance to interact beyond sharing a 15-second clip. He sees this as an opportunity for brands to reach out to KOLs to learn more about ways to engage with audiences.

There are, of course, downsides to the platform’s engagement. The interface encourages users to discover new videos based on categories they’ve liked before, which could lead them into a Tinder-like swiping mode instead of seeking out their favorite video producers.

Douyin also runs on an algorithm that pushes content that communicates value to the user, and part of this is determined by a post’s number of likes or level of engagement. A post that’s too obviously an advertisement thus likely won’t get far, but those that do well with viewers could gain exponential reach based on the app’s metrics. Brands should strike a balance between creating catchy, striking content that communicates a brand’s image without being too brand or logo-heavy, Bunel said.

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“It has to be very interesting or beautiful or shocking or funny because on Douyin, people don’t have patience,” Bunel warns.

But will Douyin’s influence on China’s social media-savvy consumers last long enough to make it worthwhile for brands new to the platform?

“Douyin is very strong right now, but we’re in China and we have no guarantee of where it’s going to be at in one year’s time,” Bunel said. “I would say to brands that it’s a hot platform, go on it, make moves on it, make bold moves, and make them fast because in one year’s time we might have to be talking differently.”

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Influencers, Social Media