China Consumer

Buying messages

Luxury goods firms come to understand marketing power of weibo

Sales Chanel: Yao Chen

A new face was turning heads at Chanel’s Spring fashion show in March. Chinese actress and ‘microblogging queen’ Yao Chen was sitting in the front row at the luxury label’s show in Paris.

Chanel hoped that Yao would plug the brand to her online readers. And she did, telling her 12 million weibo followers about the exotic offerings on the fashion runway and offering the odd pithy philosophical remark to boot (“A woman’s paradise is a man’s hell,” she wrote).

As social media like weibo generate new public attention, a strong online presence is becoming critical for companies wanting to connect with consumers. And according to a recent report published by L2ThinkTank, a New York-based consultancy specialising in luxury goods, high-end brands now recognise that their success “is inextricably linked to digital competence”.

In the report, the authors discuss the importance of Digital IQ – a measure of a company’s effectiveness on the web and social media in engaging internet users.

Audi, for instance, tops L2ThinkTank’s ranking of Digital IQ score. The German carmaker, already China’s top seller of luxury cars, has broadly embraced digital through its official website ourAudi.com. But the company also maintains a presence on six different social media sites, like Sina Weibo and Renren. To engage users, it has developed the Audi Driving Experience game, leading to increases of 70% in its audience across weibo platforms in the first month after the game’s launch.

Second on the L2 list was Burberry. The British fashion label not only works with location-based services like Jiepang (see WiC106) but has also launched a new brand channel on Youku, a video-sharing site, to feature fashion films. Burberry also boasts one of the most active weibo accounts, posting frequent updates on new product launches and in-store promotions.

The premium Chinese liquor brand Wuliangye also scores well for Digital IQ. Wuliangye’s website comes with an authentication section that allows users to check whether the bottles that they have purchased are authentic ones (fakes are a serious problem, all the more so as they are often made with poisonous industrial alcohol).

Although more of the high-end brands are turning to social media for marketing purposes, many luxury goods firms are still stuck in a bricks-and-mortar mindset.

Some fear that the internet is too impersonal or that online promotion risks compromising their exclusive cachet, says Jing Daily. That explains why companies like Moet & Chandon, Vacheron Constantin and Van Cleef & Arpels have yet to do more to appeal to customers online. The researchers at L2ThinkTank say that the social media sites for this group have barely been updated this year.

That could be a mistake, says L2. Weibo has become too big to ignore. Sina announced last month that the number of registered accounts on the two-year-old service had climbed above 200 million – an increase of roughly 40% over three months. China’s wealthy class is also relatively young. The average millionaire is 39 years-old, 15 years younger than the global mean, according to Hurun. That means they are more likely to be tech-savvy, and likely to influence purchases by their peers via comments on blogs and social-networking sites, says consulting firm McKinsey.

Hublot, the Swiss luxury watch firm, seems to have taken that advice on board, recently recruiting Han Han, the country’s most popular blogger, to help create a buzz around its products.

In August, Hublet and Han announced the official launch of the “Hublot & Han Han – Fulfilling the Dream of Charity” Sina Weibo page. The content covers Han’s interest in car racing, as well as his philanthropy. And plenty of Hublot’s newest timepieces, of course.


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