BEIJING: China's new policy to connect rural villages is continuing the booming online-to-offline (O2O) opportunity for brands across the country according to industry experts.

The Chinese government unveiled its Internet Plus policy six months ago, aiming to integrate cloud computing, mobile, infrastructure and manufacturing into traditional business and stimulate economic growth.

As a result, remote communities have gained access to a new range of products for the first time – so-called "Taobao villages" – and the last mile must now be considered as the first mile, suggested Jane Linbaden, CEO China Group at digital marketing agency Isobar.

"Many consumers get to know a new brand through the e-commerce portal, through commerce engagement, or through the commercial transaction opportunity rather than through the traditional brand-building silo," she told an audience at the recent ClickZ Live event in Shanghai.

"It is no longer about having brand and commerce separately," she added, pointing out that many Chinese consumers were already doing O2O – buying movie tickets and food for example – "so you better start leveraging that medium".

China's hyper-connected social media landscape means consumers are not only buying products instantly, but are exploring online and sharing with friends the best way to use their purchase.

A World Federation of Advertisers survey of leading China brand marketers revealed that in the next year, they expect to increase their use of mobile beyond marketing into sales.

"Digital is really the fabric of the whole journey, and it's no longer about digital for a campaign but digital as a feeler, and having those feelers right across the business," said Linbaden.

There are significant commercial opportunities for brands, as has been demonstrated by Nature's Beauty, a nutritional supplements expert with 40 years of history in the US but almost none in China.

A successful O2O campaign gained 19.3bn impressions and 10.1m online participants. Brand awareness increased by 14%, traffic to the official e-store increased by 200% and year-on-year sales growth was 52%.

Data sourced from ClickZ; additional content by Warc staff