Strategic Brand Building Replaces “Spray and Pray”
Chinese brands are taking social media ever more seriously and understanding how to more meaningfully incorporate social media touch points into digital marketing strategies. Rather than remain content with "spray and pray" tactics, as observed in the not-too-distant past, brands today take a more planned approach for matching their objectives with various social media options, such as online video, social network brand channels or brand-sponsored websites.
Most important, advertisers are learning which types of social media activities are best suited to engage with consumers at various levels of the brand-building process. The BrandZ™ Pyramid illustrates the brand-building levels (open chart). The levels form a hierarchy of the brand-customer relationship, which becomes progressively stronger, starting with presence or awareness and culminating at the pinnacle of the pyramid with emotional engagement of the customer and even brand advocacy.
A mix of traditional and social media is prescribed for brands to succeed at each level and move up the pyramid. While traditional advertising remains important at every level of the pyramid, combining it with various social media can strengthen the influence on consumers as they ascend.
A Coherent Combination of Entertainment and Communication
Not surprisingly, China's online community is enormous compared with that of other countries. But China's online community is different not just in size, but also in behavior. While Chinese netizens depend on social media sites for the usual purposes—as communications tools for staying in touch with family and friends— they also use social media much more for recreational purposes. On average, they spend more than three hours daily online, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) 2012 report of digital habits, which documents 274 million microbloggers and 331 million online gamers.
China's leading social media sites have effectively combined entertainment and communication utilities. Tencent, with almost 800 million active accounts in 2012, is known both for online gaming and for its instant messenger, QQ. The interplay of these utilities forms a coherent environment for brands to advertise and create a brand experience. Similarly, Sina Weibo, the micro-blogging leader in China, offers great user flexibility with options not just to write short comments, but also to "retweet," keep updated with latest news, play online games, use video and blog.
The opportunities for marketers in these multifunction environments are vast. Rapid evolution challenges marketers to stay current, as illustrated by the rise in popularity of Tencent's Weixin (WeChat). Weixin (WeChat) is a mobile app much like instant messenger, but with voice messaging capability along with photo sharing, location sharing and other options that can take place within the large Tencent social network. Brands take advantage of the platform by registering Weixin accounts to communicate with targeted users directly.
Using Social Media for Selling and Brand Building
Advertisers are experimenting with ways to use this communication and entertainment combination for both short-term goals, like driving sales, and for building long-term brand equity. Digital content, when done well, can accomplish both goals, initially connecting with core customers and reaching larger audiences through viral sharing. Among the BrandZ™ Top 50 Most Valuable Chinese Brands, the apparel brand Metersbonwe provides a good example.
In 2012, Metersbonwe became the official marketer of clothing based on the World of Warcraft online game. Metersbonwe held a competition among gamers. The company categorized potential participants into groups that included fashion trend leaders, normal players and heavy game users. It then delivered customized social media content for each group. Four blogs generated 271,623 visits and 1,126 replies, six microblogs with 3,290 "retweets" and 1,192 comments. Eight days after the event launched, Metersbonwe sold out its first consignment of World of Warcraft clothing. After replenishment, the second consignment sold out within four days.
A Social Media Environment Can Inspire Trust
Online entertainment and communication environments yield one more benefit. They can inspire trust. Consumer trust is an important prerequisite for sales. But consumer trust has eroded in China. Though e-commerce is an enormous industry, the fear of unwittingly purchasing fake goods can be a constant concern. For brands, finding suitable platforms to communicate and sell effectively is a key priority. Online utilities like T-Mall, a B2C offshoot of local e-commerce giant Taobao.com, have thrived by helping advertisers create branded entertainment within a credible environment. Brand equity can be strengthened through association with the appeal of mainstream social media platforms.