A simple reality is that live-streaming in China should be a natural part of a brand’s communications in the region. Live-streaming is a common form of media in China, and was of course made even more popular due to lockdown:
- How vlogging, live-streaming and gestures of support could help fashion names like Lanvin, Gucci, Kering and LVMH recover
- Can live-streaming save China’s economy?
- Live-Streaming Hits 560 Million People In China, Led By eSports
- Why China’s tech chieftains have become live-streaming stars
- E-commerce comes to fashion’s rescue in China
- China’s first ‘cloud fashion week’ points industry’s way forward
It’s one important device in your China marketing toolkit – yet with a digital playground that can seem more like a minefield of options, it can be challenging to know exactly where it fits, and how best to make it work.
What platforms are best for your brand, which influencers are on-brand, how can you measure success? With China business media’s headline-hype around live-streaming making it seem as though every other brand in the market is achieving viral sales to Gen Z with the next best influencer on a platform you’ve never heard of, it can seem daunting to get right.
Yet it’s vital that brands don’t become entranced by big China numbers and marketing FOMO, instead defining the goals of live-streaming and seeing it as part of your overall mix.
Going back to the start, live-streaming in China should be part of your overall strategy as it’s a common part of consumer life. It’s not a particularly new or avant-garde option for your brand in China – this means that instead of approaching it as brave or cutting-edge ground, the same methodology applies as to any tactic; whether you’re aiming to achieve sales or brand exposure.
The audience expectation and tech capabilities differ from platform to platform in China – as, importantly, so do the host or influencer network.
Alongside the more recognised platforms for international brands – WeChat, Weibo, Tmall, Red (Xiaohongshu) and TikTok China (Douyin) – others such as Bilibili, iQiyi are mentioned in China’s own live-streaming world.
We spoke to Tracy Zhang, Director at Reuter Communications, who told us that “brands can focus on sales, for which they can opt for Tmall, or exposure and branding, for which Red is the best option for beauty brands. WeChat is the choice for brands who already have a WeChat mini-program for enable purchase in the WeChat account. Of course, as part of the overall campaign, the full variety of platforms can be leveraged to promote the live-streaming event, yet there are restrictions to be aware of.”
The restrictions that Tracy went on to describe are relevant to cross-platform promotion:
- In Tmall, a brand can live-stream from their own store page, or a host from Alibaba’s own approved network of hosts can live-stream on their own Tmall page, linking through to the brand’s store. Read more about the world of Alibaba in our previous interview with Mei Chen, here.
- In Red, a brand can place the link to their Tmall store on their homepage only – but they can’t place the Tmall check-out link when live-streaming. During a live-stream, they can only point to their Red check-out page, as Red builds up its own e-commerce credentials. Influencers on Red can only place a link that point to the brand’s own Red store – meaning that the brand needs more than an account on Red, but the e-commerce check-out system on the platform.
- Douyin lacks its own check-out system, and so will link through to a brand’s Tmall store – and take commission in the process of doing so.
- WeChat streaming means that sales can only take place within the WeChat mini-program, or tap-through to JD.com.
The host or influencer that you work with is driven by the main objective – sales or exposure – which respectively leads to the platform – either Tmall or WeChat for sales, or WeChat, Red or Douyin for exposure.
Live-streaming on Tmall gives you the choice of doing so on the page of a host, or, inviting anyone that you choose onto your own Tmall page. Without your brand’s own Tmall page then your selection is of course more limited, and therefore needs careful attention.
“Most hosts on Tmall are not going to match your image, if you’re a luxury or premium brand – that’s the reality. They are used to selling on mass, to the masses, and selecting one that can match the brand image is important or consumers won’t see any sort of prestige or luxury in your products,” explained Tracy.
That selection is done with a trusted agency on the ground in China, who works with an official Taobao Partner. Taobao Partners are authorised companies who deal with the operations of brands on Tmall, including in-Tmall promotion of the live-streaming event. With a near infinite number of live-streams to choose from, getting your audience aware that you even have one on the way is just as vital as the event itself.
One way to achieve this is to work with an extended selection of influencers outside of Tmall who, despite not having their own Tmall page for live-streaming, can post on the platform of their own strength to bring awareness to the event. On their own WeChat, Weibo, Red, Douyin or other account, they can drive awareness of the upcoming live-streaming and include the Tmall link, so that the visitors from each can be tracked and efficiency measured.
This is necessary when streaming on Tmall, as those hosts are unlikely to have their own social media following outside of their full-time Tmall role.
For big brands with the budget to collaborate with big names, streaming for exposure on Red or Douyin is a reality – yet some have still got it wrong. Louis Vuitton put out a live-stream event that most viewers were disappointed with, calling the background “messy”, asking how they had chosen the host, and feeling confused why a brand that’s usually so insistent on maintaining brand image wouldn’t adhere to it in a live-stream.
Tracy said that influencers such as “Li Jiaqi, Yvonne Ching or Anny Fan will bring exposure which can then trigger sales – it’s the ultimate goal of a brand, but of course the budgets for these stars are also high. If the brand is not a Burberry or a Cartier then they may be wiser to opt for a Tmall method, cross-promoting via other channels if they are aiming for sales. Otherwise, exposure can be achieved with small Red KOLs, though they may lack experience in driving sales. Fixing the target first is crucial to a successful live-streaming event.”
- Whichever platform is chosen, the real ‘where’ is just as important. Where is the streaming taking place, does the decoration, backdrop and styling reflect the brand? Is it coming from a studio or store environment, or a pop up? Live-streaming from pop up events are more interactive and with the emphasis on ‘live’, as the host can demonstrate that there is a real live event at which visitors are excited to interact with the brand, and buy.
- How is it different? Your ‘China live-streaming event’ may be a big moment within the brand, but why should the audience care? There are endless other choices to watch.
- The need to remain ‘on brand’ sounds obvious – yet some have simply gone live without putting the same attention to a live-stream as they would a hallmark live event in China. The same attention to branding, styling, look and experience should be in place virtually as it is in reality.
- As we started with, live-streaming in China can be highly effective, yet should be viewed as one key tactic of many. Even the biggest luxury names can get it wrong, so rather than expect record sales plus peak exposure plus virality, narrow the target on what the expectation for ROI is – just as you would with any method.
- All the above illustrates the importance of a robust presence on what’s continually referred to as China’s unique digital eco-system. Full live-streaming capabilities are made possible with a brand’s own Tmall page, WeChat mini-program, or a Red or Douyin brand account.