China Digital Marketing – On-The-Ground Examples: The Beyond App
We always ask our newsletter subscribers what they struggle with when it comes to Chinese digital marketing. Recently, one of them said: “We are not exactly struggling in China, we do a great job.” If it were a scene in a movie, the music would go silent and all the faces would turn to him. We definitely wanted to know more! And we’re sharing their example with you now.
Note: because the goal of our blog posts are to inform our readers as much as possible, we also did some research of our own. So, apart from what we heard from Jeff Unze, President of Strategic Partnerships for the Beyond App, we’re also sharing our two cents’ worth.
The Beyond App – How Does It Work?
Beyond, or 别样 (bieyang), is a product of the California-based BorderX Lab . It’s “a mobile marketplace for Chinese shoppers that recreates the safe, authentic, and high-quality online shopping experience of leading US and European retailers and brands using cutting-edge big data and personalization technology.” In short, it’s an e-commerce app that links Western brands to Chinese consumers.
According to Jeff, they upload merchants’ products into the app, translate, and categorize them; then, they write 50 articles per day to inform shoppers what products are trending and worth buying, and update the consumers about active and upcoming promotions.
They do not store any goods, the products are sent directly from their merchants’ warehouses (in the US or Europe) directly to Chinese customers. The packaging is exactly the same as the products shipped within the native country, and the original English receipt is attached. Jeff says, the most important part of their business is to ensure their Chinese customers have an identical shopping experience as US or Europe-based consumers. This way, they are also able to introduce some new goods to the Chinese market, pointing at brands that haven’t entered the market themselves or goods that are limited to locations outside of China.
The Beyond App – Marketing Strategy
When I asked Jeff what makes Beyond unique he underlined a few times that the most important part was providing “an authentic experience” to the Chinese customers. It’s an identical experience for both a customer in San Francisco and in Shanghai. Same quality, same product variety, same pricing, and same promotions. Moreover, as there’s no extra warehousing or consignment fees, they can offer a competitive price to their customers. It’s also convenient for the merchants, because they don’t need their own China-based team.
As for the marketing channels, Jeff said they rely on Today’s Headlines (Toutiao) and social media (including KOLs). Indeed, having checked their Weibo I must say they post a lot of product-related articles and videos showing inspections and how-to guides for products (filmed both by Chinese and foreign KOLs) as well as other relevant informative media.
When I asked what they learnt while doing their Chinese marketing, Jeff said: China consumers are the savviest customers in the world. They are great shoppers and read quite a bit of content before making a purchase. Our merchant partners are often amazed by the intricacy of the questions that come from our CS team on behalf of our customers.
NMG’s Research – What Is the Customer’s Real Experience
As I mentioned before, we did some research of our own. A few of our own team members downloaded the app and compared it to the e-commerce apps they like and use most. We also searched for reviews online and contacted some of the people who shopped via the Beyond app. Hence, we will list all the things that are worth noting and some that may influence customers’ journeys in China:
1. The name
The Chinese name of the app, 别样 (bieyang), is not an actual word and the characters have a few different meanings. The Chinese name caught our team members’ eyes first when I asked them to help me with the research. They said it gives them no clue what’s the business scope and it just doesn’t sound right. So, we analysed it further:
Looking at the two characters together, there are two meanings that to your mind: another thing or different and special. The second one sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But the issue with Chinese names is it’s often about the feeling it gives the Chinese native speaker. That’s why we always underline how important it is to have a specialized team to pick the Chinese name for a brand, not just select Chinese people you personally know.
Here, the first character used is “别”. It’s used in a sentence as a “don’t” when you tell someone not to do something, for example, “don’t speak,” “don’t do it,” etc.
So, even if it sounds similar to the original name “Beyond,” it’s not necessarily the most suitable name. Especially considering there’s another popular platform in China called “Biyao,” whose name resembles “Beyond” much more. This could seem very misleading for the Chinese consumer-base.
(Note: the name "Biyao" (必要) is a great name for a shopping platform, because it means basically "must-have".)
2. The app
It’s very similar to other Chinese e-commerce apps – they all mostly look the same. Which is good; it makes it very intuitive for Chinese customers. It’s easy to use, it shows both USD and CNY prices, delivery fees are clearly stated, products’ descriptions are in Chinese, reviews are easy to find, and the Alipay option is included. It also links to the original merchant’s store, making it more trustworthy. Worth mentioning: you can see the previous prices of each product, there are discounts for new users. Well done.
Note: Chinese customers appreciate safe transcations, most of the Chinese e-commerce apps provide an escrow function. It means that merchants receive money after the customer confirms receiving the product.
