Two weeks ago the UK welcomed the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping to Britain. Meanwhile, around half of China’s 1.35 billion people were consuming digital media emblazoned with images of our national treasures, Premier League football and stories of Xi Jinping’s love of Fish and Chips.
These conversations were not happening across Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp, but across China’s vast digital platforms. Chinese platforms like Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and Sina have changed the face of the digital industry and are now a leading force in digital innovation.
The numbers are still staggering. Here’s just one example. Alibaba sold £9.4 billion worth of products from over 40,000 merchants in just 24 hours on Singles Day, China’s equivalent of Black Friday. Astonishingly, this is 1/5th of all online sales expected in the whole of the UK this year.
Now worth over £350 billion a year, every major brand is looking to grab a share of this vast e-commerce market.
International brands, with distinct advantages in terms of brand heritage, often make fundamental errors in communicating these to consumers. Many underestimate cost and quality. Both local and international brands compete for advertising space and the cost is often more than brands anticipate. But it’s worth it. When the average Chinese shopper on Regent Street spends £800 per card transaction, the value of a WeChat subscriber for an international brand vastly outweighs that of a Facebook or twitter follower.
Companies wanting to succeed in China must build their brand and sales in parallel. Content platforms such as Sina and Tencent are moving towards e-commerce and e-commerce platforms like Tmall are moving towards content. On Singles Day this year, Alibaba produced a TV show with cameos from international stars Daniel Craig and Kevin Spacey, promoting Spectre and House of cards respectively. Through Alibaba’s Taobao App, users could buy products touted on the TV show simply by shaking their phones.
So brands need to be producing more China focussed content to support their sales aspirations. Brash e-commerce sales techniques may have worked in the past, but now Chinese consumers expect much more and the focus is shifting towards engaging consumers in a way that utilises China’s innovative platforms.
Chinese platforms are designed specifically for China and all its unique communication, networking, and gifting characteristics. Importantly, millions use mobile phones to access the web, and platforms like WeChat were created specifically for that. WeChat, with an estimated 600 million active users, now has the fifth largest community in the world after Facebook, YouTube, QQ and WhatsApp,.
WeChat consumers can interact with friends, play games, book cabs, buy tickets, shop and send money to friends. This incorporation of banking, e-commerce and social media is several years ahead of the services we enjoy in the West.
Take one visit to China and you will see that the world’s largest and most innovative media and e-commerce platforms are not copied from the west, but are made in China. It’s no longer the copycat nation. It’s the nation of innovation.
You don’t need to look into the future to see the next wave of disruption heading towards us. Just look east.