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Mobile connectivity shapes self-expression

Mobile connectivity shapes self-expression

New apps change how brands engage consumers

Over 800 million people use the internet in China, and almost all of them access it with a mobile device, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a government agency. This unprecedented connectivity is a key factor influencing self-expression in China and the ways brands engage consumers.

When consumers are not using a mobile device for practical needs, such as shopping, making a payment, calling a cab, or ordering food—activities that can happen on WeChat or Meituan—people are increasingly filling in their mobile online moments with entertainment, often user-generated short videos. And they are using apps for lifestyle conversations and decisions.

These behaviors, most prevalent among young people, are ways to form communities, express individuality, and find genuineness. They are adding new challenges and possibilities for marketers. The high viewership of younger consumers on the short-video site Douyin (known as Tik Tok outside of China) attracted the attention of Coach and Hermès. The luxury brands are present on Douyin, but with relevant content, such as a video of a hop-hop artists, not a standard ad.

On Little Red Book, a site devoted to personal care, fashion, and other lifestyle concerns, people share their own experiences, which now are considered more genuine than those of online celebrities. Although topics on Little Red Book may relate to specific products, they often generate broader lifestyle conversations.

The site becomes a platform for disseminating word-of-mouth, which had been the function of search engines. And Little Red Book combines social with commerce, making it possible to purchase without leaving the site. To close the online-offline loop, and experiment with New Retail, Little Red Book opened a location in Shanghai.

While mobile sites such as these appeal primarily to young people, other sites are designed for an older, educated audience, an expanding segment of the Chinese market as the country ages. These sites, such as Zhihu, often are focused on knowledge. Several brand implications flow from the growing mobile communication and entertainment phenomenon, including:

  1. Younger Chinese people are less likely to get information from TV and other traditional media. They are more likely to turn to their mobile phones. It is important to understand the power of word-of-mouth and the kinds of Key Opinion Leaders that have influence.

  1. The brand communication on these entertainment and social apps needs to be the kind of content that engages users on the site. In the instances of social commerce sites, compelling content can lead directly to purchase.

  1. As brands expand deeper into China and reach new audiences, online entertainment can be an important medium because it is especially popular in lower tier cities where offline options are relatively limited.