Internet Plus: A Chinese approach to creative, data and sharing

This is a contributed piece by Steven Chang, Corporate Vice President at Tencent


Companies of all sizes are affected by the fast pace of change that exists in today’s global markets. Responding to this – making use of that speed for your own advantage – is a challenge that business leaders and IT/technology teams have to face together.

In China, these changes in the global economy led to a new approach for the country’s economy being conceived. Referred to as “Internet Plus,” it was launched by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as part of the Government Work Report in 2015 and bases its approach on the adoption of mobile internet, cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things.

At the heart of this change is data – data which can be made available to help improve services across various market areas, from internet-enabled healthcare or manufacturing through to ecosystems around marketing, digital content industries and sharing economies.

In particular, this shift is affecting how consumers use internet services, watch content online and demand faster responses from the companies they buy from. The generation born after 1990 – referred to as “digital natives” in China – spends roughly double the amount of time per day on the internet through their phones compared to other age groups. Around 47 per cent of them use social media for more than two hours a day, while 78 per cent would be more likely to shop via their mobile rather than using any other channel.

The impact here is two-fold – first, there is an increased expectation around any purchase to be completed quickly and efficiently, as this generation values their time more highly. The second is that consumers are more aware of how they are interacting with brands via these channels.

For companies, this represents a dilemma: get the interaction right and you can win big; fail to connect with the audience, and this will be equally obvious. However, the market moves swiftly and companies can rethink their strategies in order to correct their approach. This encourages brands to be innovative in order to stand out.


Data loves data – integrating the whole customer journey

The availability of data can encourage more joined-up approaches to customers, which can help ensure that campaigns are successful. For example, the film sector in China has been rapidly expanding, driven by increasing demand for movies domestically as well as more opportunities for international film companies to work with Chinese production companies too. However, this is not just driven by the size of the market in China; instead, the Chinese media landscape offers some unique opportunities to make use of data before, during and after the launch of a film.

In the West, we are all familiar with marketing campaigns driven by characters from movies – everything from simple branding associations through to games, microsites and content campaigns. The same approaches also work in China; however, the Chinese social media scene is more connected into other channels than has been possible in the West. This can make it possible for movie companies to get more insight into audience reactions before and after films are launched.

This can provide more insight into which future projects should be funded, as well as more concrete evidence around how particular channels can be used to support these Intellectual Properties. Rather than each marketing campaign being its own activity with the aim of generating Likes and awareness in isolation, the whole customer journey around each film can be measured while more creative and interlinked campaigns can be deployed.

A recent example of this is the film WarCraft – when the movie debuted in the US, the takings at the box office were $10.7million. In China, the opening day revenues were $45.4million. Part of this can be attributed to a substantial pre-launch campaign for the film across social, games and online video channels in China.


Supporting creativity with data

While Western brands and film companies can aggregate this data together through manual work and effort, brands operating at China can achieve greater scale around their data gathering and collaboration efforts. This ability to build up more data on customer behaviour and preferences can help brands make their campaigns more successful.

A good example of how this ability to gather data supports a wider approach is the NBA. In China, around half of the total internet population has consumed at least one form of content around basketball during the past season – this equates to around 370million people. Around 110million people watched Kobe Bryant’s last game live before his retirement.

Part of this is due to the approach around this brand – alongside the games themselves, there are multiple different audiences that want to consume content in different ways.

For those with a casual interest, news reports and infotainment can fill their need to know the basics around what has taken place. For others, live access to games via mobile devices via streaming is the most valuable option, while others want to dive deep into the statistics and analytics that each game creates.  For each of these audiences, new social communities are developing to discuss those interests, while the athletes themselves can also get involved.

Around this shared interest, the amount of data available is huge. For the NBA, it equals a huge resource to be used around how to increase awareness and participation around its brand. For advertisers that might partner with the NBA to reach these audiences, the ability to look at demographics and audience behaviour is an enormously attractive prospect. However, this use of data has to benefit all the parties involved – brands, publishers and the audience of consumers.


Looking ahead – where data and creativity cross

Any approach in this new world of Internet Plus has to respond to the data in a creative way, has to deliver what customers really want, and has to be agile enough to change if more effective alternatives present themselves. These approaches have to serve the wider business purpose.

At Cannes Lions this year, many discussions have been around the economics of publishing, advertising and consumer influence. By using data smartly across all those involved in the customer journey, the opportunities for companies and their partners to be successful is increased. This understanding of preferences around content, around celebrities or key opinion leaders, around viewing behaviour, should ultimately combine alongside great creative ideas.

Without the insight provided by data, the customer journey may not be aligned with “real world” responses from customers; however, without creativity, there will be no response in the first place. The role for Internet Plus is to amplify and improve that experience, getting consumers what they want in the most efficient way.

As companies seek to expand and sell their products both within China and internationally, this approach will be a competitive differentiator for the future. The use of mobile and data together can revolutionise how companies sell, opening up new markets or leading to new companies starting. As data is created, it can be used to spark creativity and improve services, both for the customer and for the business.


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