Brand Zone and Beyond: Tips for Navigating China's Search and Social Platforms

    At the recent LUISAVIAROMA 3rd Fashion & Technology Summit, Hannes Ben and Sissi Johnson discussed how tools like Brand Zone and "Fan Top Ads" can help luxury brands reach the right audiences in China.
    Hannes Ben, Chief International Officer at Forward3D, shares the complexities of cross-border advertising in China at LUISAVIAROMA 3rd Fashion & Technology Summit alongside Sissi Johnson. (Courtesy Photo)
    Hannes BenAuthor
      Published   in Retail

    In luxury, where brand positioning is key, it's fundamental for brands to use technology in a way that ensures their advertising resonates with the right audience in the most compelling way. During the recent LUISAVIAROMA 3rd Fashion & Technology Summit, I addressed the complexities of digital advertising and marketing in China alongside brand strategist Sissi Johnson.

    China has a varied search and social landscape with a number of its own local platforms. In terms of search engines, Baidu is being used by about 71 percent of the online population, followed by 360 at 13.3 percent, Sogou at 12.4 percent, and the remaining percentages are made up of smaller search engine companies such as Shenma.

    Social is dominated by WeChat with around 35 percent of the market share, and Weibo comes in at second with around 28 percent. There are a lot of other smaller platforms, but as far as digital marketing is concerned, WeChat is key for mobile and Weibo is key for desktop.

    Below, I've addressed some key questions relating to what resources are available in China for digital marketers to make the most of the country's search and social platforms.

    Can I apply my Google search strategies directly to Baidu, 360 and Sogou?#

    Your overarching strategies such as whether the focus should be brand awareness growth, ROI or share of voice, should be consistent across all markets regardless of platform. However, when talking about how to achieve your set of objectives, you have to diversify your approach.

    In China, there are a unique set of products for brand keywords, namely Brand Zone (品牌专区) and Mini Brand Zone (品牌起跑线). Brand Zone exists across all three core engines, while Mini BrandZone—a more cost-effective product that allows for geographic targeting—is only available on Baidu.

    Brand Zone is a combination of text, links, images and even videos covering a huge space at the top of the search engine result pages (SERPs). Only the brand itself can buy this product and, therefore, showing it will not only provide brands with high visibility, but also ensure they can be protected from unwanted results.

    What if I cannot afford any Baidu Brand Zone product on Baidu?#

    Baidu Brand Zone can be expensive and may not be cost-effective for smaller brands. However, you can start testing it on smaller, but fast-growing platforms such as 360. As you can see from the Brand Zone 360 case study (illustrated above), by running full Brand Zone, this client has managed to significantly increase his real estate and protect the brand on the SERPs, resulting in more traffic from users who may otherwise have clicked on a reseller or other irrelevant ads.

    What about growing your brand awareness with search?#

    Baidu offers larger scale ads than Google that combine a lot of links and images with text. These ads are called Shantou PPC ads, and they can be used for brand and generic keywords. On top of that, brands can also run specific generic products like “Landmark,” which is a large-scale image with integrated text showing for generic terms on the right hand side of the SERPs. Costs are high and have to be negotiated in advance, but brands can choose to only run it for short periods of time to push brand awareness and then move the budget back to Shantou PPC ads to capture additional traffic.

    What are the core components of successful performance marketing on Weibo in China?#

    Weibo is more of an information platform and as such may often be used purely for PR purposes, partly by teaming up with the right KOLs. However, there are a variety of biddable formats which, if used smartly and updated frequently, can result in highly relevant traffic and strong ROI. Be aware that costs for biddable ads fluctuate heavily so it will require quick analysis and constant optimization to maintain strong performance.

    Weibo offers a number of great biddable products such as “Fan Top Ads” (粉丝头条) which show up at the top of the feed for 24 hours. Such products work excellently in particular during high season, when competition is strong, because they allow brands to occupy a premium position for relevant audiences.

    In the case study about social, we show the impact of running one “Fan Top Ad” on relevant traffic. Here, conversions have shown a massive increase thanks to that product, even though it is mostly aimed at brand awareness building.

    It is important for social to link all activities—organic, biddable & KOL—together and that brands understand the impact of one activity on another. While KOLs may have originally been meant purely for branding, with the right tracking set-up and analytical tools, brands can drive performance via all three activities and constantly optimize for the most relevant audience, driving more traffic and conversions for brands.

    Hannes Ben is the Chief International Officer of Forward3D’s APAC division and Locaria, the Forward Group’s localisation, performance linguistics, multilingual search and social organic business.

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