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Getting to Grips with Chinese Livestreaming

Blurring the line between marketing and e-commerce

Livestreaming 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 livestreaming, which blurs the line between marketing and e-commerce. As TONG’s Account Manager Lyu Qi explains: “Livestreaming 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 livestreams, 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, livestreams often appear at the top of social media feeds, so users receive 200% more notifications for livestreams than for other activities. Livestreams 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 livestream pioneer over the last few years, with livestream users exceeding 430 million in 2019 according to the China Network Internet Information Centre. According to iiMedia Research, e-commerce sales from livestreaming will reach $13.5 billion (96 billion yuan) in 2020. The Chinese livestream 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 livestreaming service (240 million daily active users) which has proved highly successful. Livestreaming on Bilibili and Little Red Book engage primarily with gen z and female viewers respectively, and WeChat looks set to launch their own livestreaming 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 livestream 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 livestreaming 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 livestreaming, as people search for entertainment and connection online. With physical stores closed, brands have pivoted to livestreaming in an attempt to strengthen their follower base and boost e-commerce sales. This has taken the form of livestreaming 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 livestream 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 livestream. 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

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

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