Luxury brands tend to place importance on their customers’ “offline” experience more than any other type of retailer thanks to their focus on high-quality service. Equally important in the China market, however, is what they’re doing in the digital sphere—and social media is a crucial part of this equation. Just this month, a survey of Chinese luxury shoppers released by PR firm Ruder Finn found that 58 percent of mainland Chinese luxury consumers said top Chinese mobile messaging app WeChat influences their purchase decisions, while 52 percent said the same for microblogging platform Weibo. For more of our ongoing year-end coverage of key developments in China’s luxury market, we’ve rounded up the most important social media marketing trends of 2014 for luxury brands in China.
High-tech mobile apps
As we mentioned in our year-end list of the top market trends, 2014 was the year of mobile in China. As a result, many luxury brands are rapidly developing the technical aspects of their mobile marketing strategies, whether it’s through special apps created to be used within top Chinese mobile messaging app WeChat or through standalone apps.
On WeChat, luxury brands have created a variety of apps to be used within the platform as built-in profile features or limited-time campaigns. A growing number of brands are developing interactive WeChat games and activities for their marketing campaigns. Some highlights from this year include Burberry’s “parallel social event” for its Shanghai store opening, Montblanc’s “Big Boss” game, and Kate Spade’s “Sky Lantern” mini-app.
Many brands’ in-platform WeChat apps are permanent fixtures. Tommy Hilfiger offers a special GPS-enabled store locator app within WeChat while luxury e-tailers Yoox and ShangPin offer in-app WeChat shops with special features—Yoox features a “shake your style” game where users can receive recommendations by shaking their phones.
Meanwhile, premium brands are also venturing out of the WeChat sphere with their own mobile apps. ShangPin’s standalone e-commerce app generates more than 50 percent of its mobile sales, while other brands have created special apps for marketing: for example, Tiffany & Co. offers its engagement ring app to Chinese customers to help them learn about the ring selection process.
While mass viral sharing is the key to social marketing on microblogging platforms, 2014 was all about WeChat marketing campaigns that focused on exclusive 1:1 sharing between close family and friends—giving luxury brands a much more exclusive way to advertise. Many brands’ campaigns focused on giving users opportunities to share special e-cards or offers with their contacts. As WeChat’s Chinese New Year hongbao (“red envelope”) cash-giving game to promote its new payment service went viral, American leather goods brand Coach launched its own special red envelope game in which users could send special offers to friends and family.
Individualism and self-expression
In order to encourage both viral and 1:1 sharing, many brands developed mini WeChat apps or Weibo campaigns that allowed users to express themselves creatively. This manifested itself in many ways, from selfie photo contests on both Weibo and WeChat, a special Qixi Festival (Chinese Valentine’s Day) poetry e-card app by Piaget that allowed users to compose their own three-line poem and send it to loved ones, and a Starbucks “Heartfelt Greetings” app that allowed users to send “handwritten” messages via WeChat for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Many campaigns also featured personalized product recommendations: for example, Bentley created a special app that recommended car models to users based on their input of favored lifestyles, colors, and art pieces.
Brand heritage highlights
Another main social media strategy used by famous brands was a focus on conveying their brand heritage via social media. Many watch brands such as Blancpain, IWC, Piaget, and Jaeger LeCoultre, have hosted special quiz contests on their Weibo or WeChat accounts asking users about their brand’s history as well as their models’ craftsmanship in order to highlight what makes their brand unique.
While digital campaigns are important, luxury labels still want to make sure that their Chinese customers get the in-store experience and have the opportunity to view products in person. As a result, online-to-offline (O2O) has been a key part of brands’ social media strategies, especially as WeChat’s QR code-scanning feature allows for special interactive experiences. Some O2O campaigns were simple: for Bottega Veneta had users take photos of its Chinese New Year store windows and post them on Weibo, while Hublot did the same on Weibo and WeChat with its special World Cup clocks on display in-store.
Other O2O campaigns featured mini-app development on WeChat and were integrated with special exhibitions—watch brand TAG Heuer created a special mobile QR code “treasure hunt” for visitors to its China exhibition, while Montblanc offered users personalized e-invites to its Black & White exhibition in Shanghai.
For more information on how luxury brands can use WeChat to reach their top Chinese customers, download Jing Daily’s latest report, Luxury on WeChat.