With the power of online influencers growing in China at a rapid speed, luxury brands now have ample opportunity to connect with young Chinese consumers. But when a collaboration is so successful that it breaks sales records, it becomes a lesson for all luxury marketers.
In an exclusive interview with Jing Daily, Tao Liang—better known by his social media followers as the handbag blogger Mr. Bags—revealed that his Year of the Dog capsule collection released with Longchamp last year reached new milestones for both parties—within the first two hours.
For the first time, the collection was made available both in stores and online while also branching out to 10 countries and regions outside of mainland of China. Add to that a release date during the peak travel season (before Chinese New Year), and the release took off with sales exceeding 5 million RMB ($772,200).
“Bagfans [what Mr. Bags calls his followers] from Hong Kong and Taiwan complained that when they arrived at the store in the afternoon on the day of the official launch, they were told by the salesperson the bags were sold out in the morning, showing Mr. Bags’s influence goes beyond mainland China,” Tao said.
The seven-piece collection did so well that the handbag blogger and Longchamp are discussing the possibility of working together again. Mr. Bags also just launched a new WeChat Mini Program, ‘Baoshop’ to exclusively feature capsule collections and customization services for his followers. The first of those collections will launch at Baoshop on June 26.
Behind a China sales victory
This wasn’t the first time Mr. Bags has boosted sales for a luxury client. He gained recognition last year when he sold 1.2 million RMB ($185,466) for Givenchy online in a mere 12 minutes. He has worked with numerous other luxury brand clients in the past, but the Longchamp collaboration was the first time he would design a full collection. It was also the first time Longchamp would work with a Chinese blogger in this capacity.
The family-owned French accessories label met a particular challenge in creating the right balance of elements in their Chinese New Year designs, an issue that has given many brands trouble during the traditional holiday. They also successfully identified and adjusted the style and size demands coming from their more petite Chinese customers.
“In the past, Longchamp has invited celebrities or designers like Kate Moss and Jeremy Scott to develop capsule collections,” Longchamp General Manager of China Josephine Liang told Jing Daily. “These collections were successful, but the products didn’t resonate with Chinese customers. Mr. Bags provided a good resource for being able to connect directly to his bagfans and what they want.”
Liang said the collaboration was “a very good experience for both parties” and that Chinese customers worldwide are “one of the key pillars” for the brand. “When we worked on the collaboration, we put Chinese customers at the center, no matter whether they were living in China or overseas,” she said. “The design concept had to be able to attract Chinese millennials’ attention.”
From preparation to launch, the entire project took about eight months, including style ideation, package design, photo shoots, logistics discussion, content preparation, and offline event set up.
“Every single aspect really counts,” Tao said. “The Mr. Bags capsule collection is never about selling out of all the bags—it is about creating a fantasy for bagfans—a huge undertaking that involves limited-edition bags, an offline event, celebrities, special packaging, and more.”
Tao reveals some of the key steps of the process below.
Assembling influencer support
Mr. Bags and Longchamp brought together a group of male and female celebrities to support their launch, including models Liu Wen, He Sui, Chun Xia, Zhang Ziling, and Jin Dachuan; actresses Ouyang Nana, Tong Liya and Song Zuer; and the actor Han Dongjun.
“We chose to work with a group of young, sweet, and talented people” as it was critical that their chosen influencers represented China’s young fashion crowd, Tao explained.
“Longchamp invited their friends, and I invited mine,” he continued. “Our celebrity friends were super supportive—they posted their pictures with the bags on Weibo, and attracted millions of viewers.”
As this collection offered an oversized travel bag for men, Tao invited Dachuan Jin—one of his close male model friends who has walked the runway for the likes of Prada, Burberry and Louis Vuitton—to help promote the collection.
Mr. Bags and Longchamp shot five videos showcasing their inspiration and the design process. But Tao says there’s no magic number for how much content or how many online posts will be enough to boost sales.
“When you are doing a big activity like this, you feel so excited and you really just want to share the excitement with everyone around you and all of your followers,” he said, and although WeChat limits posts to one per day, Mr. Bags was able to use the microblogging website Weibo to “post as many posts as possible to share the happiness of the collection.”
Promoting on Social Media
Mr. Bags and Longchamp started planning their social media strategy about three to four weeks ahead of the launch. They took different approaches to their different channels. Weibo and WeChat were the primary ones, with a total of 4 million followers.
Their approach to the different social media sites varied, Tao explained. “On WeChat, bagfans love to read about the details of the collection. I would share with them my concept and explain why I added certain detail or adjusted certain measurements [but] on Weibo, high-quality pictures tend to attract bagfans’ attention more. Before the collection launched, many celebrities posted their bags on Weibo and created a buzz among bagfans.”
They ultimately used the #Mr.BagsxLongchampExclusiveCap
“But I don’t really set goals around impressions,” he said. “My ultimate goal is for all the people that love bags to see this great capsule and if they bought one of the bags, they will feel super happy.”
Tao also discovered that many of his followers have started taking to the social media review platform Little Red Book to share opinions and impressions on their favorite bags. But no single channel is more important than another, Tao believes, and he attributes the success of a social media campaign to the influencers themselves.
“I share my opinions on bags with my followers so that whenever they are making decisions about whether to buy a certain bag, they will come to me,” he said. “I give my followers true recommendations and I see them as friends, so they trust me very much. And that’s one of the reasons projects like these lead to big sales.”
The video content the team created was broadcasted on a billboard at SKP Beijing mall leading up to the event, while the Kerry Center Shanghai hosted an interactive Mr. Bags x Longchamp display.
On December 31, the team hosted an in-store event at Kerry Center Shanghai, where nearly 100 bagfans lined up to purchase items from the capsule collection. Tao says that last year, they have hosted bagfans events nearly every month, from Macau and Paris to Chengdu and Shanghai, but that the Longchamp party at the Kerry Center was the most “memorable.”
Creating Enticing Experiences for VIPs
Even in the case of first-time collaborations, it’s important for Mr. Bags to engage his devoted bagfans, and their pre-orders were rewarded with perks like special gifts and early access to exclusive products. Speed was essential—bagfans could order their purchase up to 10 days before the collection’s official launch to receive a free engraving service for their initials.
These bonuses were a win-win situation for everyone because many of Tao’s followers shared their Longchamp experience on Little Red Book. “Some of them said they were very excited about the launch and felt lucky that they bought the collection,” Tao said. “When they received the high-quality bags in person, they felt even more satisfied. That satisfaction is what I love so much.”
Although creating unique opportunities for engagement is important, Tao says he doesn’t worry about his customers getting bored because new collaborations are always around the corner.
“I believe a good product will always resonate with its target audience,” he said. “For my capsule, I never think about if the bags will have a good sales performance or not. I solely focus on how to make this bag into a better bag for bagfans, and how to create a unique experience for those who purchase the bag. If the product is very strong and the experience is outstanding, you never worry about the sales performance!”