China’s Bike Sharing War: Brand Lessons from the Frontline

 In China, Digital Marketing, Ecommerce, Social Media Marketing

Bicycle sharing in China is a relatively recent phenomenon, but as any visitor to a Chinese city in the past few months will tell you – it is now unavoidable.

Walk down a street in Beijing or Shanghai today and you’ll be confronted with often literal mountains of ‘dockless’ shared bicycles, rented by the hour and then chained up wherever is convenient, ready for the next rider.

A pile of abandoned ride-sharing bicycles in Shanghai

Each company has its own distinctive look – from ofo (named to resemble a cycling person) with its bright yellow cycles to Coolqi with its flashy metallic gold bikes.

Coolqi’s bikes are designed to attract social media attention and sharing.

The ridesharing rainbow on China’s streets gives a clear indication of the level of competition in this space. And with most companies charging on the order of 1RMB (11p) for 30 minutes use, competition is cut-throat indeed.

The two current frontrunners ofo and Mobike were only founded 2014 and 2015, and have raised $1.28bn and $928m in funding respectively.

But how did they pull out ahead of a pack of over 30 equally scrappy copycats and dominate the market in China?

How have they succeeded where others failed?

These companies show what it takes to have success in China – and here are the actionable insights for your business’ market entry.

1. Strong Branding & Message

When launching into the Chinese market, you can expect to see copycats. Where your brand will win out is in its unique message and brand story. Whilst your competitors may be able to reproduce your products, they can’t reproduce the lifestyle you are selling.

ofo’s banana yellow cycles are instantly recognisable, even on a crowded street.

2. Market Specific Technology

ofo and Mobike succeeded in China through clever integration with mobile payments. Using WeChatPay and Alipay, they’ve tapped into a deep trend amongst Chinese cashless consumers. Chinese consumers increasing expect this kind of technical and social media integration – and your brand should embrace it too. Simply accepting WeChatPay and Alipay in your eCommerce store will help you get ahead of the pack – and that’s something we can help with.

Mobike pioneered GPS connected cycles that allow users to find free cycles anywhere. This tight-technical integration has made them a ridesharing giant.

3. Explosive Market Entry

To get ahead of the copycats, your brand should take a lesson from ofo and Mobike. When it comes time to launch, launch explosively – make use of influencers, buy media and make a splash. Only then, when you’ve comprehensively captured your customer’s attention will you start to generate serious sales.

4. Seek Ample Funding

Last but not least, Mobike and ofo have overtaken their competition because they are exceptionally well funded. Whilst raising hundreds of millions of dollars would be excessive for any brand entering this market, it is worth noting that China should not be seen as an inexpensive route to 1.4bn consumers. With eCommerce in particular, your site is your shop window and your marketing is your distribution. Without enough funding to create an experience to match your brand and a big enough splash to generate sales – you’ll only face disappointment.

Success in the Chinese market requires creating and maintaining a head-start on the competition.

Whether in fashion, luxury or FMCG, rising above the competition with a unique brand and brand story is a must. Brands must then hammer home this initial advantage with an explosive launch and ample funding to maintain their lead.

But once they have done so, the rewards for capturing even a small niche in such a massive market are enormous.

To explore how your brand can build and maintain a lead in the Chinese market, click below to reach out to our team of China eCommerce & Marketing experts.

TongDigital is an agency at the forefront of social commerce and digital marketing in China. We focus on social commerce through WeChat, social media marketing, digital PR and media buying in China.

Get in touch for a preliminary consultation on how to best sell direct to the Chinese consumer.

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