The recent marketing and PR disasters suffered by Dolce & Gabbana and Zara have once again highlighted the importance of understanding your target market, particularly when it comes to China.
As one of the world’s largest fashion consumer markets, China is too big an opportunity for many fashion brands to ignore. China now accounts for more than 32% of the world’s luxury goods purchases and this figure is only forecast to continue to rise. However, while it is lucrative it is not without its dangers and a lack of cultural and social understanding can be fatal for brands.
Dolce & Gabbana and Zara are just some of the many brands which have mis-stepped with Chinese marketing and offended customers. However, there are plenty of examples of brands doing an excellent job of engaging Chinese consumers.
The British fashion label’s digital transformation and engaging in-store experience has helped position this brand as a leader in the China market. Having identified that the average age of luxury consumers in China is at least 15 years younger than in Europe and the United States, Burberry set its sights firmly on engaging young Chinese consumers via digital media. Since 2009, Burberry has grown its brands across social networks such as Weibo, Douban and Kaixin. It has also invested heavily in its in-store experience, launching its “retail theatre” experience, which seamlessly merges the online and offline store experience in Beijing and Shanghai. Burberry was living “new retail” long before Alibaba started talking about it. The stores incorporate RFID chips on products which trigger videos and interactive displays on mirrors and screens throughout the stores. Customers can interact with screens to get product details, as well as request sizes and styles to be sent to their fitting room. By engaging its audience via social media and then taking them on a brand journey across digital and physical channels, Burberry is providing customers with an exclusive luxury experience at every touch point. Chinese consumers have come to expect this level of seamless integration between the digital and in-store experience and Burberry is the undisputed leader in this area.
US fashion label Michael Kors has placed social media at the forefront of his marketing efforts in China. When the first Michael Kors store opened in Beijing, the brand partnered with a host of social networking websites, such as Weibo and Douban, to create buzz as well as offering promotions and major prizes. Michael Kors positioned the brand as part of a free and spontaneous lifestyle, launching a campaign called the “Jet Set Experience” on Weibo, which invited users to post their friends, “who often fly to different parts of the world to enjoy life”. The positioning helped to establish the brand with young Chinese consumers who identify with this lifestyle, as well as those who aspire to this lifestyle. In recent years the fashion brand has enlisted its huge social media following to create and share content. A short video challenge on Douyin in 2017,attracted more than 30,000 Douyin users to create short video in one week and gained more than 200 million views and 8.5 million likes. The brand has expertly engaged with Chinese audiences by naming Chinese actress Yang Mi as its first global brand ambassador. With more than 100 million followers alone on Weibo, Yang Mi is one of China’s best “shippers” and is known as the “shipper queen” in the industry. Michael Kors has secured a leading brand position among young consumers in China thanks to its expert use of social media as well as influencer and fan engagement.
In 2013, the hugely popular Canadian activewear company Lululemon moved into the China market launching three showrooms in Shanghai and Beijing. The brand wanted to enable Chinese audiences to get up close with the brand and experience its many facets. The brand launched a host of experiential marketing initiatives including holding yoga and fitness sessions for customers. Lululemon quickly gained popularity in the Chinese market and it built on this with the launch of an official flagship store on Tmall. The combination of its experiential showrooms and e-commerce channels enabled Chinese consumers to understand the brand values while also accessing the latest products via online sales channels. Lululemon also uses a sophisticated sponsorship program to sponsor local yoga instructors and small studios to help immerse the brand within smaller communities and boost its awareness and presence among its core female audience.
When targeting Chinese consumers here are three key points that fashion marketers need to understand.
Trust is everything for Chinese consumers, without trust, there is no business. Brands need to maintain their reputation at all times so that Chinese consumers are willing to pay. This means brand need to be trustworthy and authentic with consumers, and as Dolce & Gabbana learned, they also need to respect consumers, otherwise they will not succeed.
2. Social media
China’s hugely influential social media platforms do not just impact people’s daily lives, they can make or break fashion brands. The influence of platforms such as Douyin, Little Red Book, Weibo, and WeChat cannot be underestimated – WeChat has more than 1 billion users, Weibo has 500 million registered users, Douyin daily plays are 1 billion, while Little Red Book has more than 150 million users. These channels not only improve brand awareness they also maintain consumer loyalty. From higher conversion rates, direct click to sales and the power wielding KOLs, social media platforms are crucial for fashion marketing.
China boasts the world’s largest online retail market and the power and ubiquity of Alibaba, JD and co means e-commerce is impossible to ignore. E-commerce in China is viewed as an entertainment channel, thanks largely to the work of Alibaba and despite the market slowdown, Chinese consumers are still spending big. E-commerce platforms such as Tmall as well as WeChat Stores and Little Red Book Stores enable social commerce to thrive and are hugely beneficial to brands.