Changing Media: Mobile-centric Chinese consumers remember useful brand experiences

Gareth allen

Mobile commerce campaigns offer new brand-building opportunities.

Depending on which study you read, or which country you may be sitting in, digital media spend has now passed traditional spend, and the gap is expected to continue to widen. And China is ahead of this very sharp curve. Here in China, 95 percent of connected citizens—around 750 million people—access the internet via their mobile device. 

And while the numbers are of course significant, we would argue that the importance of mobile being the primary driver of internet connectivity goes beyond advertising. Mobile should be viewed as the cornerstone of marketing activity. Mobile links marketing and sales activity. And the opportunity for using mobile to build consumer engagement and brand building, in proximity to retail, exists in China like nowhere else.

Mobile has been the No. 1 way people access the internet in China since 2012. And the mobile experience, in terms content and communications opportunities, has moved on exponentially since then, driven by smart phone adoption and improved servicing speeds. The big question from a marketing community perspective is, how well are we keeping up with the advances in mobile experience offered by the likes of Tencent’s WeChat and the Alibaba Group?

Three major drivers of mobile use in China are: video streaming, gaming, and social media. The need for entertainment during moments of downtime, such as the daily commute, motivates video streaming and gaming. A desire for personal connections and fear of missing out motivate social media activity. All three mobile uses have created paid media opportunities and produced the shift in investment from traditional to digital media. But a fourth mobile opportunity—mobile commerce—fully emerged in 2017, demonstrated by the 90 percent of consumers who transacted their 11/11 shopping festival purchases on mobile.

Utility drives engagement

To take advantage is this mobile commerce opportunity, look to some of its most successful practitioners. The ecosystems of WeChat and Alibaba have been strongly motivated by consumer utility rather than the desire to create platforms simply to attract “eyeballs” and generate media spending. Instead, Consumer engagement, and with its mass adoption, was driven by usefulness. And here is a big point of learning for brand marketers looking to engage China’s consumers—Being useful to a consumer offers a more memorable experience than simply showing a display ad. In fact, the concept of mobile advertising itself is perhaps outdated and too passive. It speaks to the re-use of old formats into a new medium. 

How can our brands be more useful? In order to bring creative innovation in line with the habits of China’s mobile-centric consumers, we must challenge ourselves to go beyond the typical view of demographics and target profile. It is vital to develop a deeper understanding of consumer behavior and the life moments where our brands can be most useful. This can be about utility or entertainment, but first and foremost we should acknowledge the context of the consumer and be of service to his/her needs. With the mobile device playing such an integral role in the lives of China’s consumers the role of creativity is not to seek attention, it is to fit into the requirements being displayed and offer solutions accordingly. 

We read recently about the study Unilever and Nestlé conducted in the UK looking at the impact of digital media on in-store purchases. For every £1 spent, the advertisers received £1.94 in sales. Interestingly, there was also a brand lift in awareness and being viewed favorably. It would be interesting to reflect on this data from a China market perspective. The assumption we would make is that with mobile transactions being a prime driver of sales in China (both online and offline) we would recommend building increasingly purchase-motivated mobile campaigns in the future. 

As with any market, winning within China’s quickly changing media landscape means being consumer-centric. Yet perhaps more than in any other global economy, it is vital in China that mobile solutions and creativity are the core drivers of marketing strategy. The great news is that much of the required infrastructure brands need to develop winning strategies is already available today and mobile is the accelerant they are looking for to ignite growth.