An influencer might be the face of a campaign, a traffic generator, or – at best – a brand ambassador. But, it’s rare when a brand takes influencer insights and utilizes them as strategies for selling in China.
And that’s a shame.
Compared to their Western counterparts, Chinese Influencers have a much greater ability to incorporate sales into their content channels. That means, when brands find influencers with the right fit, a relationship that’s more like a partnership than a single business transaction can be a direct bridge to their target consumers.
Remember: In China, fans aren’t bothered by sales in their content feeds like in the West. Foreign companies often find this concept difficult to grasp because they perceive influencers as a type of internet celebrity.
However, Chinese influencers are community builders who bring netizens together according to their interests and work tirelessly to keep these circles active and fun.
In other words, they are community leaders and insiders. Besides creating content, they converse with fans, open themselves up personally, and offer real-time advice.
The Potential of Online Community Leaders
Influencers hold massive potential as community liaisons and brand development partners. Ad hoc marketing collaborations for specific communities are just one way to leverage influencers’ unique place as insiders in the consumer journey.
To make this idea more concrete, I’ve highlighted some especially innovative brands that have taken the initiative to co-create with Chinese influencers by treating them like temporary brand partners.
Zhang Dayi x Neutrogena
Zhang Dayi is the CMO of China’s leading wang hong incubator, Ruhan, and a hugely successful fashion influencer and Taobao entrepreneur in her own right.
She is known for earning a higher yearly income than Kim Kardashian.
During a collaboration with Neutrogena, she offered advice for the skincare brand by engaging with fans online in real-time. She answered questions like:
Which facial mask textures appeal to the audience more? Something thick, or something jelly-like?
Does moisturizing or whitening matter more to people?
As the leader of a massive online community, Zhang Dayi, was able to answer questions like these while selling in China 20,000 facial masks in 4 hours.
Mr.Bag x Tod’s
Mr. Bags’ collaboration with Tod’s has become a legend among luxury branding professionals. Two-hundred specially-designed handbags were sold exclusively on WeChat via QR code as a result of the campaign.
In the above photo, Mr. Bags is posing with TOD’s products in front of Florence’s easily-recognizable panorama. While tons of marketers and advertisers have seen this post, fewer have taken a closer look at another photo from Mr. Bags’ personal account.
Mr. Bags participated directly in the design of the collection. He communicated with the brand’s headquarters studio and had a final say in product production. And he selected the collections’ color from fan feedback.
“Once in a fan meeting, I asked, ‘what kind of content do you wish to see from me?’, and many fans said they wanted to see exclusive collaboration products,” said Mr. Bags.
“It’s because so many of my fans are used to buying conventional bags from brands, but they truly want to see unique designs, something different from the mass market offers.”
Tod’s was able to leverage Mr. Bag’s influencer insights into handbag buyers, who largely comprise his online community, by giving him more control as a partner.
These two Influencer-brand partnerships were successful because they were laser-focused on a specific purpose.
How can our brand better serve one clearly-defined audience and community?
Secondarily, these brands aimed to sell products in a way that satisfied all stakeholders: Themselves, the influencer, and consumers.
The Future of Influencer Insights & Selling in China
The above-mentioned influencer incubator Ruhan came up with an innovative business model that revolutionized the way business is done in the Influencer world.
The Ruhan model emphasizes engaging posts and opinion polls to converse with fans and gather feedback. Zhang Dayi, Ruhan’s leading influencer, often asks fans opinions in posts. For example:
“Which color do you like better, pink or blue?”
Fans gravitate to influencers who ask for their opinions and engage them in the decision-making process. Asking for opinions strengthens these communities.
Forward-looking brands will recognize that China’s influencer industry has invested enormous amounts of effort to figure out how to coax feedback from online fans.
Once you realize this, it becomes obvious why letting influencers into your marketing, ad strategy and product meetings as partners have so much potential.
They are some of the most well-informed insiders you’re likely to find.
Unfortunately, most brands simply analyze KPIs from posts and stop the conversation there. Innovative brands are those who ask influencers for feedback about their products and high-level strategy.
While the value of influencers for selling in China and traffic is hardly a secret anymore, influencer insights are still largely untapped potential. They can be the insight-providers that make brands do smarter business in China.