how to maximize your marketing

Allie Rooke:  Hi, everyone. I’m really happy today to have Elisa Harca, CEO of Red Ant Digital Agency here with us. Hi, Elisa. 

Elisa Harca:  Hi, Allie. 

Allie Rooke:  Red Ant has been in China for quite some time. And you have helped quite a lot of beauty brands. Currently, your clients include Lash Charlotte Tilbury, Beauty Blender, and many more.

So, I thought it would be great to have you here to talk about some of the key things that come up with managing social media for foreign brands in China.

Elisa Harca:  Great! Happy to be here.

Allie Rooke:  Great. So, the first question is really about social platforms. So, in China, there are obviously so many different social platforms.

And it can be quite confusing because there are new ones that come on, like on the scene that are red hot all the time.

For beauty brands specifically, how do you help them navigate that choice of which ones to be present on?

Elisa Harca:  So, it is quite confusing, because there are so many. We generally say that for one Western social network, there’s probably 10 equivalence in China. So, cutting through is quite daunting.

But for the beauty segment, it’s quite lucky in a way because the channel that is the most dominant in terms of where all the girls hang out to find out what are the latest beauty trends is the little red book. So, my team actually called the little red book.

The Chinese girls hack to their daily life, which I think is a pretty accurate way of describing it. Because it tends to be the way that they discover new products. If they’ve heard about something, first thing they do is go on to red and discover who else is talking about it?

What posts can they see? And it’s the platform that really does user-generated content properly. So of course, there is the paid side. There are other that actually make a living off of red.

But they’re also the true consumers that are posting just because they found something or using something that they love.

Allie Rooke:  That little red book is certainly. As a search engine, itself is so powerful. If you’re looking for any specific topic or trend, you can just put it in and it comes up with so much.

And that’s a good point about the user-generated content. So much of Chinese social media, you can be bombarded by the KOL-content, but at least little red book. They’ve tried to keep it more democratic in that way, in terms of content.

Elisa Harca:  Absolutely. Because they worked so hard to limit the amount of brand posts and brand sponsorship within the platform. Of course, it still exists because they need to monetize.

But they’ve worked really hard to foster that community of true users. So, the consumers actually trust the content that they see within there. Because they believe that it’s people that are like them using products that they will potentially find interesting themselves.

Where some of the other networks is dominated by KOL or it’s dominated by paid posts. And it’s really hard to actually discover something that is authentically interesting. 

Allie Rooke:  And another thing that brands have to sort of think about when they’re coming in is the amount of localization to do.

You obviously work with a lot of international brands, and when they’re coming into China, they need to look at their overall strategy, who is their consumer? What motivates them?

One thing that I talk to brands about is, do you do a lot of localization?

Or it’s that balance, that’s quite interesting. So, how do you guys sort of navigate that?

Elisa Harca:  Yeah. It’s an important question because all global brands want to maintain the global brand image. And so, they should. Because that’s the integrity that comes through where they’re from and what will actually make them interesting to the modern Chinese consumer.

However, localization is necessary but only in some aspects. So, as a general rule, we will say if a good global brand with a strong global brand image has good strong assets. For the most part visually, they can leverage those assets across Chinese social media.

But there are a couple of areas where they need to consider localizing. So, absolutely, they do not need to come in and reshoot everything, and recreate all their assets. For the most part, if they’ve got good ID game that can apply to say good red game in China.

And my team, even though IT is not accessible. They’ll get onto VPN, and they’ll see what’s going on the IT channel for the brand and leverage a lot of that global content for the local platforms. Where you do need to really localize is around kind of three key areas.

So, one is copywriting and tone of voice. This is especially pertinent to beauty brands. Because the beauty brands and the language for beauty brands is quite creative, quite colloquial, very playful in China.

And it’s not okay to just come in and kind of talk with the PR brand story that you would have maybe on the West.

You need to allow your copywriters in China to get a bit playful and use fun topics and what might seem a bit click Beatty, but headlines that will get people to engage and get people to discover.

