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Getting to Grips with Chinese Live Streaming

Blurring the line between marketing and e-commerce

Live streaming has become a ubiquitous part of the social media platforms we use every day. On Instagram, you can watch everyone from celebrities and influencers to your next-door neighbour share their lives with you in real-time. It’s no surprise that brands have started to realise the potential of live streaming, which blurs the line between marketing and e-commerce. As TONG’s Account Manager Lyu Qi explains: “Live streaming is a revolution in marketing, as it offers brands an opportunity to move from the one-way output conventional marketing provides, to a two-way dialogue with fans and consumers. During sponsored live streams, the audience is highly engaged: viewers can react, express their options and ask questions. This creates an unrivalled sense of engagement and authenticity. It also gives marketers and immediate response to a product or campaign.” What’s more, live streams often appear at the top of social media feeds, so users receive 200% more notifications for live streams than for other activities. Live streams can offer consumers the chance to immediately buy a limited edition product, as they see it advertised in real-time.

Fans interacting with influencers during a KFC livestream
Fans interacting with influencers during a KFC livestream

China has become a live stream pioneer over the last few years, with live stream users exceeding 430 million in 2019 according to the China Network Internet Information Centre. According to iiMedia Research, e-commerce sales from live-streaming will reach $13.5 billion (96 billion yuan) in 2020. The Chinese live stream arena is currently dominated by Douyin, known as Tiktok in the west (400 million daily active users) and Kuaishou (300 million daily active users). Douyin prioritises premium content from celebrities and influencers content aimed primarily at residents in urban areas, whilst Kuaishou is aimed more at rural users, with a greater impetus on people you know in real life. This contrast offers brands an interesting range of options for finding KOLs and targeting audiences.

A comparison of Chinese live streaming platforms
A comparison of Chinese live streaming platforms

More established players from elsewhere in China’s digital ecosystem have been taking note. Taobao, one of China’s main e-commerce platforms, has also launched a product-oriented live streaming service (240 million daily active users) which has proved highly successful. Live streaming on Bilibili and Little Red Book engage primarily with gen z and female viewers respectively, and WeChat looks set to launch their own live streaming service soon. With all these platforms to contend with, it’s exciting but challenging for brands to figure out which one works best for them. “What kind of live stream platform is best for your brand normally depends on brand USP,” says Qi. “Little Red Book, for example, is great for cosmetic and fashion brand because the platform’s user base is primarily made up of women. Red has become the go-to platform for leaving and reading user reviews of beauty and fashion products. If a brand wants to target younger demographics, however, Douyin or Bilibli would be a better choice. ”

Qi also recommends working with a professional influencer who specialises in a specific field. One stand out example of live-streaming done well is Li Jiaqi, a lipstick influencer who is rumoured to try over a thousand lipsticks a year. “Honing in on a specialist influencer is a far better way of working than sourcing a more generic ‘celebrity’ account. These KOLs have built up a strong degree of trust with their followers. People see them as an absolute authority in their field and trust everything they say.”

Li Jiaqi, one of China's specialist lipstick influencers
Li Jiaqi, one of China's specialist lipstick influencers

Coronavirus-enforced isolation has only increased the popularity of live streaming, as people search for entertainment and connection online. With physical stores closed, brands have pivoted to live streaming in an attempt to strengthen their follower base and boost e-commerce sales. This has taken the form of live streaming events, such as Milan Fashion Week and beauty tutorials. Even luxury watch companies, a sector which has been reluctant to embrace social commerce, have started experimenting with live streaming.

However, brands need to be careful when approaching live streaming, especially when marketing a premium product. For example, Louis Vuitton live stream debut on Little Red Book did not go down with viewers. It was watched over 15,000 times, with over 600 million engagements. However, much of this was negative feedback, criticising the cheap background and unprofessional live stream. This damaged the brand’s value and its positioning as a luxury brand.

Louis Vuitton's uncessful live stream, which damaged the perception of the brand in China
Louis Vuitton's uncessful live stream, which damaged the perception of the brand in China

Live streaming is the future of e-commerce. If you’d be interested in hearing how live streaming could benefit your brand, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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