Creating Content That Resonates - Five Lessons From Chinese Vloggers
What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Chinese culture? Maybe the Forbidden City? The Great Wall? Kung Fu, or even the Panda?
Well, they are nice, but one problem exists—these things are not common features of people’s everyday lives and it's difficult for brands to properly leverage them for marketing campaigns. For example, I don’t get why Pepsi recently launched an advertisement featuring Kung Fu elements when this has no connection to the product or how it tastes.
It’s possible that most brands are confused as to which kinds of cultural elements might be popular with Chinese users. So why not just take some time to take a look at a few good examples. To better understand the issue, and use of these cultural elements, let’s specifically look at some of the most successful “Chinese culture” influencers.
Let’s start with…
Grandpa Amu: The Modern Lu Ban
Recently, a 63-year-old Chinese grandpa has become a YouTube sensation.
Chinese fans have dubbed Grandpa Amu, whose original name is Wang Dewen, “The modern-day Lu Ban”—the legendary woodworker who invented the saw and other tools in ancient China, and who is today regarded as the god of carpentry.
Grandpa Amu makes toys, furniture and structures out of wood without using nails, glue or even screws! He uses an ancient technique to create joints that interlock and give the piece strength, a method known as mortise-and-tenon joinery.
The videos were first shared on the Chinese content platform Xigua Video and have been watched by 2.25 million people. The master carpenter later joined Youtube and has so far attracted more than 1.17 million subscribers.
“I admire how much passion, patience and creativity you have with wood,” one Youtube user commented, “It fascinates me to think of the thought and time that goes into it all, such love and talent you have for it and it makes me smile every time you give it all to your family.”
As a result, Grandpa Amu is bringing in nearly $40–80K a month in revenue from his YouTube traffic alone.
Li Ziqi: Without Words, She Heals All.
There was a saying on the Chinese Internet, "On her own, Li Ziqi has done a better job promoting China than the entire Publicity Department (of the Chinese government)!"
Even Chinese Central Television (CCTV) sang her praises: “Foreigners admired her positive approach to life, and she allowed the world to appreciate our culture and stories.”
In total, she has more than 58 million fans internationally across Youtube and Weibo.
Li’s videos—which she initially produced by herself and now makes with a small team—emphasize the beautiful countryside and ancient Chinese tradition. With a soundtrack of tranquil music, one clip shows Li crafting her own furniture out of bamboo and dying her clothing with fruit skins. The meals she creates are often elaborate demonstrations of how many delicious things can be done with a particular seasonal ingredient, like ginger or green plums.
While the videos have a cinematic quality, it’s her deep understanding of food, nature, and Chinese culture that impresses viewers. “She is literally teaching us something we don’t even know about China.” one fan commented.
As her popularity grew, Li registered her name as a trademark and opened an online shop on Tmall through which fans can purchase items she is using in her videos. We counted the top ten sold items, which as of the middle of last month, have sold 16.7 million units and have totalled over $93.63 million in the first half of 2020. Compared to 2019's overall figure of $31.4 million, the shop has made three times as much in half the amount of time.
What Can We Learn From The Marketing Perspective
Understand your audience
Where there's praise, there's opposition. People keep questioning if Li Ziqi is misleading the public by downplaying the harshness of the rural lifestyle. After scanning through hundreds of comments left by her viewers, I believe her critics simply misunderstood the intentions behind her videos, as well as the reasons why they are so popular with her fans.
Li’s fans don’t click on her videos looking for the realities of rural Chinese life. What they truly want is an escape, and Li offers something practically tailor-made for today’s overworked, overcrowded, and burned-out urban middle class.
“In today’s society, many people feel stressed,” Li said in an interview. “So when they watch my videos at the end of a busy day, I want them to relax and experience something nice, to take away some of their anxiety and stress.”
Again, this reminds us that to meet the needs of the customers; brands must find out who their audience really are.
Offer something unique
Li uploaded her first video in 2016. Originally, she started with cooking tutorials showing how farmers used fresh, organic ingredients to prepare everything from dinner to holiday treats. Of course, she's certainly not as good as a professional, but her videos often give a more complete picture of the process.
The video, Brewing a pot of handmade soy sauce from soybeans, shows the traditional lifestyle with authenticity, and is designed and filmed in a way that has not been seen before.
“A teacher friend once told me about some students who thought rice grew on trees. So I want kids in the city to know where their food comes from.” Li says.
Tell the right story
One thing that Li and Amu have in common is their constant love for life and resilience in the face of adversity—values that are becoming rare in today's society.
Coca-Cola speaks of happiness, Apple speaks of independent thinking, and Huawei speaks of hard work and dedication. Overall, none of these successful brands send out hollow or negative messages.
Create content that resonates
Drawing conclusions on exactly what makes Li Ziqi and Grandpa Amu so successful is difficult, but one thing is for sure—all of their work would mean little if their content didn’t resonate with their audience.
Chinese traditional culture has enjoyed a large-scale resurgence in popularity recently, as China’s emerging middle class celebrates their country’s heritage through various activities such as wearing Hanfu(汉服) and learning Confucian values at Guoxue academy (国学堂).
On the global level, Li’s and Amu’s work cater to their fans’ longing for nature and a simpler life than their own, one where there is no technological innovation and skyscrapers, but a state of idyllic repose.
From this angle, their popularity can be partially attributed to how they portray ‘Chineseness’ and how we are now witnessing a shift away from the post-industrial landscape to something authentic, elegant and nostalgic.
Just as “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, most brands don’t become famous overnight, and neither does the content of Li and Grandpa Amu.
Before her fame, Li was merely a normal girl from the middle of Sichuan. Her real parents died young, her stepmother was often abusive, and she had to feed herself from the age of 14. Grandpa Amu, on the other hand, was born in a time of scarcity and didn’t have the opportunity (as we do) to receive an education, so he had to start working at a very young age in exchange for food.
It’s safe to say that their lives were sort of miserable compared to many others out there. Even in their early days as vloggers, Nobody could have known what they would go on to achieve?
Through consistent effort and patience, Li Ziqi and Grandpa Amu have earned their deserved status as two of China's favourite vloggers.