They need to be allowed to tap into those trends that will make people find your product of interest. If you just go with straightforward copy, literally verbatim from your English language. It’s just not going to cut through and you’ll get lost.

So, copywriting, tone of voice is really key for localization. It’s a must out. Formats is another key place to localize. So, the hero is the global brand image and the global assets.

And then when it comes to actually get execution on the social media channels within China, particularly on the WeChat channel, it’s really important to then go local there.

So, you can leverage the assets but the way you lay them out and the order that you lay them out, and perhaps the animation that you put on the graphics. And maybe the additional features that you’ll add to the graphics. Potentially, it’s some kind of fun gifts or fun emojis.

This kind of stuff that maybe you wouldn’t use on a global level, really work on a Chinese level. So, allow your global assets to be played with a little bit to reflect the format requirements. And then the third area of localization is around local faces.

So, it’s still good to have the global brand faces that you use always. However, for the products to really resonate, and for the Chinese consumers to see how that product my work on their face. They want to see somebody who looks like them.

So, that’s where the KOL come in and leverage the KOL to use the products, try the products, give the demos, and leverage that content on your social media channel.

So yeah, it’s really those three key areas: copywriting, tone of voice formats, and local faces. But for shooting, so images, if your ID game is good, a lot of that content will apply locally.

Allie Rooke:  Yeah. And to your point about the copywriting. Nicknames for beauty products and beauty brands, that’s something that when a brand’s coming in, you have to work out.

Ideally, what you want nickname of your star product to be because otherwise, it’ll get a nickname anyway.

Elisa Harca:  Absolutely.

Allie Rooke:  But talk about it, I’ll give it something. And then also to the point about international brands, especially luxury beauty brands coming in, and having to take that more playful, that more playful attitude.

And I had experience obviously with brands like Burberry or Chanel. But globally, they’re much more serious. It’s very different persona while still in China keeping obviously true to the brand DNA, but they still have that playfulness, those stickers, the emojis, the different things.

And I think that’s something that brands really need to get their head around at the very beginning because otherwise they just don’t get cut through.

Elisa Harca:  No. And sometimes we find that the brand guidelines for certain brands are a little bit too rigid. For example, if it’s around color palettes, some brands will only have a primary color palette and not a secondary color palette, so they might only have said four to five colors that are on brand.

But say particularly for WeChat, sometimes it’s really advisable to have a secondary color palette where it extends on to 10 to 15 more colors. So, when you’re looking at the layouts and the backgrounds, you can use colors to actually bring it to life.

Because it’s very dull aesthetically, it’s not very eye catching. If from the Chinese perspective, if everything looks too samey.

That can be quite hard to do for a lot of brands, because there are key hero colors that you are known for, but it is useful for your China team to be able to be a bit more creative without requiring a lot of extra budget by having a broader brand palette to work with.

Allie Rooke:  Absolutely. And I think that it’s so important for brands to realize the playfulness that we talked about and the color palette. And also, if you just look at a Chinese website, I always say to clients go to a Chinese website and look at how much is going on, things flashing at you all the time.

That’s what they used to. A Western website that has one key area that you’re looking at, it is boring and not interactive. If you think about it through that channel, then you can understand why you need more colors, why you need more gifts or whatever it is in the formatting.

Elisa Harca:  Absolutely.

Allie Rooke:  And the other thing that I think it’s important for brands to think about is organic reach is super hard in China. So, I don’t know whether there’s anything that you do with your clients.

Do you have recommendations for brands that are trying to have a more grassroots approach with smaller budgets?

Elisa Harca:  Yeah. That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Unfortunately, organic is really, really hard to get, especially in China.

But I think globally, it’s a phenomenon. I usually say to clients think about how Facebook has become a monetization platform. And if you do a Facebook post, the only way it’s going to get seen these days is through boosted ads.

Luckily, Instagram is not quite there yet, even though the algorithm has changed, you can still generate organic reach, especially through the use of hashtags. So similarly, in China, WeChat in particular, is not an organic channel at all. It’s absolutely pays for play.

