People tend to think that walled gardens are limiting, but Christina Lu thinks of them as opportunities.

Marketers in China should think about utilising walled gardens to figure out relevance and interactivity at scale. We all know that China’s walled gardens, whether it is Alibaba or Tencent, are infused with data capabilities for a better understanding of consumers from an insider perspective. I think that the more we use them, the more we can build individualised experiences as well as diversified content within those closed ecosystems – this is key.

You see, all of these walled gardens are actually building ecosystems fundamentally led by their respective hero apps (Tencent is focusing on social and Alibaba on e-commerce).

For example, ‘new retail’ seemed like just a concept a couple of years ago, but today, it is quite amazing in terms of how the walled gardens are connecting the online and offline contact points with their own data capabilities. We talked about O2O for many years before this, but the tech platforms have enabled real integration and altered the consumer journey.

Looking at the marketing landscape in China now, I see lots of opportunities in leveraging big data for product innovations. One recent case is Oreo launching a new cookie combined with nuts and dried fruits, co-created with the Tmall Innovation Center. This really came from Alibaba’s data analysing the characteristics of consumers who like to buy cookies and discovering they also like to eat nuts and dried fruits. This is not a Wavemaker client, but we study quite a lot of different brands to think about how we can transform ourselves. At the end of the day, for many of our clients, driving business growth means we need precision at scale.

Also, something that we have already started trying is a very targeted community approach, whether through a moms' group on WeChat, a babycare vertical, or other smaller walled gardens.

We cannot take the mass advertising approach that we used to. If we are to do individualised brand experiences well, these walled gardens have the potential to connect all the touchpoints in a consumer journey. The walled gardens are pushing themselves to do that, in terms of powering up their data capabilities and tracking.

I would say that they provide brands with a good amount of ammunition.

However, the challenges of marketing within walled gardens do exist, especially in the measurement of brand health. To utilise these closed ecosystems fully, we are pushed hard to articulate what success looks like. With cross-channel user journeys, it is getting more and more critical to have end-to-end metrics, and to have continuity in such metrics.

When working within these powerful closed platforms, I would advise marketers to really understand what your brand stands for in terms of distinctiveness. I think that needs to be very clear. There are a lot of brand manifestos and brand values being thrown around that look vague and there is nothing that I feel is resonating. For marketers to make it work and get something out of the walled gardens, this is an area where improvement is needed.

Shaping brand distinctiveness is about taking a consumer-centric approach in looking into how we go to market. If we reflect on China today, if we are pursuing younger consumers or the Generation Z born in a digital era and frequenting these walled gardens, we have to ask ourselves if we are playing the role of a co-creator of the identity and lifestyle that this generation is after.