Growing influence

Updated: 2013-04-05 08:20

By Lin Jing and Chen Yingqun (China Daily)

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Growing influence

Multinational firms push micro blog marketing strategies to drive sales, growth in China

It is not often that one finds Mercedes-Benz, Starbucks and Nokia sharing the same marketing platform, considering that their lines of business are totally different. But in China these companies share the common goal of being a key influencer in the "virtual town square".

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The virtual town square here is micro blogs, a Twitter-like platform that is now an integral part of the China growth strategies of global companies.

No one knows the power of this platform better than German luxury car brand Mercedes-Benz. In January, when it decided to sell a limited edition of its Smart cars, it decided to do it through micro blog. All 666 units of Smart 2013 New Year Edition that were offered though Sina Weibo were sold out in just 490 minutes.

The campaign, announced on Jan 14, also sparked huge interest online. In five days there were over 140,000 re-posts and over 700,000 page views. More importantly, the company was able to achieve in just five days what would have normally taken several months to achieve, a China footprint spread across 59 cities.

"Our collaboration with Sina Weibo is not just an innovative way to sell cars. It is a new approach in consumer engagement and also an opportunity for customers to purchase vehicles on social media platforms," says Mao Jingbo, vice-president of Mercedes-Benz.

Mercedes-Benz is not the only company to have gained from such initiatives in China. Social network service platforms of companies like Sina and Tencent have over the last three years become an important tool for several international companies looking to establish or consolidate their presence in China, experts say.

According to Sina, there were about 260,000 active company accounts on micro blogs in 2012, with more than 1,000 of them belonging to multinationals like Nokia, Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Unlike developed Western markets, where SNS marketing still lags behind traditional marketing, micro blogs have proved to be a handy tool for companies to reduce their expenditure on conventional advertising in China.

Since their debut in August 2009, micro blogs have become a huge online Chinese society where people from all walks of life share personal experiences, participate in social activities and voice their opinions on topics as diverse as politics, business and celebrity gossip.

But from a commercial perspective, it is the power they have to influence opinion and ultimately increase purchases that makes them appealing to Western companies.

According to statistics provided by the Data Center of China Internet, companies using Sina Weibo are spread across 22 different industries. A recent survey also indicated that nearly 23 percent of the global companies present in China are keen on using the platform for marketing-related activities like enhancing communications with consumers, launching business campaigns, delivering positive information and brand building.

To understand the potential of micro blog marketing one need to look no further than the success achieved by US-based global coffee chain Starbucks.

The company opened a Sina Weibo account in May 2012 and now has over 700,000 followers. Like many of its peers, the coffee giant initially started off with routine marketing campaigns, but later found that targeted campaigns could be converted into real-time store purchases.

"What the fans have to say about the brand is often critical for a company. News travels fast in the digital world and our efforts are to be more connected with our fans," Marie Han Silloway, chief marketing officer of Starbucks China, says.

Last year, the company started a Frappuccino campaign on its micro blog, which has since become its main sales driver. During the warm-up campaign (May 7 to July 9), Starbucks put up more than 60 posts, which generated 234,541 re-posts and comments, while the actual micro blog announcement of its limited-edition cups generated 80,000 re-posts, making it the brand's best performing post ever. The chain's fans increased by almost 15 percent from 360,000 last year to over 430,000 now.

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