Weibo can be organic, especially if you’ve got celebrity content. Celebrity content is key. That’s the thing that flies on the Weibo channel.

And for the little red book, the blessing there is that we have the courtesies, which the key opinion customers, which are kind of one of the micro care wells on that platform, and we seed a lot to them.

So, as a beauty brand, the strength that you have is that you generally have the ability to seed versus to a luxury fashion brand who seeding a $10,000 bag is not going to happen. Whereas CD, a $500 lipstick can happen. So seeding is key to that organic strategy.

But it can’t be done alone, you need to allocate some paid budget to it. What we were saying to brands is that whenever we are doing the marketing for the beauty sector is, we’re always allocate, again, always on seeding approach.

And we would expect to get at least say 50 to 70% posting rate that is unpaid posts. And we say that’s a really good return. And then there’s at that is amplified through paid, so they’re always on seeding, and then been paid through key campaigns.

And you will seed the big Cowell’s as well as the and build those relationships, and then allocate some paid to genuine kind of content that can tell the brand story in a deep way. But true organic is very, very hard to get.

And the other part I would say is not to underestimate the importance of the less official Taobao channels or the Daigos. Because, often if a brand is entering the market, when I first talked to my team about whether it has potential.

The first thing they do, is see has it got buzz anywhere? Is it being sold on any Taobao stores? And if it’s not, they generally think it’s probably not quite ready for us to then take it on the bigger marketing journey.

So, it is important, especially if you’re at the stage where you can’t afford to go on to team or global yet. It’s important to look at working with a distributor who has good relationships with some decent Taobao stores, and get your products within those Taobao stores.

And then potentially being open to exploring some of the Daigo channels. Just so that your product is getting out there, then support it through seeding. And then you’re ready to go into a next phase of China marketing.

Allie Rooke:  Absolutely. Something I always talk to people about as well. There’s obviously distributor option through for Taobao. But there’s also like in your home market, to depending which home, but if it’s an Australian brand, for example, because there’s so many overseas Chinese in Australia.

So, really working on that local community there. And then you get a lot of Daigos that come through, and you also get word of mouth because most of them are first generation in Australia. So therefore, they’ve got really good networks in China.

So, that really helps in terms of word of mouth but you need to be established in your home market as a brand in its own right. And then target specifically the Chinese in that market to help boost to start with.

Elisa Harca:  Absolutely, and nowadays, it’s even more important that the brand has success in its home market. The Chinese consumers are very savvy to brands who have not made it at home and are trying to make it in China.

So, if you have got good Instagram success, you’re an ID famous brand. You’ve got more likelihood of succeeding in China, then if you are not that well known already in your own market. You haven’t leveraged the western channels enough.

And the brands who really have kind of blown up on social media in the West are the ones that stand out in the Chinese landscape.

Allie Rooke:  And the point you made before about your team going on VPN to look at Instagram. It’s a lot of people have that sort of post 90s generation, they go on Instagram all the time, they want to see what’s hot in other markets. It’s very common behaviour.

Elisa Harca:  Totally. They’re constantly on Instagram. They might not be actively posting on their own profiles, although some of them are. And actually, we’ve seen a lot more KOLs from China, and now on Instagram themselves.

So, their Instagram profile won’t be as big as their other China’s social networks, but they will often have an Instagram channel, and then they might chuck in a free Instagram post for the brand as part of a paid campaign.

So, you can see that although it’s blocked, it’s still relevant and useful to the China marketing, because it’s a way that people see. Is that brand actually really cool?

Is that brand interesting from the western perspective? And also, in the beauty space, there are makeup artists that are popular in the Chinese landscape.

And, there are celebrities for popular Chinese landscape. So, people want to see who from the west is using it, wearing it, talking about it. Because that also makes it much more interesting from their perspective.

There are so many homegrown beauty Chinese brands now. If the brand doesn’t actually have a point of difference, and doesn’t have talk ability. why would they choose to use a Western brand versus a Chinese brand?

Allie Rooke:  Absolutely. Gone are the days of being a sort of Chinese brand. But positioning yourself as a French brand. The consumer is much more sophisticated, thankfully nowadays.

