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How to generate brand love on Singles Day

Singles Day is no longer just about Alibaba. It’s more like Black Monday or Christmas, a nation-wide shopping event, covering everybody looking for great deals, not just the singletons, as it was originally conceived.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma said last year that his dream was to extend this shopping extravaganza beyond China, and establish a carnival for the world stage. Alibaba’s data shows 235 countries participated this year, while 224 used Alipay – a 60 per cent rise year-on-year, and significant step towards this dream.

Similarly, international brands played better this year, taking better advantage of the spending power on offer. Tmall data shows us that international brand sales grew by 47 per cent (vs 2015).  The likes of Nike, Uniqlo, Adidas, New Balance and Gap headed to Tmall’s Top 20 Sales Store this year, compared to just three brands last year – testimony to the importance placed on brands and the tangible rewards being reaped for our international players.

There is no doubt that Singles Day has become one of the most important consumption periods for a variety of categories in China, and beyond. No one wants to miss it.

So, what was new this year?

Technology and entertainment played crucial roles in this year’s Singles Day, with brands eager to gain public attention via the very latest technology.  A great example of this is Tmall’s partnership with the likes of KFC and Starbucks to execute the ‘Catch Crazy Cat’ VR game.

Reaching 17 billion plays, the Pokemon-Go inspired VR game allowed consumers to catch the Tmall mascot cat via their mobiles in KFC, Starbucks and even Shanghai Disneyland.

The number of cats caught translated into ‘Hong Bao’ (luck pocket money) to be used for discounts in a variety of stores. Overall, the game connected people online to offline, while engaging those physical stores that are usually less involved in the shopping festival.

Tmall also launched its VR virtual shopping product Buy+ on November 1, aiming to add a fancy dress element to the shopping mania and further appeal to the Chinese consumer.

While many critics cited this experience to be less immersive, data shows 8 million engagements, among which 76 per cent were post-millennial.

A significant trend throughout 2016, it’s no surprise to see so many brands, celebrities and shops execute live-streaming tactics to further promote product. It’s estimated that close to 60,000 different live streams took place on Singles Day. The biggest live streaming event, the Tmall Party, saw attendees span a collection of top A-list celebrities, both international and local; including the likes of David and Victoria Beckham, and Scarlett Johansson. The move to secure former Super Bowl Director, David Hill, only helped to further propel this year’s Singles Day onto the global stage.

China has coined this year’s model as ‘Double E’ – Entertainment meets eCommerce, unleashing consumer purchase potential via the simple act of entertainment. Brand advertising potential is now enormous, and will only continue to grow year-on-year.

How can brands leverage Singles Day?

Singles Day is not everything. While everyone is impressed by this year’s 120.7 billion RMB sales figure, many ignore the fact that this is less than 5 per cent of Alibaba’s annual sales.

For brands to sell, it’s important to remember that the remaining 364 days of the year count. Ogilvy believes that annual content that can be weaved naturally into omni-channel planning will ultimately connect brand with consumer and drive sales.

As Jack Ma said in 2013, Singles Day has reached a certain momentum – it’s not only about the sales numbers anymore. This year is testament to this thinking. Increasingly, big brands have started to dominate the top sales ranking. Given the attention and hype of the day, this is a great opportunity for brand building if done well.

Marketers should ruminate on how their brand can cut through and develop content that drives attention, and also builds the brand for engagement longevity. Singles Day is not only a selling extravagance but also a unique platform for creative brand building.

There are also proven successes of launching a less well-known brand or promoting a less-penetrated category during this period. We also helped clients successfully orchestrate limited edition launches. For example, this year’s partnership between Budweiser and celebrity Chen Weiting saw an exclusively designed Tmall pack, live-streaming, and an invite for the highest purchasing group to attend Chen’s upcoming concert – placing Budweiser as the best selling beer brand on the day.

Similarly, Tmall was able to demonstrate how international players can reach more remote areas of China – where spending power is rising and physical product distribution proves difficult. Brands entering China tend to believe that consumers in larger cities have the biggest spending, however, Tmall data shows us that provinces such as Qinghai and Shanxi are not to be ignored. Here, low-price is not a factor that determines spending; it’s brand value and quality that counts.

These were all put into the wider context of making a brand matter to consumers, so as to generate long-term and loyal customers. This year’s overall sales ranking of many categories shows us that when the promotion level went down, the stronger brands play better. So, what ensured top ranking sales for Suning, Xiaomi, Haier, Uniqlo and Nike is not only a result of promotional discounting, but the current sentiment and value of the brand to consumers.

What main e-Commerce trends do we see in China?

China is not only the biggest eCommerce country in the world, it’s also arguably the fastest moving one. Tmall remains one of the major eCommerce channels for many brands.

However, it only provides limited customer data to brands. We see more and more brands start to develop their own eCommerce websites in order to provide an immersive brand experience. And, more importantly, to attain better customer data that allows them to drive loyalty via CRM.

Personalised eCommerce shopping experiences are another mega-trend. Tmall first called this out as ‘Thousand People, Thousand Faces’, and many other platforms followed suit.

Tmall’s enormous big data capability enables brands to profile a customer and design unique shopping experiences based on their preferences. Some brands have also started to pilot this. For example, last year saw us help Nestlé tailor a unique shopping experience on its Tmall shop based on customer profiles. The results were phenomenal – engagement rates and sales close to doubled.

It’s no secret that mobile has become the main device for consumers to purchase products.

This year, 82 per cent of the 120.7 billion came from mobile, a big leap vs 2015’s 68.7 per cent. The trend sees brand content link seamlessly to eCommerce on mobile, enabling consumers to purchase items while absorbing brand content. A great example of this is the Tommy Hilfiger Shanghai show on October 24. Tommy Hilfiger broadcast the event live stream in high-definition and, most importantly, drove the audience to instantly purchase items on stage via a simple click.

It’s clear that the slow-down of economics in China has not discouraged an enthusiasm to buy. Yet Chinese consumers are now more brand conscious, more design conscious, and more quality conscious. Brands clearly play a crucial role in eCommerce, now more than ever, therefore making brands matter is essential.

  • Chris Reitermann Co-CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific and CEO, Ogilvy & Mather China.

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