The impressive spending power of Chinese consumers, coupled with their love of travel, presents serious opportunities for Western brands, both at home and abroad.
Key dates for the calendar are China Single’s Day (11 November) and Golden Week (1-7 October), a week-long holiday established in 1999 by the Chinese government to boost consumer spending.
In 2016 alone an estimated six million overseas trips were booked by Chinese consumers during Golden Week, according to figures by Chinese travel firm Ctrip. A report by Ctrip and the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute also finds the average Chinese tourist spends over 8,000 yuan or £1,020 during their Golden Week trip.
The good news is, Western brands consistently prove popular with Chinese shoppers. Some 82% of Chinese consumers believe Western brands are as desirable as ever, according to survey of 1,000 respondents in mainland China conducted by survey specialist Toluna exclusively for Marketing Week.
Of these, 49% see the UK as a destination for experiences, followed by luxury shopping (31%) and discount shopping (20%).
Over half of those questioned (54%) say TV advertising is the most common way Western brands communicate with consumers in China, followed by outdoor marketing (36%) and working with influencers (26%).
Some 25% interact with Western brands on WeChat, the social media site for instant messaging, commerce and payment services, 21% on ecommerce site Tmall and 20% on microblogging website Weibo. The research finds 7% of British or Western brands are engaging with Chinese consumers on Zhihu, the Chinese question and answer website similar to US site Quora.
We felt that with having someone Chinese in our team we’d be able to get more of the brand across in those communications.
Nicola Davy, Cambridge Satchel Company
Once in the UK, Western brands are adopting different strategies to communicate with Chinese consumers. Facebook is the most common medium brands employ (76%), followed by Instagram (51%), TV advertising (47%) and outdoor marketing (41%). Twitter (28%) and Snapchat (17%) are, by comparison, far less popular.
The majority of respondents agree Western brands could do more to engage Chinese consumers during Golden Week by advertising on social media platforms like WeChat, giving more bilingual information and offering gifts, discounts and tax refunds. The feedback also suggests brands should promote other aspects of British life and culture, not just shopping.
Arnold Ma, CEO of UK-based Chinese digital marketing agency Qumin, explains that while there is an older generation looking to interact with consumer brands, Chinese millennials are interacting with destination and experience-led brands.
“There’s the emerging middle class, this slightly older generation who are becoming more affluent and want to travel aboard. They buy mid-level luxury items to show off their status and wealth when they go back home. Now the pound is quite weak because of Brexit they’ll come over and buy because it’s cheaper than buying in China,” Ma explains.
“The other group are the younger generation, the kids of the parents who have grown up in the newly affluent China. These 18- to 24-year-olds are more of an audience for destinations, specific experiences and unique things.”
Having meaningful conversations with Chinese consumers before they travel to the UK means understanding their preferred forms of communication. The key platforms Western brands need to look at are WeChat and Weibo.
These social platforms give brands further access to influential ecommerce sites like Tmall and JD.com. However, part of navigating these sites means understanding a bit about the background, explains Ma.
“Tmall is banned on WeChat, meaning you can’t visit it on the WeChat browser. Tencent owns WeChat and they have a partnership with JD.com, so if you want to promote things on WeChat it’s best to use JD.comm” he advises.
“If you want to promote things on Weibo it’s best to use to use a Tmall store because Weibo has a partnership with Alibaba, which owns Tmall.”
Qumin recently worked on a WeChat campaign with Watches of Switzerland aimed at boosting brand awareness and driving footfall to the company’s flagship Regent Street store.
After accessing the campaign site through WeChat, users were prompted to answer two questions about their personality and interests. The site then automatically generated a custom video of “hidden gems” – locations in London off the typical tourist map like The Southbank Centre, Notting Hill and the Watches of Switzerland store. On launch day alone the campaign page attracted around 2,000 viewers.
Qumin also used a third-party CRM system to segment Watches of Switzerland’s WeChat followers depending on their preferences. Shoppers were able to make lists of the watches they wanted to view when they visited the UK via the WeChat app.
Katie Jansen, CMO of mobile marketing platform AppLovin, believes WeChat is the most important platform for Western companies to use when targeting Chinese consumers in the domestic market.
“Chinese consumers live on WeChat – it serves as their social network, messaging, commerce and payments, voice calling, gaming, entertainment, customer service channel and more,” she explains.
While WeChat is best for building and maintaining customer relationships, Weibo is best for advertising your brand and products, says Jansen. To take advantage of both platforms, she advises companies to use Weibo for brand awareness and then maintain those relationships through WeChat.
“WeChat should serve as your primary interface with your current clients…