Media strategy in China is complex and nuanced because of the range of unique channels on offer – Panos Dimitropoulos, Senior Director and Practice Lead Semiotics & Cultural Strategy at Kantar, shares advice on how to employ distinctive brand assets across different ecommerce and social platforms.
Brand assets in a hybrid world
This article is part of a series of articles from the WARC Guide to brand assets in a hybrid world.
China's digital universe is a wonderfully rich ecosystem reflecting the country's cultural wealth, size, and diversity. Within it, users increasingly establish their presence, expressing their identity, satisfying their consumption needs and connecting with one another and with brands. However, the vastness and multiplicity of this universe create an amount of complexity for brands to navigate through, adequately conveying their assets, and optimizing their expressions. This piece aims to help with brand relevance, fluency, and expression in digital media. The overarching goal is to establish a nimble and seamless digital presence that expresses distinctive brand assets in a tailor-made form according to different platform characteristics and users' expectations.
The first step is to unravel the complexity and identify the platforms that matter the most. Whereas category and audience-specific platforms (such as Moms’ forums) and specialized media-specific platforms (such as online television) are important, brand content inserted there is either adopted from ATL or too niche and specific. Social media and e-commerce platforms (or hybrids of both) are more culturally dynamic and more popular with consumers, permeating many occasions, functions, and the most time spent on them. As such, they should be the main priority for brands crafting specific, tailor-made content fitting into their unique identity and format. There are two main areas:
- E-commerce platforms (Taobao, Jingdong and Pinduoduo), that require a more or less similar approach to their design and content.
- Social media platforms (Weibo, Red, WeChat, Bilibili and Douyin) that require tailor-made creations according to their specific nature and usage.
A total of 5+1 types of different content design should then suffice to cover the whole spectrum of digital channels. In brief, these are as follows.
The selling nature of e-commerce platforms dictates the type of relevant content. The focus here is on functional, informational, text-heavy content that explains the product in detail. The content serves as a rational justification of value, quality, and price as the final step of encouragement before its imminent purchase. However, as emotional needs, values and bonds between brands and consumers become increasingly important, emerging brand content is starting to move towards combining with a more emotional approach. This comes mainly in the form of elaborate and carefully crafted brand pages, and short videos with the product as the protagonist in visually stimulating storylines that maintain a 'to-the-(selling)-point' tone of voice highlighting key benefits.
Social media platforms
Weibo is the most social of the social media platforms with content related to social issues and occasions, and entertainment news. Brand content here is text-heavy with an informal tone of voice filled with internet slang and accompanied by tailor-made posters and banners, all spring-boarding around hot topics of the time or seasonal festivities.
RED is the newest of the platforms with more visual and diverse offerings. Practical and illustrative depictions of tips and experiences are associated with both aspiring and attainable lifestyles. It captures the richness and beauty of different dimensions of life and consequently is a favourite among the thriving artistic community. Brand content usually revolves around carefully refined visual compositions conveying the brand as enabling a trendy lifestyle through product usage. Typical formals involve stylized photography and videos of consumers using the product depicted in a carefully curated environment.
WeChat is the universal social media platform and differs from the rest. It is a friend-related private space for consumers to access other users' life moments, events, likes, and comments. As such, brand content here needs to work harder to penetrate, usually masquerading as a post from a celebrity. Increasingly interactive images, videos and games enhance playfulness and engagement, acting as teasers that lead to brands' WeChat official accounts.
Bilibili is a very youthful and video-oriented platform with a strong ACG (Anime, Comics, Games) provenance that influences its thematic content, visual design and language. Brand content here depends heavily on design tapping into youth trends and aesthetics (directly or indirectly) inspired by ACG paying tribute to the platform's origin. An increasingly popular format is an advertorial-like video that delivers a complete product story and brand image.
Douyin is highly immersive and visual, with full-screen videos as protagonists and consumers being at their most creative in creating and adding short videos across all topics and activities that could possibly be imagined. Brand content here fuses seamlessly in the form of livestreaming product presentations by KOLs/KOCs. The highly visual, creative, and immersive nature of the Douyin platform makes it ideal for communicating brand positionings, although indirect brand content builds more engagement by adopting Douyin UGC styles (rough unpolished, amateur but authentic look and feel), often amplified with advanced image or sound technologies.
This has been a whistle-stop tour to begin understanding the digital ecosystem of China, bearing in mind that this is a constantly changing landscape in terms of the number and types of platforms and the characteristics and usage scenarios of each. More tailor-made strategies should, of course, be plotted according to specific brand values and categories, aiming to create a digital footprint that harmoniously blends brand identity with platform relevance and emergent differentiation. For more detail on digital content trends and strategies in China, see our new report “Digital brand expression: Content and design trends”.
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