China’s strong supply chain coupled with demographic dividend and online traffic dividend have lowered the barrier to launching new consumer brands there.
For the past few years, emerging C-beauty labels, such as Florasis, Perfect Diary, and Judydoll, have relied on a strategic formula, known as ‘grass rooting' (种草) to quickly raise young buyers’ interest online and create new ‘It’ products.
“5,000 user generated content on Xiaohongshu + 2,000 question-and-answer on Zhihu, China’s Yahoo! Answers, + appearing on top anchor Li Jiaqi’s live broadcast room = the birth of a new brand.”
However, as this ‘grass rooting’ technique has been widely adopted and China’s online ecosystem continues to develop, each platform requires a tailored approach to ensure visibility and maximize exposure. Nowadays, netizens’ feeds are flooded with advertisements and collaboration posts with KOLs and celebrities, making them increasingly skeptical.
Integrated digital marketing agency PinData showcases winning ‘grass rooting’ strategies for China’s four main platforms — Xiaohongshu, Douyin, Weibo, and Zhihu.
China’s TikTok Douyin has the highest monthly active users (MAU) among the four platforms: 759 million. Its content is characterized by entertainment-driven short videos. Netizens usually spend their free time there looking for amusing content as well as educational ones.
Juliette Duveau, founder of the marketing agency The Chinese Pulse, describes the platform as a yelling mall where products seek customers. “Born with the entertainment DNA, Douyin attracts users primarily for leisure and pastime rather than a high-quality shopping experience. The average viewing time for a single Douyin stream is approximately 15 seconds,” she says.
PinData points out some types of content on Douyin with a high penetration rate, such as current news, music and dance, lifestyle, and film and TV episodes. “Among them, there are many popular music, dance, and entertainment KOLs. Brands need to collaborate with these influencers or leverage related hashtags if they want to create high penetration content,” shares Zhang Yang, PinData’s co-founder.
In Douyin’s e-commerce ecosystem, content is the front link of consumption. Merchants can gain insights from content trends on the e-platform and develop new products based on consumer interest and consumption scenarios. “New and unique products can easily become popular on Douyin. By showing its use scenario, promoting it on livestreaming and short videos brands can raise netizens’ interest around it,” says Zhang.
Xiahongshu’s users are mainly interested in beauty and fashion-related content. The platform is populated by small and medium-sized KOLs and KOCs.
Consumers, especially female ones, rely on the app to check users’ product reviews and comments on fashion and beauty products. From a ‘grass rooting’ point of view, the fact that everyone can easily produce and publish content there makes the platform content more real and close to life.
The user demographic is concentrated between the ages of 18 and 34, accounting for 80 percent of its active users. This age group is the one that consumes makeup and skincare products the most.
“When compared to other e-commerce platforms, Xiaohongshu boasts higher Add-to-Cart (ATC) and conversion rates. Typically, followers come for one specific buyer and what they seek is that this trusted buyer makes decisions for them, showing them a lifestyle of good taste, excellent quality, and outstanding design,” shares Duveau. Overall, style prevails over price.
“Xiaohongshu’s makeup content has obvious seasonality, such as sunscreen in early spring, oil control, and makeup fix products in summer. Meanwhile, skincare content that targets and provides solutions to skin issues, such as antiaging, whitening, and other functions,” shares Zhang.
The domestic microblogging app Weibo serves as an official site for brands to release news, announcements, product launches, and celebrity endorsements, as well as to issue apologies. The platform gathers a large number of celebrities’ fans, so many businesses use Weibo when launching new products and cooperating with celebrities to build momentum.
In addition, Weibo has a Hot Search List feature. The real-time chart displays the most debated and popular hashtags on the app. For instance, festivals are popular topics among the social media app’s users. Therefore, during New Year, Valentine’s Day, and International Women’s Day many brands display their official promotion activities on Weibo.
Weibo is a useful tool for brands to build their authority in their field. Companies can release their official statement on their research achievements, new patented formulas, and unique ingredients. Though, it is not directly linked to sales, in the long term it helps brands to cement their reputation and create an archive for people who wish to learn more about them, acting as an official site.
Unlike in the West, official websites are not popular in China, netizens mostly rely on social media platforms as search engines. Thus, Weibo acts like an official channel.
Unlike the aforementioned channels, Zhihu is not a social media app, but rather a Chinese version of Yahoo! Answer. There people look for trustworthy answers to their questions and doubts for anything from beauty advice to medical solutions.
According to PinData, 77 percent of Zhihu’s commercial creators (those who provide answers to earn money from the platform) are real-life professionals in their respective fields. Therefore their answers are believed to be more authoritative.
That being said, Zhihu is a great vehicle for brands to advertise their products and reach their desired audience. The professional answers easily inspire people’s trust.
The question-and-answer site is also highly positioned on Baidu (China’s answer to Google) search results. Therefore Zhihu is also great for brands to create optimized keywords and position themselves high in the research ranking.
“Three common beauty-related questions on Zhihu are consumers’ concerns on the makeup and skincare’s efficacy, ingredients, and technology,” concludes Zhang.