One thing mentioned by both our team members and the reviews on the Internet: the delivery fee can be quite exorbitant (sometimes as high as 50% of the product’s price!) and can take quite some time to arrive. However, it’s not many international deliveries are typically cheap and fast.
So, we compared prices with Taobao. We found a shop that has an official shop on both Taobao and Beyond. Our choice was Barneys NY. The same pair of shoes ordered on both apps turned out to be cheaper on Taobao (delivery fee included).
However, this was only true if we ordered one item. If you wanted to order, say, three items, moreover three different items that on Taobao need to be purchased from different sellers, it’s much more cost-effective to shop Beyond. Beyond also clearly states how much the fee is in the product’s native country, how much the international shipment is, and how much the tax will cost.
Note: an appreciated feature is a clear end-to-end logistic information – the users know exactly how the product’s journey looks like and where it is at the moment. That helps build their trust.
Also, an option appreciated by the users – tax refund. Because of tax policy in China, you are never really sure if you’ll have to pay it or not. Beyond provides a refund if it turns out you have to pay this tax. However, according to some comments, this may change soon. Which may cost the company many customers in the future.
4. Customer Trust
This part is very tricky. Chinese customers are very particular about where they spend their money- not surprising if you consider the multitude of scandals based around counterfeit goods breaks out monthly. We’ve talked about building customer’s trust before, but how does it work for an app like Beyond?
If you look for any reviews on the app in the Chinese Internet, or for any app or store people are not familiar with, the most commonly asked question is: “are they selling legitimate goods?” Sometimes it’s even quite laughable. I often browse through Taobao and see other users asking this question on every single product’s page. The question that pops into my head is: “how’re they even supposed to check it?” But, as a consumer myself, I understand the concern. Double-checking is often not enough in China, especially if you plan on spending a considerable amount of money.
Tmall or Taobao official stores are places where Chinese people feel safe shopping. They trust these platforms to make sure they’re not being cheated. They’ve been there for a long time and have updated their policies many times to ensure a safe journey for their customers.
Chinese people often prefer paying more just to make sure they get a legitimate product. In some extreme examples, they even travel abroad just to buy an iPhone or Chanel bag. The less extreme option is going to a mortar store. But, if a foreign brand can convince them their online channels are legit, it’s a huge advantage. But how do you achieve this? Especially when you’ve just started your China adventure?
Trust is built slowly, so the longer you are on the market, the better. If you’re a brand, having an offline store adds increases your credibility for sure. Looking at the Beyond app’s strategy, choosing KOLs was a smart move – it’s winning over thousands of their fans at once. Also, using multiple channels, like Weibo and WeChat accounts, Toutiao, KOLs increases the brand’s online visibility significantly, hence the customer’s trust goes up. Also, don’t use the water army. If the reviews posted online look staged, your credibility will drop fast!
Another thing to learn here: if you’re a foreign brand, make sure Chinese customers know it! Your popularity abroad and the foreign label itself boost your reputation - don’t waste it. I mention it because our team members double-checked with me if Beyond is a foreign or a domestic app. They have a Chinese team based in Shanghai, which is a very smart move in many ways. However, Chinese customers want to know what the China-based team is responsible for; they want to make sure they are there to do the marketing part, not to send goods from a secret China warehouse ;-) So, make sure all the content you produce is in Chinese, but at the same time don’t lose that foreign flavour – state clearly where you come from.
So, all in all, the Beyond team has been doing relatively well. The most important part is having a Chinese team to help. It does not matter if it’s the team you build yourself, or an agency in China you hire- so long as they are familiar with Chinese consumer culture and marketing channels.
Another important thing they’re particularly proud of is unboxing videos the customers post. That’s a way of leveraging customer’s trust as well. And it goes very well with the products of limited-time series they offer. I mentioned that Chinese people are often more willing to spend more in a mortar store, just to make sure they get an original product. But what if they can’t get it there? Beyond adds an international flavour to the shopping experience. You get products and discounts that are, for example, designed for the American market only. And Chinese customers love chasing what’s limited, special, personalized, etc.
- Make sure you have a good Chinese brand name. It needs to be settled before you start any campaigns in China.
- All your marketing efforts must be Chinese consumer-friendly and the content must be designed specifically for Chinese eyes.
- Use multiple channels to boost up your brand’s visibility and customer’s trust.
- Offer something that is not easily accessible in China – it may be a product, and experience, a feeling, etc.
- Get yourself a support based in China – an in-house team or an agency.
Well, that’s it for now! Do you have an experience on your own you’d like to share with our readers? We will get research and feedback for you :-)