As 2020 draws to a close, Content Commerce Insider has been catching up with leaders in their fields to share reflections on this transformative period as well as predictions for what comes next. In the second installment of our year-end Q&A series, we caught up with Nick Cakebread, founding partner of integrated luxury agency Gusto Luxe and Gusto Collective, which brings together best-in-class marketing and digital agencies.
With 20 years of experience in marketing, communications and advertising, Cakebread has held senior roles on the agency and client side, spanning London, Beijing, Shanghai and Sydney, and has worked with global clients such as LVMH, P&G, Unilever, Burberry, and The Walt Disney Company.
CCI: When the Covid-19 pandemic spread throughout China in early 2020, we saw brands, TV producers, and marketers move their efforts and programming onto the cloud. Do you feel that this trend is here to stay, or will offline events and marketing get back to normal in 2021?
Nick Cakebread: China has been particularly fortunate in that it’s one of the few places in the world where offline events are taking place, and have been since around May of this year. While many companies were forced to operate solely via digital in the first several months of the year, bolstering their cloud and tech capabilities, most have already returned to normal, with staff all back in the office, and events taking place offline. However, the fact remains that many companies in China rely heavily on interaction with global teams and clients, but because of travel and quarantine restrictions are still having to find digital solutions to cooperate with overseas stakeholders. With vaccines still a ways off, and as companies realize that not all business travel is essential, I believe this is a trend which will permeate the business environment long past 2020.
CCI: What would you say has been the most exciting consumer trend you’ve seen in China this year?
Cakebread: Some of the most notable consumer trends in China this year aren’t necessarily new, but were heavily accelerated during the first quarter of the year when China was experiencing the peak of the pandemic. One of the trends we’re most excited about is an acceleration of consumers’ awareness and preference for sustainable brands. The pandemic was a big wake-up call for Chinese luxury consumers on the important role their purchases can play in the health and well-being of themselves, and the world. Brands should understand that being sustainable is not just important for business and reputation, but it can also play an integral part in driving affinity and sales.
CCI: Can you tell us about a couple of the biggest success stories for your firm this year and how they came about?
Cakebread: 2020 was a big year for us, after ten years of being Reuter Communications, Founding Partner Chloé Reuter and I joined industry veteran Aaron Lau as founding partners in Asia’s first brand-tech holding company, Gusto Collective. Gusto Collective acquired Reuter Communications to become Gusto Luxe, where Chloé and I still hold our titles as Founding Partners.
Gusto Collective sits at the intersection of the dramatic growth in the digital and tech revolution, providing solutions for brands to harness the power of storytelling and technology to create and share content. It is no secret that our industry, especially in APAC, is constantly changing, and we’re firm believers that technology is powering this growth.
In addition to becoming Gusto Collective, we also launched our dedicated Sustainability Solutions. Sustainability is the new luxury in China and Asia, whether in travel, fashion, jewelry, or lifestyle, and it plays an increasingly important role for our brands in this region. As a business we want to ensure our clients are at the forefront of this meaningful change, and that we are supporting them, whether sustainability is one of their key pillars, or whether they are embarking on their drive for positive change.
CCI: This year we have seen content-commerce strategies like livestreaming e-commerce, brand films, brand-funded programs, and brand collaborations proliferate. Do you think these types of strategies are underrated or overrated?
Cakebread: The fact of the matter is, e-commerce livestreaming has been one of the most successful ways for brands to engage and drive sales this year. While livestreaming is not new, because of the pandemic, we saw many more brands forced to pick it up, particularly luxury brands that had previously been averse to livestreaming. Livestreaming shifted from being a more theatrical, entertainment-driven medium to a way for brands to demonstrate their expertise and efficacy of their products and build deeper connections with more consumers.
For our clients, nearly every major campaign we’ve run this year has involved livestreaming, brand-funded programs, or brand collaborations, often in some combination. As China’s social media platforms become increasingly e-commerce-capable, our emphasis is on driving content to commerce.
CCI: With the rise of Gen Z as an increasingly powerful consumer demographic, and the decentralized way they consume media (often via short video apps like Douyin/TikTok), what are your thoughts on how brands should approach influencer and peer marketing to reach and influence younger consumers?
Cakebread: For many Post-90s consumers in China, discovery of a new product or brand begins by seeing it in the hands of a trusted influencer, then they will turn to platforms like Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) or WeChat for customer/peer reviews, [and then] the journey can continue on Tmall/Taobao, Baidu, and more. So for brands, working with an influencer is only part of the strategy to influence younger consumers, and celebrity is often no longer as effective as it was.
Working with a multitude of smaller micro-influencers across multiple platforms has become much more powerful for brands to reach this young consumer group who are increasingly brand-savvy and unswayed by just a logo — they want to know how the brand can help define their own story, and how that product and brand fits into their lifestyle and makes them unique.
CCI: Increasingly we’re seeing “made-in-China” trends (and apps like TikTok) expand internationally. Which recent trend or trends do you expect to go global in 2021?
Cakebread: China has led the way with regards to social commerce, nearly every “social” platform is equipped with e-commerce features, and vice versa. Facebook has been playing catch-up for years, albeit not so successfully. However this year, as the pandemic hit businesses hard, we saw Facebook scramble to release a better shopping experience through Facebook and Instagram shops — while still nowhere near as seamless a user experience as, for example, shopping via WeChat. As Western consumers become more comfortable with mobile shopping through social platforms I believe we’ll start to see brands take an approach in global markets that is more akin to the digital strategies we’ve been deploying in China for several years now, driving content to commerce.
CCI: With the rise of Bilibili, Kuaishou, Pinduoduo, and others, do you have any insights into how WeChat has been evolving to withstand the competition from other platforms?
Cakebread: WeChat has always been a very closed, network-driven platform, making it incredibly difficult for discovery and to grow a large audience. Even though WeChat pioneered the concept of mini programs, in many ways it is still lagging behind when it comes to video, livestreaming, and e-commerce livestreaming capabilities. However, this year, largely driven by the pandemic, we saw many changes in WeChat including Channels, mini program livestreaming, Channels livestreaming, and the testing of new features such as hashtags, Channels e-shops, and more, signaling that WeChat is feeling the pressure applied by apps such as Bilibili, Kuaishou, Douyin etc., which are leading in today’s most popular and effective medium — video. While WeChat still remains one of the top channels customers prefer to hear from brands on, we’re looking to apps to continue testing and rolling out new features to stay competitive, whether those will be successful remains yet to be seen.
Thank you to Nick Cakebread and Gusto Luxe, and a special thanks to Olivia Plotnick for facilitating this Q&A.