Using the 3 C’s for Online and Offline Commerce in China

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Sophie Loras

Isobar’s Jane Linbaden and CollabCentral’s Nishtha Mehta shared their views on connectivity, context and content for O2O at ClickZ Live Shanghai.

Brand commerce is no longer about viewing digital as a marketing channel, but seeing it as a way of life, Jane Linbaden, chief executive office (CEO), China Group, Isobar and Nishtha Mehta, founder and chief instigator, CollabCentral Consulting, told delegates at this year’s ClickZ Live Shanghai.

The two industry experts discussed connectivity, context and content for brands developing their online and offline (O2O) strategies in China, where government policy and the use of mobile phones is fuelling e-commerce at a rapid rate.

“It is no longer about having brand and commerce separately,” said Linbaden. “Digital is really the fabric of the whole journey, and it’s no longer about digital for a campaign but digital as a feeler, and having those feelers right across the business,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Chinese government unveiled its Internet Plus policy – which will combine everything from cloud computing, mobile, infrastructure, and manufacturing, into traditional business as an engine for its economy. The move is resulting in “Taobao villages” springing up across China, giving remote communities access to goods they have never had access to before.

It means brands can no longer think about digital in the context of advertising but must start thinking about how everything is connected, said Mehta. China’s ability to link social to e-commerce (such as the expanding role of communication app WeChat) means consumers are not only buying products instantly, but are using online ‘microshops’ for information on how to use or wear it.

1. Connectivity

In China, the last mile has to be considered as the first mile, said Linbaden, because that’s often where a brand will start its engagement with the consumer. “Many consumers get to know a new brand through the e-commerce portal, through commerce engagement, or through the commercial transaction opportunity rather than through the traditional brand-building silo,” she said.

A CollabCentral and YouGov O2O survey found Chinese shoppers were already well connected and already shopping on O2O with ease.

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Movie tickets, restaurants, food and beverage, and travel and hotels, took out the top three spots. “We need to remind ourselves, consumers are already doing [O2O] so you better start leveraging that medium,” said Mehta.

Another report, in conjunction with the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), which surveyed leading China brand marketers on their focus in accelerating the online and offline space, found that over the next 12 months, they expect to increase their use of mobile beyond marketing, into sales or omni-channel connections.

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“Digital is no longer sitting under the marketing discipline. It needs to start sitting under retail, sales, product, R&D, Infrastructure – that’s the mind shift we need to start making,” said Mehta.

While Wi-Fi was the most popular point of online connectivity, QR codes and bar codes also made the top five, prompting Linbaden to remind brands to capitalize off that too. “When you link with a bar code you are actually helping the brand to more easily get to know what is happening at a transaction site,” she said.

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Mehta used the example of Unilever, which will soon allow consumers to scan a product bar code (not a QR code), whether it be laundry, toothpaste or liquid tea, to open the product information from their WeChat. So it really connects it all together from the offline to the online integration as well, she said.

It means that for China, technology needs to be a fundamental pillar for all marketers. “The reality is the consumer is embracing the technology very naturally, and that means marketers and agencies need to embrace it, otherwise we will not be speaking the same language,” said Linbaden.

2: Context

A common view of O2O is to use an online retail presence to direct consumers offline, but Linbaden used the example of Uniqlo, which has built a strategy around assimilating the physical shopping experience into a virtual one. A consumer may come into the retail store and find a product they like, but by introducing the online platform to them at the same time, means a product they did not buy today, is more accessible for purchase tomorrow.

“When you increase that online to offline – actually in both situations – your consumers’ spending and loyalty is much higher than a single channel and that’s where we see online and offline really go well,” said Linbaden.

Context is also about experimenting with new and emerging features, and testing what works. For Oscar Mayer, it was an app that could replicate “the smell” of frying bacon. Using the five senses to add context to your marketing message enhances the experience, noted Mehta.

3: Content

“Often when we think about content we think about that piece of video, that piece of copy, but to us the most brilliant content, is the product itself,” said Linbaden.

An Isobar campaign for Durex in Beijing invited consumers to come up with word plays, which were emblazoned on white boxes and displayed at the city’s art hub 798. These included terms such as: ‘Speed Limit 60′ and ‘See you in the office after 5 o’clock’.

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When the lights were turned off, and the plaques made to resemble condom boxes, the words took on whole new meanings, placing the product at the centerpiece of the content.

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“Content needs to link back to your product,” concluded Mehta. “There are so many ways to linking digital online and offline, between the physical and the virtual and integrating commerce into everything.”