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Cracking China: how brands must speak to the travelling Chinese

2018 is the year of China-EU travel. Over 200 million Chinese consumers are predicted to visit in 2020. How can brands influence this affluent young population and see the impact on their bottom line? Specialists in Chinese comms and Lulu Guinness reveal all...

China is changing at an incredible pace, culturally, economically and socially – and Chinese consumers are super connected. 

Understanding, engaging and selling to Chinese speaking consumers – both in China and here in the UK – was the central theme of a breakfast session held in central London with Campaign and Digital Retex – the enabler of WeChat services – hosting. The session explored how Digital Retex can help Western brands to stand out on WeChat and how Lulu Guinness is building engagement with Chinese consumers. Expert speakers presented short but insightful talks to an audience of consumer brand marketers.

Understanding the Chinese consumer
"Chinese people love to travel and they are drawn to the UK by the shopping opportunities, and entertainments on offer such as music, theatre and football – especially football. Another key pull is education; there are a huge number of well-respected and renowned universities so it’s a popular place to study," said Jie Chen, digital media and consumer specialist at Digital Retex.

She added that they’re not so concerned with package trips anymore. Increasingly, Chinese consumers are planning and organising travel by themselves and like to curate their own experiences: "They are young, digitalised and affluent. Due to the one child policy, a lot of children have resources from both parents. They are also independent – they don’t want to be guided when abroad, but want to make informed decisions and craft their own itinerary. They are very hungry for new experiences."

Jie Chen, digital media and consumer insight specialist at Digital Retex on "young, digitalised and affluent" Chinese travellers

WeChat is an instant messaging, commerce and payment services app with over 963 million active users, Chen explained. To connect fully with the Chinese consumer, brands must focus on smartphones: "It’s the only accessory we take with us everywhere. WeChat is important – we have everything on WeChat as we don’t have Facebook or WhatsApp in China. You can give us all the information we need on there and when we travel we will find you," said Chen.

It is an "app which enables Chinese people to live their everyday lives digitally," according to Andrea Ghizzoni, director, Europe at Tencent.

"We still think about social media as a communication platform. But the most interesting thing about WeChat is it much more than a communication tool – it’s a business platform, a critical one. We manage more than one million transactions per minute. So the approach to the WeChat platform should be totally different – it’s not just a marketing platform, it’s the way business is done and transactions are made by Chinese people," he said.

Fausto Caprini, Digital Retex's CEO, explained why China offers big opportunities for brands

Reaching the Chinese consumer
As well as being a tool for reaching consumers and hosting transactions, WeChat is also helping with brand building, customer service and content. Brands in Europe are beginning to introduce WeChat Pay as they understand the importance of the app for Chinese consumers. 

To crack the China market, WeChat is not as much an option as a necessity. But what are the drawbacks for brands? 

"Most brands are facing an issue around how to leverage WeChat," said Edward Lindeman business development manager at Digital Retex." A lot of teams lack the resource to manage the channel properly. It comes down to lacking knowledge, cultural understanding and technical resources to understand what should be done. That’s where we can help – Digital Retex can provide services to execute campaigns, control and desired results."

A key challenge brands face is around cultural difference according to Fausto Caprini, managing director at Retex SpA.

"There are many examples of really successful Western brands failing because they don't get this right. This is why we hire mother tongue Chinese in our organisation, to check that the brand's communications will be correctly received by the Chinese speaking consumer. We help connect two different worlds," he said.

As well as considering cultural differences, it's important to understand digital differences, he continued: "Another common mistake people make is to approach WeChat as they do with Whatsapp or other social media platforms. Some brands use it simply as a platform to push messages to their followers without realising that WeChat is a complex platform that needs to be managed in a comprehensive way. This is where Digital Retex adds value."

Caprini concluded that: "Brands are facing ripe opportunity and those who adapt in the right ways, research the market and form trusted partnerships will get through to Chinese consumers. We understand brands need support to connect the two worlds so our Chinese mother tongue specialists help Western brands achieve this."

Left: Edward Lindeman, head of business development at Digital Retex, said he depends on WeChat in China. Right: Andrea Ghizzoni, director of WeChat in Europe at Tencent, explains the importance of the app in the everyday lives of Chinese people

Case study: how Lulu Guinness builds brand love with Chinese consumers

Lulu Guinness is an distinctive luxury British brand, known for its bold, feminine and classic designs. The brand is relatively new to the Chinese market but is already enjoying successes with Chinese consumers both in the UK and in China. 

"We’re a relatively young brand and it’s about balancing between our brand and adapting to the China market." Francesca Sieler, global head of marketing and PR at Lulu Guinness said. "We have a WeChat channel – it’s really, really important and a big development for us. We’re aren’t as sophisticated as we want to be. We’ve build a follower base but you need to continue to give them what they want to keep them engaged. We want to find a partner that can help us keep up the momentum on the channel. It’s a really big growth development point for us to look at in the next year – we want to retain those followers."

Francesca Sieler, global head of marketing and PR at Lulu Guinness, chats to Campaign's Emily Tan

Quality is also key for Chinese consumers according to Sieler: "We’ve found that what they want from us is novelty – iconic pieces such as our doll face or lip designs – something that stands out. A big part of our strategy is to evolve the collection for Asia. We launched clothing there in September to build ourselves as a lifestyle brand," said Sieler. "Expectations are so high and trust is a big thing – if you lose that it’s hard to get [Chinese consumers] back."

Campaign’s global technology editor Emily Tan agreed: "Because counterfeit copies are so good over there it’s really important to ensure the quality is there." 

How is Lulu Guinness attracting and engaging Chinese consumers here in the UK? Sieler explained: "We have Chinese speaking members of staff in our flagship stores. We’re also tapping into specific traditions or holiday periods that are important to Chinese people. And we’re also thinking about and planning around events that would encourage Chinese consumers to come to the UK – events that are very British. I’ve found that Chinese people want to engage with a British brand, and they don’t want to see you changing the brand to be more Chinese."

Digital Retex is a Tencent Trusted partner. It develops digital services for western companies that wish to communicate their own brand through WeChat. On behalf of  western companies, Digital Retex opens and manages the official accounts on the platform, takes care of the media planning and develops their marketing strategies in order to attract Chinese consumers. 

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