Digital transformation in China has now entered the latter half as traditional enterprises start to flex their muscles. Under this backdrop, many enterprises are looking for new ways to build and develop more meaningful connections with consumers. The META model, which stands for the Maintain, Evolve and Transform Approach, applies the core components of traditional marketing but changes how these concepts are achieved.

In the last two articles of this series, we discussed how businesses should Maintain and Evolve their brand-building. In this article, we will look at how they should Transform in order to win in China.

Transform Through Brand Activation and Interaction

Traditionally, brand activation and engagement are the daily execution work of a marketer, effectively reaching targets, spreading the brand’s message and deepening customer relationships from “awareness” to “purchase” and “loyalty.”

As the internet has eliminated information disparity, brands are no longer communicating “Who do I think I am?,” but rather “Who do my consumers think I am?”  Brands no longer consist of purely visual, verbal and idea communication, but also considers the consumer’s feelings and experience. In the digital age, consumers play an active role in brand-building, and quickly build a brand through digital platforms in a short amount of time. This has brought about revolutionary change in the fundamental mode of thinking of brand positioning implementation.

Concurrently, China’s rapid development in digital has brought about new ways of experiential marketing. Leveraging the trend of micro-segmenting target audiences, brands must use more precise methods to interact with consumers. The relationship between brand activation and consumer interaction should focus on “brand co-creation,” the highest degree of relevance, as well as the customer’s lifetime value. Giving consumers “the freedom within a framed mindset” should be achieved through proactive engagement and highly engaging experiences. This also helps the brand communicate the messages it wishes to convey. Experience and content can be co-created with the consumers and messages should be amplified among peers. Brands that master this provide consumers with creative templates that allow them to express their thoughts freely and create their own brands.

At the same time, the data-enabled platform technologies are used to achieve precise targeting and new brand interactions, achieving real-time, personalized and conversational consumer interactions that maximize relevance. Combined with the evolution of the target audience, brands need to engage in targeted interactions with brand advocates and opinion leaders to maximize consumer lifetime value.

As a brand with little advertising budget and relies solely on peer-to-peer marketing, Lechun Yogurt (乐纯酸奶) invited users to participate in the brand-building exercises through a series of innovative communication methods. Through “the pure lab,” the brand initiated a 30-day breakfast logging activity to occupy the office consumption scene with the theme of “refusing slow and chronic suicide.”. Users were able to participate in selecting their own ingredients, materials as well as manufacturing such as packaging and copywriting. The brand also enabled ordinary users to interact face-to-face with the brand’s influencers, even allowing users themselves to volunteer to become the brand’s KOL. This campaign empowered consumers to become co-creators of the brand, helping Lechun to open up new development opportunities in the already saturated yogurt-drink market.

Transform the Use of Data Insight

Companies should treat data as a key strategic asset. Data and insights that are correctly interpreted and utilized can greatly optimize business decisions. In the past, due to constraints in resources, data collection was decentralized and not up to date. Data collected this way, with consumer behavior observed through individual marketing campaigns and the consumer data dispersed across multiple channels, are more difficult to integrate systematically, making it harder to derive meaningful insights.

Brands should have an integrated view of their own customer data, as well as third-party data, and should be able to turn that data into insights that inform every decision. With the increased volume and unity of data points, quantifying and connecting consumer needs and decisions has never been more attainable. Through the integration with third-party platform data, continuous data flow and real-time data access replacing fixed-time data to better support timely brand decision-making adjustments. Change in this area tends to shift in thinking from short-term investment returns to generating long-term consumer value.

But feasible, of course, is not the same as easy. There are several current barriers to tracking and measuring marketing activities through the purchase funnel, which is why many marketers currently only track data on the transactional level. But the promise is still enormous.  Marketers should be actively reshaping their organizations to include data scientists, engineers and e-commerce experts so they can take advantage of the vast opportunities this data makes possible.

China’s digital market enables a great deal of precision in measuring behavioral touchpoints from interest to purchase. Alibaba’s vision of “New Retail” (the integration of online, offline, logistics and data across a single value chain) means an integrated and holistic view of the consumer’s journey (unlike siloed, fragmented data and third-party tracking efforts common in the U.S.) Every aspect of consumer behavior is measurable and trackable, and every brand decision is supported by data analytics, and return on investment is redefined. In the world of “New Retail,” new brand metrics will need to be identified and applied.

Final Thoughts

Cultural, economic and technological changes in China have created an extraordinary opportunity for both local and multinational companies. But the old way of doing business is no longer delivering results. Our META model, in partnership with Alimama, can help companies adapt their brand-building strategies for today’s unique Chinese market.

This article was published in the September 2019 edition of the CEIBS Business Review. Read the original article in Chinese on the CEIBS website.

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