London Fashion Week: Why brands should engage Chinese fashion fans on social
As the curtain lifts on the first London Fashion Week (LFW) of 2015 fashion fans are stirring up valuable social media buzz for luxury brands like never before. Yet the one area of the globe with an unquenchable thirst for luxury has so far been relatively ignored - China. Natalie Mortimer explores how fashion brands can unlock value from smart, digital engagement with Chinese consumers at LFW.
With a spending power that now accounts for 30 per cent of shoppers globally and a whopping €89bn spent on luxury products in 2014, Chinese shoppers are not only a force to be reckoned with, but offer a gargantuan opportunity for luxury brands to grow their international businesses. And yet during one of the most important dates in the luxury calendar, London Fashion Week (LFW), that opportunity has so far been largely untapped.
Global powerhouse brands such as Gucci, Mulberry, Dior and Chanel have long been popular amongst Chinese consumers and are often much cheaper when bought in the UK rather than domestically. Indeed, according to a report by Global Blue, 73 per cent of luxury purchases made in 2013 amongst the Chinese were overseas, emphasising the scope of interaction brands at LFW can leverage.
Burberry is one brand that has already acknowledged the potential power of its Chinese fans and last year during its LFW AW14 Womenswear show the brand teamed with social platform WeChat to grow its Chinese social media and customer base. The long-term partnership allowed Burberry followers on WeChat to view the show and personalise pieces from the catwalk.
Followers were also able to text Burberry to receive exclusive photos that tracked VIP show guests including Chinese actress Angelababy.
But the luxury brand hasn’t stopped its Asian charge in China. For 2015 Burberry has teamed with Japanese messaging and free call app Line to live stream its womenswear show via mobile and push exclusive content and emoji-style stickers to Line’s 170 million monthly users.
Mobile is another area to experience growth among shoppers in China, with 300 million shoppers purchasing via mobile devices in 2014 – a 35 per cent year-on-year growth. Meanwhile the growing use of social platforms such as WeChat and Weibo are now a source of “heightened influence” in a country where the media and government exercise stringent control, according to Jim Whyte, senior insights analyst at Fitch; an opportunity he said brands showing at LFW should tap into.
“In a society where the media or the government are not regarded as reliable champions of consumer interests, social media often has heightened influence,” he said. “For that reason we see social media being far more influential in markets such as China than in Finland, regardless of the hi-tech lifestyle of the average Finn.
“Using social media within LFW not only acknowledges that Chinese luxury consumers are fully plugged into the latest fashion trends in London, Paris or New York, it also resonates well with technology usage trends in China.”
Hootsuite last year ramped up its integration of Chinese platforms Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo and introduced a suite of analytics tools to help brands understand social behaviour in China and support data-driven marketing strategies.
Merinda Peppard, EMEA marketing director at Hootsuite, echoed Whyte and added that brands need to “act now” to build relationships with Chinese consumers amid the social explosion.
“China has the world’s largest e-commerce market, and thanks to the rise of local social networks there is a huge opportunity for global brands to interact with new consumers in this region,” she said. “In particular, brands like Burberry and Chanel have fostered a huge following on social thanks to the Chinese appetite for luxury goods and with 40 per cent of China’s online shoppers regularly posting and reading product reviewers, global retailers need to act now to build their relationships.
“If successful, the rewards can be rich. 59 per cent of Chinese consumers are willing to share product recommendations via Weibo, meaning it’s easy to spread brand advocacy across the platform’s 157 million monthly active users.”
Take into account that during LFW last February the event generated 316,359 posts on Instagram and 266,767 tweets, the buzz that a ramped up focus on Chinese shoppers could provide is exponential.
But merely reaching out a basic level may not be enough to cut the mustard, according to Erminia Blackden, strategy director at social marketing innovation agency Cocoon Luxury, who said that Chinese audiences often crave a deeper engagement to believe in brand authenticity.
“It's time luxury brands became more 'real' and celebrated the hard work that goes into creating perfection, rather than just the perfection itself, particularly if they want to achieve cut through and greater appeal to global millennials,” she told The Drum.
“Millennials in China have a huge appetite for luxury goods and opulence, and want to see the workings out in order to believe in a brand’s authenticity. It's less about seeing models in their curlers, and more about the real behind-the-scenes drama about the spirit of the show.”
Year on year LFW has seen a 4 per cent increase in Chinese buyers attending and a 13 per cent increase in Chinese retailers, such as 10 Corso Como Shanghai and Shine Hong Kong, as China itself looks to grab a slice of the luxury pie.
On the media side a mix of Chinese publications will be in attendance at LFW this season, from major fashion publications Vogue China and L’Officiel China, to consumer magazines such as Elle Hong Kong and Prestige Hong Kong. Major newspapers will also be there in force including CBN, Sing Tao Daily, South Morning China Post, Nouvelles D’Europe and Modern Weekly.
While Burberry is still leading the charge in engaging Chinese fans, Ana MacCarrick, marketing manager at the British Fashion Council, the body behind LFW, said that more activity is starting to shine through, but added that smaller brands without the resources of Burberry will find the shift more difficult.
“I think it’s gradually getting there,” she said. “Obviously it’s difficult in terms of younger designers getting into that market but it’s an amazing market to break into. It’s like a pot of gold, you can definitely see more and more of it which is great. There is huge potential and in time a lot of brands will tap into that resource.”
LFW AW15 kicks off on 20 February and runs until 24 February at Somerset House.