The last word from the east: Finding your North Star

Barney Loehnis
Ogilvy & Mather

In a world of ubiquitous global brands, the digital landscape provides a variation to the social media omnipresence of Facebook, Twitter and Google, in the form of China's three leading sites – Sina Weibo, RenRen and JingDong. Each of these has a different vision – a different North Star – on which to build their business for the future.

While it's true that many of the well-known Chinese sites are clones of Western counterparts, they are all the more interesting for their idiosyncratic quirks. They have their own unique competitive forces that drive them down new paths through their evolution – and there is a lot for brands, agencies and pure-plays to learn from their adaptation.

China's digital landscape is centred on four key ecosystems – the four kingdoms of the Chinese digital world. Firstly, Sina, a news portal site, like Yahoo! in its heyday, whose success has been driven by its massively popular micro-blogging service Sina Weibo, with over 240 million users. Then, there's Baidu, which commands over 70% of the search market, and like Google has a plethora of supporting content and community platforms. Third, comes Tencent, which has numerous portals, gaming sites and an installed base of 600 million QQ instant messenger users and a rapidly emerging mobile messaging service called Weixi.