Most people know that China is a nation of gamers, but many aren’t aware of just how massive the eSports segment has become. By some accounts eSports generates more revenue than China’s film industry. Chinese watch over a billion eSport livestreams a month, and in November last year Beijing’s 91,000-capacity Bird’s Nest stadium was a sell-out for the League of Legends final.
Esports has become a legitimate profession in China, with at least 20 universities offering courses to fill the enormous talent gap. Half of the world’s top-10 paid eSports professionals are Chinese, providing Chinese with a legitimate source of national pride that they don’t get from other sports. The addition of eSports as a medal event at the 2022 Asian Games will only reinforce this.
For brands, the growth of eSports will increasingly enable marketing initiatives through livestreams, KOL endorsements, sponsorship, in-game advertising, product placement and even product development to reach the often-elusive Chinese millennial male.
More brands are realising that they can’t do it alone in a market as fragmented, complex and dynamic as China. Large corporations will sign more partnerships with companies like Alibaba and Tencent such as the recent WeChat and Lego and Alibaba and Ford deals. This won’t just be about tapping into their powerful marketing and sales channels, but gaining knowledge from their enormous deposits of consumer data. In addition, businesses who understand and can translate the market will become increasingly attractive partners for brands seeking to maintain or gain leadership in China.
Whereas more marketing services will become commoditised, brands will be increasingly prepared to invest in smart, differentiated strategies and product development that incorporate a holistic view of the Chinese market, rather than being limited by a segment-specific orientation.
Health has been a big trend for the past few years in China, but consumers’ understanding of health is maturing. Although there is a lot of hype around sustainability, the decision process remains most focused on the personal benefits of ‘green’ products. For example, with food and beverage there is a movement towards natural and unfiddled products with organic credentials enhancing the claims; in furniture it is formaldehyde-free-type considerations for safety of the family; in fashion, natural products are increasingly trumping polyester.
The growing trend towards sustainability is being assisted by Government policy and their media outlets, driven by Xi Jinping’s goal of environmental leadership and pledge to have blue skies in three years.
Artificial Intelligence has increasingly become a topic of conversation over the past few years, but expect it to ramp up a gear in China in 2018. AI is a biggie for China, and one that Beijing is throwing its support behind. The phenomenal use of smartphones online and offline, coupled with increasing surveillance and other initiatives, has seen consumer’s digital footprints wider and deeper than anywhere else in the world. The resulting mountains of data are impractical to manipulate and utilise with anything but AI.
Beijing understands this and has initiated a $2.1 billion AI research park to host 400 businesses in the capital, with hope of producing $7.6 billion in annual output by 2023. Even Xi Jinping has a couple of AI books on his bookshelf. China is better placed than any other country to lead the AI revolution with support from the very top in Beijing, lax attitudes to privacy and incredible amounts of data necessary to feed the AI machine. Motivated, cashed-up tech behemoths and millions of patriotic engineers are also keen to see China lead the world in the field.
The AI-affect is already starting to become more mainstream in China with mobile darling Toutiao using it to provide individual news feeds and Alibaba presenting customised storefronts. Expect more brands to embrace AI to provide consumers with personalised experiences that are relevant and unique to them. It will have an impact on convenience, New Retail and every one of the other trends above.
Most of the trends above are reliant on one key ingredient – big data. Chinese consumers are among the world’s most liberal with their data which is seeing companies like Alibaba and Tencent feasting on bits and bytes with unbridled gluttony. Here are some of the creepy going-ons. Yet there are signs of consumers’ data generosity waning. Earlier this year, just days after the chairman of Geely Holding Group and Volvo Cars publicly bemoaned the lack of privacy on WeChat, Alibaba’s Ant Financial was forced to apologise to users after a consumer outcry for automatically enrolling some users in its social credit program.
The overt anger represents growing awareness and demand for privacy and data protection. Whilst the Government slapped Alibaba on the wrist for its Ant Financial debacle, Beijing is unlikely to hinder data collection any time soon. It has access every bit of data transmitted within its jurisdiction which acts as an invaluable surveillance tool and also fuels its ambition to lead the world in many ICT categories. As a result of indifferent policy, expect a host of new tools playing to consumers increasing desire to safeguard their data such as this one. Brands should take note that consumers will be increasingly aware of their privacy and are likely to respond positively to those who respect of this.
That’s the 10 big trends we see influencing marketing in China this year. Obviously every trend will effect each industry and category a little differently. Contact China Skinny to find out how your business can best prepare for them. Happy Year of the Dog: hopefully the fortune from the visiting pooch will find you!