Influence marketing blends the lines of human and digital

Influence marketing has been very developed in China for years and KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) are an important part of most brand strategies in this market. Famous influencers such as Austin Li or Viya in the field of Beauty draw millions of followers on Weibo, WeChat or XiaoHongShu and generate sales in millions of dollars at every online event they participate. A number of KOLs have developed their own brand, leveraging their awareness and influencial power to their own benefit.

 

Micro-KOLs are lower-tier influencers with smaller followings who also play an important role in the Chinese marketing ecosystem as they are able to create a closer bond with followers, who are in turn more likely to trust and act on their recommendations and endorsements.

 

The Covid crisis and related lockdown period has pushed further consumers’ digital behavior and accelerated the development of new forms of influence:

 

KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers) are real buyers of products who share their opinions and recommendations with their social circles. A growing number of brands try to capitalize on them to develop reputation and sales via “private traffic” i.e private discussions taking place in closed social environments such as WeChat groups (quite similar to Whatsapp groups) or discussions on social e-commerce platform Xiao Hong Shu, 小红书 where consumers exchange tips on buying foreign goods. Beauty brand Perfect Diary has been able to disrupt the China market and rise among its leaders by leveraging KOCs to target older millennials and generation Z consumers and disseminate news and promotions through their own private channels.

 

Examples of consumers posts about Perfect diary :

 

 

Also the recent heath crisis and weeks of closed stores have been an opportunity to blend further the offline and online retail experience and influence. Key Opinion Sales Associates are spreading. These are traditional sales staff working in stores who also sell online, through social networks, products from the brand they work for. They represent a sort of new channel providing brands with swift, continuous, personal communication with clients. Louis Vuitton for example built a fully omnichannel platform which relies on sales associates to communicate with clients on WeChat to amplify and monetize marketing initiatives.

 

Longchamp is another example detailed below:

 

The first 2 pictures below show the personal account of a sales associate from a Longchamp store in Shanghai. Her personal account is created under the Longchamp corporate WeChat account (it shows the brand name, sales associate  name and her position). The sales associate sends clients information about new products and discounts, as well as strengthen connection with customers through greetings on holidays or birthdays. The next 2 pictures show the account of the Longchamp store where the sales associate works for, this store account will introduce the products in the store and the discount information. Customers will place their orders via the sales associate. So the whole sales process is digital and it has a human and very personalized dimension through the intervention of the sales associate.

 

 

 

 

 

Lately VOLs (Virtual Opinion Leaders) have started to emerge. Originally a product of the ACG culture (Anime, Comic and Games) in China there is a trends towards virtual idols now having the very appearance of real persons.

 

These Virtual Opinion Leaders are non-human, digital art characters created through computer generated imagery (CGI) and artificial intelligence. Brands may find it effective to work with a virtual influencer as they can reach and leverage very targeted, connected and engaged audiences. The first Chinese VOL with human features was released in May 2020. She is already very active on Weibo and has been seen wearing Chloé and Vogue.

 

 

 

Also, M.A.C cosmetics launched a “Honor of Kings” (a MOBA game by Tencent) make up line endorsed by the virtual boys band Wu Xian Wang Zhe, 无限王者团 composed of  5 characters in the game. The new collection includes lipsticks, eyeshadow palettes and pro-palettes presented in colors associated to individual members of this virtual band.

 

 

 

 

All in all, the current period accelerates the blending of digital and human, personalized influence. It provides brands with new opportunities and challenges to embark consumers on a new journey to discover and interact with their latest offers. This is well illustrated in the latest Dior ad which blurs the lines between human, virtual and anime worlds: in this video, anime KOL Xue Fei Nova morphs successively into different forms of identities to tell a story about the brand and connect with young consumers.

 

 

 

IN THE SAME SERIES :

Livestreaming during the coronavirus crisis accelerated the transformation of many sectors

Safe & Clean: a Key Driver In Consumer Goods

Consumer always trade-off between several criteria when choosing a product. Beyond habits, brand or product availability, several dimensions are taken into account, consciously or unconsciously. In food for instance, taste, format, meal destination, origin, ingredients, price or value for money matter. In cosmetics, efficacy, sensoriality/pleasure, convenience and value for money will all play a role in choosing a product. And across all consumer goods categories, safety plays a significant role.

