Increasingly, luxury and fine watch brands are looking to build strong social media communities in Asia. Piaget, thanks to a long-term collaboration with Hu Ge and his 70+ million fans on Weibo, is able to spread the word to millions of potential clients about the brand’s new collections, products, but also its heritage and craftsmanship. Whereas Breitling has taken Korean dramas by storm, Cartier has built strong ties with K-Pop idols, (Blackpink’s Kim Ji-soo, Kang Daniel), actors (Shin Min Ah) and artists (Cho Gi Seok). These are all investments for the future, as many Asian celebrities are now launching their own cultural platforms. Korean superstars BTS are one example, with Connect, BTS. Based between Beijing and Paris, Guo Pei is a pioneer of Chinese high fashion who is at the head of a power brand and a community of more than 1.5 million fans on Weibo, as well as in excess of 240,000 followers on Instagram.
Numbers aside, these brands have proved successful in bonding their customers by selling them products but also providing a virtuous experience in which the said brand becomes culturally relevant, sought-after and even inspiring. A pervasive interest that crosses borders is the kind of goal most luxury brands seek – which means figuring out how to create a global sense of belonging while creating ties at local levels with demographics that are typically not loyal. This also implies being agile in terms of social media use. As Jing Daily notes, “In 2018 alone, 159 new platforms appeared in Chinese app stores, with another 53 apps debuting during the first two months of 2019. In comparison, the entire seven-year period between 2008 and 2015 saw the launch of 153 new social media apps.”
Embracing key opinion consumers in Asia
According to Ivy Ngo, a digital expert based in Vietnam who has run several campaigns for luxury and FMCG brands in South-East Asia, there is a rise of more educated, more passionate and more connected Asian consumers. “We’re moving to the era of KOCs [key opinion consumers],” she says. “It’s no longer about KOLs and influencers. KOC is the perfect mix of KOL marketing and CRM. Consumer-to-consumer platforms such as XiaoHongShu (Little Red Book) allow China’s young luxury shoppers to share newly accrued knowledge with their peers through reviews, by posting unboxing experiences, sharing buyer’s guides and wearing occasions. It gives power to the ‘ordinary people’ who, despite a limited number of followers, show genuine motivation and interest in trying a new product and sharing feedback with the community.”
KOCs can play a crucial role for luxury and fine watch brands. Thanks to their ability to decipher the mechanisms, components and designs of luxury watches, they have the potential to become powerful advocates of state-of-the-art craftsmanship and expertise. However, the communities with the deepest influence on luxury customers are not necessarily the most publicly visible on social networks. It’s in the messenger layers of social media apps and platforms that influence occurs.
Daigou, which means “buy on behalf” in Mandarin, is skyrocketing. Given the often significant price variations between Asia and Europe, more and more businesses are offering services to Asian consumers to hand-carry luxury goods. It’s a trend that brands can’t afford to overlook: daigous are also personal shoppers with the power to influence what their customers buy. These private features of social networks are considerably more advanced in Asia than in the US or Europe. As Ivy Ngo reminds us, there are numerous examples of Chinese influencers who have hundreds of private groups for their fans. However, outside Asia the realisation that it is better to own the different ways of engaging with fans and customers, rather than rely on a platform, is relatively recent. Hence the importance for luxury brands to create the right paths to purchase and convey messages to the right audience.
Live streaming in Asia
Ivy Ngo says live streaming has become a key driver to bond communities and “an important way for millennials to interact with each other. They watch the daily lives of their peers, listen to people singing, observe how to put on make-up, or just escape the feeling of loneliness.” The “see-now-buy-now” model continues to thrive, with Singles Day reaching new highs in 2019. It took 68 seconds for Youku (Alibaba’s live streaming platform) to rake in its first billion Yuan in sales. (Incidentally, Singles Day was also a reminder, again, that European brands are not the only ones out to conquer Asia).
Looking beyond these shopping sprees, luxury brands must broadcast online experiences to their audience, find authentic ways to talk to their customers and accept the risk of “going live” in addition to beautifully shot campaigns. The energy and intensity of live streaming creates momentum. It allows broadcasters and customers to talk about and see a product, such as a complex mechanical timepiece, in greater detail. And it brings more substance to the “content to commerce” trend of which live streaming is just a new step. But as recent examples of cultural misunderstanding have shown, building a solid community in Asia in 2020 takes a different pace and approach than in Europe.