Singles Day in China is the biggest annual consumer event, and is fast approaching its 11 November date. Last year it reached £85 billion in spending compared to UK sales outlay of £8.4bn on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Apart from the volume of sales, there are big differences between the occasions, and there are useful lessons British marketers can learn from.
The biggest difference is that Singles Day is a major national festival that is about much more than discounting. Originally centred on single people, it has grown to incorporate all demographics. It is an event that brands, retailers and consumers plan well in advance, with an excited public that looks forward to being involved with a massive variety of entertainment. Huge amounts of creativity go into creating hundreds of thousands of competitions and campaigns, some with major prizes.
Retailers and brands compete to outperform each other in generating the biggest surprises that are looked forward to passionately by the public. Marketing engagement rates beforehand are extraordinarily high through the sophisticated use seeding, gamification, social media, influencers and other online tactics.
However, the effort put in by companies is often matched by that of consumers, who invest large amounts of time in trying to out do each other in making the biggest money savings. They broadcast their strategies, and acquisitions on social media.
However, Chinese marketers do not treat the calendar event as an isolated day of promotional activation. The one day is treated as part of complex omni channel strategy in which retailers are invested very heavily in understanding consumers in order to create perfect customer propositions, and buying journeys.
It means that prior to the actual date of Singles Day, retailers can bring to bear a wide variety of communication options knowing they will trigger high conversion rates. This may come through live stream demonstrations or selling, gamification, Key Opinion Consumer or celebrity influencer messaging, peer to peer based offers on social media, the unveiling of complex instore experiences such as virtual augmented reality games or services, or the launch of limited edition offers and new product launches.
Coordinated approach based on consumer insight
In most cases, retailers and brands will use a coordinated approach resulting from a detailed understanding of what consumers will buy, and why. This is based on continuous deep learning through social media listening, data analyses, focus groups, behaviour tracking, and listening and testing via social media community management. This is standard practice, and used continually and intensively to acquire buyer insight. It allows brands and retailers to identify optimum targets, and accurately build sales proposition and journeys throughout the year, and around Singles Day, New Year, Golden Week, Valentine’s Day, and other calendar events.
For example, Chinese retail giant JD, has at the centre of the company 16,380 employees working in its research, design and operations department. They use deep learning, AI, big data, cloud functions and image recognition to create a detailed understanding of customer psychographics, and produce matching customer experiences. One result was more than £29 billion in sales during Singles Day last year.
The use of games for successful engagement
Gamifying shopping on Singles Day and in the lead up, attracts huge numbers of consumers who can win coupons, and find special offers within games. JD and Alibaba each say that this year they are distributing more than £22 million in coupons through gameplay, or as incentives to friends and family to play games and buy together. Last Singles Day, Taobao (roughly similar to Ebay) created a skyscraper building game that allowed players to earn coupons, and it was reported to have been played by more than 400 million users.
Estee Lauder in China had one of the most successful marketing strategies for Singles Day in 2020, and was one of the top 10 selling brands. It built an integrated digital communications strategy using celebrities, outdoor media and Key Opinion Consumers / Key Opinion Leaders. It used well known celebrities to drive reach and excitement around Singles Day using key social media platforms. One response was:
‘Let’s make a Single Day record,’ urging peers to buy Estee Lauder products to show support for the brand’s chosen heartthrob celebrity.
However, consumer communication was more sophisticated than simply putting well known personalities in front of audiences for endorsement purposes. In the run up to Singles Day, celebrities had in-depth interaction with core consumer groups, and outdoor advertising provided supporting brand promotion. Live stream selling and promotions also took place on the Taobao platform using celebrities as broadcast anchors.
Estee Lauder also allowed pre Singles Day orders for fans of both the brand and celebrities. It recorded more than £51 million in sales in the first 25 minutes on TMall alone.
By comparison to the level of commitment that goes into the Chinese shopping festival, Black Friday is a relatively straight forward discount promotion based event. To drive sales in China, marketers have to become more inventive in creating engagement. It requires significant commitment to having consumer insight in order to understand the most effective propositions and communication.
The investment that Chinese brands and retailers put into learning pays off in markets where marketing practice is five to ten years ahead of the West. Anyone who wants to see what the future of consumer engagement will look like should visit a Chinese Tier 1 city when travel restrictions allow.
By Rocky Chi, Head of Planning at Chinese strategy and marketing consultancy, Emerging Communications