 

The quest for safe products has been on the rise worldwide for a couple of years and, even more so in China, due to safety issues that occurred in the past years in several industries (e.g., the milk formula scandal, concerns around fresh food quality, fake personal & skin care products, etc.)

 

The Covid19 crisis definitely accelerates the need for reassurance on safety across categories. However, for consumer goods, safety (安全) that literally translates as harmless (“no harm to health & wellbeing”) is a broad concept. It can be associated in consumers’ minds to a wide range of aspects, such as product composition (clean ingredients, no/limited number of additives such as preservatives or artificial flavoring, but also naturalness, with or without organic certification), product origin, manufacturing practices, packaging (basic hygiene and safety, of course, but also more sophisticated expressions of safety such as the trend for touchless products), certifications or seals, shelf-life. To name but a few.

 

Giants in different sectors have already laid out plans in response to growing safety concerns.  2 examples in the food & cosmetics industries:

 

 

  • Consumers’ interest in “plant-based” meat is predicted to increase in China. In China, the Covid-19 has been associated with ‘animal mismanagement’ and concerns about meat safety have increased during this period. Veggie products have developed quickly since the beginning of the year.

 

 

HeyTea partners with startup Starfield to launch Veggie burger

 

 

 

  • In cosmetics, clean beauty brands are developing quickly. Drunk Elephant (acquired by Shiseido at the end of 2019), though still an emerging brand in China, has recently gained awareness. The communication of Drunk Elephant by KOLs & KOCs on social media like Red or Weibo focuses on ‘clean’ skincare formulae without the so-called ‘Suspicious 6’ (essential oils, silicones, chemical sunscreens, SLS, fragrance and dyes, and drying alcohols), which may cause harm to the skin.

 

 

Even though safety is confirmed to be a key purchase driver for many products, today and tomorrow, reassuring on safety will not be enough to convince and build loyalty among Chinese consumers, who are looking for a mix of safety reassurance and positive inside benefit.

 

Brands will have to be both rational & pragmatic on this dimension, while at the same time creative, daring and emotional, to stand out in an atomized market.

 

IN THE SAME SERIES:

Influence marketing blends the lines of human and digital

The multiple facets of Wellness & Wellbeing in China

The Covid19 pandemic has definitely reinforced the conscious need for Wellness & Wellbeing all around the world, and even more so in China.  The recent events have modified the Wellness concept both in its nature and in its range of applications. Lifestyle, beauty, sport, food, home furniture, technical appliances – all are concerned by these changes.

 

  1. Wellness through the quest of a new home atmosphere, or the evolution of the ‘Zhai’ culture

Chinese people are clearly eager to invest more time, money and efforts in building a comfortable, happy, pampering & smart home. The pandemic has further accelerated the quest and usage of intelligent appliances, new cozy home furniture, smart health products, interior design pieces, ambiance fragrances, etc.

 

 

 

The TMall Live Chic campaign, “The chic-ability of your home” encouraged young people to share their chic interior design to showcase their taste and imagination, as well as the lifestyle they pursue.

 

 

  1. Physical & Mental Wellness Through Fitness

The Covid-19 pandemic has boosted the fitness trend in many major cities. The use of fitness apps has soared during confinement and is projected to continue doing so in the mid-term.

 

 

 

The number of users of the ‘Keep’ training app has significantly increased in the past 6 months. It now registers over 200 million users and 3.6 billion user exercise data entries.

 

 

 

 

During the lockdown, NIKE has launched a breakthrough channel dedicated to “Exercising without leaving your home”. By collaborating with Tencent Kandian Live Streaming, Nike launched weekly live training courses via Kandian Live Streaming mimi program on WeChat. Users can enjoy the interactive experience of a professional fitness guidance at home, turning their living room into a gym.

 

 

 

 

  1. Wellness through Pampering and Taking Care of Oneself

Although still quite new to China, the self-care concept is certain to evolve further post-Covid. The anxiety triggered by the pandemic remains high 3 months after the end of lockdown and has fostered the need for self-pampering and little treats, in order to escape from a troubled daily life.

