Chinese consumers are now more discerning than ever before as they leverage their social media networks and turn to their favorite influencers to make informed purchasing decisions. To discover, develop, and deliver products customers can’t live without, brands in China need to look to influencers to support the product marketing lifecycle.
But even if a product seems relevant, brands shouldn’t simply rely on marketing and advertising to find out—if one needs proof, just look to the countless Chinese New Year capsule collection flops. Thankfully, the power of an influencer collaboration can go much further than generating awareness and sales if a brand takes time to invest in leveraging an influencers’ consumer intelligence.
Below, we’ve outlined the four touchpoints brands should be considering when planning to work with influencers to launch a new collection.
Product Marketing Testing Phase
“Before a brand ever comes to China, they should run an influencer marketing campaign just to see what the influencers and their followers think of the brand and its products,” says Elijah Whaley, chief marketing officer of PARKLU. “Even if Chinese consumers can’t buy the product in China, they should be test marketing with influencers. A lot of companies, including Chinese companies, are missing this crucial step in product marketing.”
One way international brands can do this is by working with daigou, or Chinese shoppers who bring back products from overseas. While this “gray market” is a hotly debated issue in the e-commerce industry, these daigou shoppers have the potential to be a boon to brands with niche offerings as they essentially function as influencers within their own buyer circles on social media.
Daigou typically operates based on what their followers, friends, and family want, which could provide a brand insight on what demand might be like in their target market. In Australia, for example, emerging skincare brands like Bondi Goddess are counting on a growing interest in health and wellness in China to work with daigou to sell directly to consumers, with the long-term plan to launch on more official e-commerce channels once they’ve accumulated enough data. However, brands may face barriers if they’re trying out a product that isn’t already deemed useful by their influencers.
Product Marketing Design Phase
Influencers made history last year during China’s annual 11.11 Singles Day online sales event when they broke into the top 10 selling brands for the first time. Six influencer brands were among the top 30 sellers, alongside major retailers like ZARA and Vero Moda, and four of these influencers hit more than 100 million RMB in sales.
Why is this important? It suggests that not only do influencers know how to sell a product, but their access to data and their direct relationships with their fans means they know what types of products their audiences are looking for. “They’re selling hundreds of millions through being influencers, and that’s because they can design products better by listening to their audience,” Whaley says.
Brands like Tod’s and Longchamp are already taking advantage of this type of influencer insight, even from those who don’t have their own fashion line, like blogger Mr. Bags. The handbag influencer has such a close relationship with his fans that he knew exactly what color to use when Tod’s approached him about doing a collection campaign last year. He knew that his posts with blue bags received the most engagement, and sure enough, 200 Tod’s bags in shades of blue sold out on WeChat within 24 hours.
Not long after, Longchamp approached Mr. Bags to help them design their Year of the Dog handbag collection, knowing that he would be best situated to understand what their millennial women market would want. While Chinese New Year is typically known as a time when brands release collections whose designs take holiday symbolism way too literally, Longchamp bet on innovation and practicality, designing smaller handbags and better-placed pockets to suit their target customers.
Product Marketing Channel Phase
Even if a brand has the design and testing phases down, launching a new product or a capsule collection with the right influencer on the right channels can help reach more targeted audiences that may be harder to find via more major e-commerce platforms like Tmall or JD.com.
Influencers with their own e-commerce channels have been seeing particularly successful product launches. Leading influencers on WeChat have been opening their own online shops through WeChat’s mini programs, leveraging their loyal audiences and WeChat’s native commerce capabilities to sell brands’ exclusive capsule collections. Mr. Bags recently debuted Baoshop, an e-commerce mini program dedicated to limited-edition launches, working with Tod’s to sell 300 pieces of its Year of the Dog collection. They sold out in just six minutes.
Gogoboi also famously has his own e-commerce platform on WeChat, called Bu Da Jing Xuan, that works exclusively with luxury e-commerce retailers and select department stores. He kicked off the debut of his site with a product launch: Givenchy’s Duetto handbag collection, which sold out to his social media followers in 72 hours.
In both cases, the bloggers were able to woo future customers with rich, informative content on their WeChat accounts, providing direct links in the text to buy the product.
Product Marketing Launch Phase
When it comes time to finally release the product into the market, the launch event is yet another opportunity to work with influencers on a deeper level. It may seem like an obvious step, but just because a brand simply invites an influencer, doesn’t mean they’ll get the results they want when it comes to connecting with audiences. A good launch event needs to have a multi-pronged approach and brands should keep in mind the requirements and expectations of their influencers of choice.
When Longchamp launched its Chinese New Year capsule collection with fashion blogger Mr. Bags, their team worked with him after the initial design and marketing process to create an exclusive offline event for his followers and VIP customers. They invited a combination of both the brand’s and Mr. Bag’s A-list of influencers and celebrities. Some of the bags were sold to VIP customers ahead of the official launch, and these customers had the exclusive opportunity to get their initials engraved on their purchases.
Other brands use the launch party as an opportunity to seed products, keeping in mind that before an influencer is willing to share a product with their trusting fans, they will likely want to make sure they understand the brand culture and the product themselves by having the opportunity to use it in their own time.
Meitu, arguably one of the most popular cell phone brands among Chinese females, is particularly known for this type of engagement with their influencers—not only do they invite hundreds of fashion and beauty KOLs to their product launches, they will send out thousands of free phones to let consumers try them out and spread the word.
Of course, product seeding itself requires its own carefully devised strategy, to keep influencers interested in the first place.
Ultimately, once a brand begins utilizing an influencer’s insights at multiple stages of the product launch, the chances of creating a hit with their Chinese audience are already much higher.