China has the world’s most socially active online population. L2’s Digital IQ Index: China 2012 reports that “95 percent of Internet users in Tier 1,2 and 3 cities are registered on at least one social media site. Forty percent have either read or posted a product review, and nearly 80 percent use social media to learn more about luxury brands and products.” China offers more digital upside than any other luxury market.
Interestingly, social media is one area that non-Chinese companies have a hard time breaking into. It is not unusual to see Chinese version of popular US social media sites quickly take off in China. By the time some of these US social media websites come to China – if they come – they are generally too late to be a significant force.
China’s digital landscape is extremely dynamic — even temperamental. There is no question social media sites and search engines play vital roles in the development of online luxury engagement. Sina Weibo has the highest users, surpassing 400 million in November 2012, and is the “de facto choice for prestige brands in China.” For other players, many of them fall in favor as quickly as they fall out of favor.
Here’s a breakdown of China’s digital landscape.
Owned by Tencent, hosts over 200 million users and has allowed brands like Louis Vuitton and Coach to send product details daily. Chow Tai Fook uses the platform to send promotional text messages and rewards those who share or reply.
Meilishuo & Moguije
Similar to Pinterest, where members make virtual collections of favorite items. Beauty brands like Lancome and Yue-Sai have been quick to see the value of these sorts of websites.
Baidu’s video-streaming service has become the second-largest site in China. Luxury auto brands like Audi and Buick are launching “storytelling” advertising campaigns here, including a test-drive market program and Buick sponsored TV programming – iQiyi is a great way for interactive advertising to revs its engines.
Closely resembling Tumblr, it allows users (currently numbering around 10 million) to join groups and share media. So far none of the major brands that L2 studied are using the site, but an unofficial Chanel page boasts 62,000 followers.
Despite 373 million registered users, it does not have much to offer luxury marketers. BMW, whose fanbase increased 3,565 percent thanks to the site (to 4.2 million), used the website to help launch its China Culture Journey campaign. Comparatively, the Cadillac page has just 71,484 fans. No other brand in L2’s index has a significant presence.
While brands like Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and Coach are experimenting with Jiepang, the once-popular site is experiencing a downspike in traffic. Starwood used Jiepang to promote its Starwood Preferred loyalty program by encouraging members to “check in” at their hotels for virtual badges, which offered a chance to win a vacation at the St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort.
An emerging platform, it is proving a welcome home to Burberry and automobile brands, but the site remains small with an average page size of just 11,483. But the website’s growth (in pages) is at about 287 percent, which means this may be the next big thing.
Once ubiquitous in China,it has experienced a 22 percent drop in traffic over the last three months, and only nine prestige brands still have a presence there. While Estée Lauder is the largest presence on the platform, Renren still has the smallest average community sizes and engagement rates compared to similar sites.
Brands featured on Kaixin are also suffering from low engagement with users. Even though beauty brands have the highest adoption rate resulting in legacy investments, SK-II, Elizabeth Arden, and Biotherm have all abandoned their pages. With 1.7 million fans, Dior still reins supreme here.
Launched this past August, it is a serious search engine contender, and has already captured 10 percent of the Chinese search market. It is the second largest source of search traffic in China behind Baidu, leaving Google a distant third with just 5 percent of the marketplace. With improved search results in the offing, So.com may match Baidu’s performance. At the moment, only 19 percent of the 100 Chinese brand sites appear first in organic search results on So.com, versus 34 pecent on Baidu.
It remains dominant, but has dropped to 73 percent market share from 81.7 percent in August 2011. Third party retailers have been quick to purchase brand terms on Baidu. Thiry-nine percent of brands that L2 looked at used paid search features on Baidu, and 47 percent bought Brand Links, which offer up to quadruple the click-through rates of regular paid search.
In a world dominated by Google, it’s hard to fathom that it has “ceased to be relevant” to Chinese consumers, according to L2. They report, “As its market share has dwindled, organic visibility for Chinese sites on the platform is down significantly year-on-year.”
photo credit: nimfolb