What does it take to form a vibrant online presence in China as an international brand?
Clarins, a French luxury cosmetics company, can offer a few pointers. In 2010, the brand began a considerable expansion of its global digital presence, launching 18 sites in just a year and a half. According to Aurélie Brisac, the company’s global digital marketing director, the growth provided many lessons about the Chinese market.
“The first was just the simple fact that the e-commerce beauty category exists and could be applied to Clarins brands,” Brisac said in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily.
Brisac also discovered that “guanxi,” or relationships, are key to developing a brand presence in China. Strong Chinese business partners can help brands navigate the complexities of the country’s online retail outlets, such as TaoBao Tmall, which represents 85 percent of the country’s online transactions. Brisac noted that her relationships with the platform’s managing team helped her to use Tmall productively.
“If you go on the site, you would be scared because it’s shiny, there’s information all over the place all the time,” she said. “But Tmall 100 percent respects the brand’s image and its DNA. There is no risk of damaging the online image because you manage your own boutique.”
But the power of Tmall has its drawbacks as well. The popularity of the shopping platform makes it difficult for brands to maintain consumer presence on their own websites. Brisac noted her uncertainty about having the company’s consumer base split between clarins.com and Tmall.
“We have difficulties converting Tmall consumers into clarins.com consumers, and we’re not even sure that is the right thing to do anyway,” said Brisac. “Should we consider closing clarins.com? We’re not there yet. Clarins.com helps our consumers find the right products for their skin.”
Companies should also take advantage of China’s social networks. Clarins is using WeChat as an “omnichannel” to reach out to both Chinese consumers in China and Chinese travelers around the world.
“The Chinese are traveling,” noted Brisac, “and that population [who is traveling and using WeChat] is interesting for Clarins because we know they’re young and Clarins needs to recruit a younger customer.”
image credit: clarins