By Huan Chen and Vijay Krishna
Chinese white-collar professionals have gained significant consuming power. Although the social group accounts for only 1% of the Chinese urban population, it owns 10% of the effective buying income. So how do you market to the affluent Chinese white-collar consumers who dominate the consumption of luxury products and online purchases?
Our research shows that the social media platform is a highly effective tool to reach this particular group. With increases in access and efficiency through online connectivity, more and more of this influential group are taking to the new medium online. Meanwhile, as traditional advertising remains highly cluttered, advertisers are looking to different nontraditional marketing communication tools, such as product placement, to communicate with their target audiences.
Research shows that product placement lends itself well to the social media platform and its users. We suggest the following four rules to effectively communicate with the Chinese white-collar consumers using product placement in social media:
1. Promotional brands should fit the environment of the Social Networking Site (SNS), facilitate the multiple functions of the SNS, and enhance Chinese white-collar users’ experiences in this particular medium. Placed brands should help users to launch, develop, maintain, and strengthen their social bonds, both in the virtual community and in the offline world. For example, a user should be able to launch an online or offline theme party, such as Starbucks Summer Passion, through the SNS (social media) platform to facilitate and strengthen Chinese white-collar users’ social relations. In addition, marketers should position promotional brands as a way for users to exercise control, obtain information, have fun, and gain a sense of belonging. One way to do this is to sponsor an online forum in the SNS, such as VW automobile care, to offer specific and relevant information to users.
2. Marketers should actively and constantly adapt the format of placements to better fit their brands into the particular modules of particular SNSs in order to enhance users’ experiences. For example, for product placement embedded in the module of social games add more entertaining, funny, and interesting elements, integrate online promotions and offline products, and find appropriate timing to place brands. These elements allow users to better engage and thereby enhance the effectiveness of this promotional technique. For example, if a dairy company wants to place its brand in Happy Garden, a popular social game in the Chinese SNS, it may want to come up with a creative kicker to the brand name, such as “MooMoo” milk for the famous Chinese dairy brand, Mengniu; then the users should have an opportunity to get the “MooMoo” milk in the real world as a result of their experience playing in the Happy Garden; and with regard to timing, the “MooMoo” milk has the high likelihood of positive evaluation if it is placed at the time of reaping rather than planting.
3. The promotional brands should conform with Chinese white-collar users’ social identities, especially in terms of their social roles as white-collar professionals, and adapt to their consumption concepts and behaviors. For instance, white-collar workers tend to pay attention to and follow the consumptive trends among their social group. Therefore, marketers should position the placed brands as trendy products or services that are popular among Chinese white-collar professionals. A recent popular trend among the Chinese white-collar professionals is “group-buy,” wherein the online consumers form a group to negotiate better deals with companies on various products. Given the popularity of “group buy,” brands and products should co-brand with “group-buy” platforms through the SNS to promote brands and boost sales. Similarly, placed products and services should also match with the perceived brand image of the SNS among its users. For the Chinese white-collar professionals, national brands and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) rather than international or local brands and other product categories are most appropriate in the context of SNSs.
4. Marketers should integrate product placement and user-generated content (UGC) in the context of social media. In Chinese SNSs, a popular type of product placement is the placements generated by users, such as reposts of local businesses’ websites. However, this kind of product placement has relatively low credibility among the Chinese white-collar users. Therefore, marketers who plan to use consumer-generated product placement as a communication tool, should focus on enhancing the message credibility. One way to do this is to combine online and offline word-of-mouth strategy. For example, if a local coffee shop in Shanghai wants to promote its brand though reposts in the SNS, the owner should offer customers the opportunity to “like” it in the SNS and ask every customer to spread the “good word” among their online and offline friends.
The popularity of social media (SNS) among Chinese white-collar workers is unquestionable. The SNS is an attractive platform for marketers to reach this powerful market segment. Jenny, a white-collar worker in Shanghai, captures the impact of social media, “If it was not through Happy Network (a popular Chinese SNS), I wouldn’t pick Lohas juice when I went to supermarket. I actually have tried it to see whether it is tasty or not.” Smart integration of social media and product placement has become a powerful and efficient marketing tool to reach the Chinese white-collar professionals; marketers cannot ignore it.