 

Social isolation caused by quarantine created loneliness and stress. Caring for one’s skin became a physically and mentally healing moment that made people feel self-love. Consumption of facial cleansing products, facial masks, toners and lotions soared. Among these, the use of facial masks has increased the most, reaching +12%. (Research data by CBNData)

 

“Put down your phone and get to know yourself” is also an emerging trend boosted by lockdown. Creativity has been on the rise, as a potent stress-reliever. 

 

 During self-quarantine I spent quite some time at home mending old things or finding new uses for them. Used clothes became a washing machine cover; glass bottles were turned into wind-bells. I enjoyed the process of “creating things”, because it gave me a pleasure and a sense of accomplishment that I cannot get from the virtual world. I can truly feel myself in this real world.” – male, 32, Shangdong province.

 

  1. Wellness For the Skin, Through Healthier Diet

The pandemic has reinforced the link between nutrition & health, and between skin health and nutrition. What has changed is that ‘food that is good for health’ is getting more integrated in Chinese eating habits.

 

Searches on keywords such as “immunity, nutrition and health, coarse grains” have increased significantly. Healthy and functional snacks is gradually becoming a hot consumption trend among young people.

 

 

 

The newly launched “collagen peptide dry fruit” snack is BESTORE’s (良品铺子,Liang Pin Pu Zi – a well-known high-end snacks brand in China) first attempt to enhance nutritional elements of snack. Collagen peptides, being relatively small molecules, are easier to digest and absorb, and have beauty-enhancing benefits.

 

 

  1. Wellness Through a Better Balance Between Professional Success & Immediate Happiness

In China as elsewhere, quarantine was an opportunity for many to take a step back and really think about the meaning of life and work. More and more people started considering finding meaning and fulfilment elsewhere than in their job. As working ‘like a robot’ became less appealing, many started to wish they could create something different.

 

“Youth Losers’ farm” in Chong Ming Island (part of Shanghai) is a group of young Chinese citizens which left big cities to set up a farm. They learned agricultural methods and live on the product of their crops. Since the end of the lockdown, some of them have decided to live a “half farmer, half X” life, and some of them plan to definitely leave the city behind and stay on the farm for several years.

 

 

IN THE SAME SERIES:

 

Safe & Clean: a Key Driver In Consumer Goods

Being vogue in a sustainable way

Studies show that Chinese people are among the most concerned worldwide about the environment. They are particularly worried about pollution and its impact on health. And they want to play a role, have a positive impact through consumption.

 

The covid19 epidemic motivated young Chinese people to further think about the relationship between human and nature, and explore more possibilities of a sustainable life. It brought change to what they use & eat and to how they live. When it comes to fashion, they no longer want to choose between a responsible behavior and a joyful and stylish attitude: more and more young people look to being vogue in a sustainable way.

 

Bottloop (抱朴再生)is a fashion brand from Beijing who addresses these expectations. It combines a modern lifestyle with fashion pieces that are all made of recycled products, using plastic bottles and organic fabrics to manufacture trendy, urban clothes. Beyond materials, the brand blends fashion and sustainability by joint design, art exhibitions and public benefits activities. It has developed collaborations with artists as well as famous brands such as Mercedes and Mars Wringley. In April 2020, Bottloop invited 10 well-known graffiti artists to design eco-friendly, colorful raincoats based on the stories and memories of the epidemic. They were exhibited and launched as a new line of products at K11 Shanghai.

 

A number of other initiatives such as the collaboration between Nike and Reclothing Bank, a Chinese independent designer brand focused on upcycling old garments and “letting fashion be reborn”, are combining a sustainable approach with high creativity.

 

The covid crisis has accelerated this blending of fashion with sustainability. It has pushed consumers to further expect that brands take a stand, express values, and implement concrete actions in real life in addition to demonstrating inspiration. It has also shown that the pandemic period, now a common heritage to all consumers, is a material that brands can leverage if they are willing to give it a positive, creative tone.

 

If you are interested in the China market, contact us.

 

 

 

IN THE SAME SERIES:

The multiple facets of Wellness & Wellbeing in China