Elisa Harca:  Absolutely. We always call it brand China, like the Chinese brands see beauty. They’re very proud to be Chinese. And the Chinese consumers really respect them often that they’re doing. It’s very creative. It’s fun.

It’s really dynamic but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t still interested in the international brands. They are super adventurous and want to discover something that’s new. And they tend to be portfolio buyers. So, they won’t tend to go, here’s this brand that I love.

And I’m going to have every single product in that brand and that’s it will be like, I like this face cream from here. I like this lipstick from here. I like this highlighter from here. I like this brow brush from here.

And then I will change it up in the next month because I want to see oh, that’s an interesting product. And they give it a go.

Allie Rooke:  Yeah, that’s good for new brands coming in as opportunity.

Elisa Harca:  Definitely, it is.

a trend or a couple of trends that you think that A beauty brand looking to come into China should really have on their radar?

Elisa Harca:  Yes. I’ve come up with a trend with my team actually. It’s not yet out there. Maybe we make it a term. But we’re calling it the tribalization of beauty. And what we mean by that, a few years ago, the Chinese beauty landscape we would say was focused on the one look.

The key visual look. The poster look. So, a X brand would take out a big poster, and that face that look is what everybody wanted. Whereas in the recent years, what we’ve seen, particularly the younger generation is that they are into the multi look.

They’re no longer just satisfied with achieving the key visual. They want something a bit more experimental. And maybe not every day, but they’re looking to explore. So, we feel this is the overarching trend for the beauty industry in terms of the tribalization of beauty, the democratization of beauty.

And from a brand perspective, what you need to do, especially from the localization piece, it’s not just oh, the trend this year is highlighters. But it’s more the trend this year is happening within the social networks and it’s within those tribes.

For example, some tribes could be like the Asian baby girl look. So the ones who are famed for the winged liner, the bleached hair, love tattoos, colored contact lenses, highlighter, this kind of thing. Tap into that trend.

If you’ve got a highlighter that’s just going to rock that look. Make sure that you as a friend of creating a look with a local makeup artist or a local KOL that focuses on that Asian baby go trends in tribe. And a recent tribe that’s just come up is a nod back to Hong Kong beauty look.

The actresses from the 70s, 80s, 90s from when Hong Kong was the dominant in Chinese films. And they look absolutely gorgeous, glamorous, very , glamorous look. A lot of the actresses have started to go down this route and having those looks created.

So, on social media, it’s called the Hong Kong beauty look. Other looks and tribes you’ve got is the K-pop idol look, the Thai Look, the Japanese airy Look, the Chinese red look, the sisters look.

That’s where we got to this kind of thought of is there one thing that is happening right now in beauty that we think brands must know. There are so many things, actually in it. Actually, more about these tribes that happen within social that then become the bows.

And it’s more about how can your product help a young consumer achieve the look of that tribe, and create content around that.

Which means that you are being local in a way that’s relevant and not touching in your global brand integrity, but just showing how your products are relevant to the style that’s going on today. And these tribes change a lot and very fast.

Allie Rooke:  Yeah. That’s something about China in general, everything happens at such a fast pace, but it is interesting that, how you can back to the court the question about localization? How you can twist that?

As you said, you’ve got your global brand image, but making sure that you’re tapping in and having people like you guys there on the ground to sort of tell you constantly what the latest tribe, or the latest look is at the moment.

And that also taps into something much broader about this thirst for individualism. In China, five years ago, that wasn’t really what people were looking for. Now, even the way people travel, the experiences that they want to have how the things that they post on social media.

It’s very much like, we want to be different. And for such a long time, it was about wanting to be the same, be the mainstream, but now it’s done. Which is exciting for brands.

And I think especially for brands that probably a lot of brands that will be looking at this is your niche beauty brands. You’ve got a specific angle. You might be makeup. You might be skincare. You’ve got to find your tribe as well.

Elisa Harca:  Exactly.

Allie Rooke:  You’re looking at a really quiet and a small group of consumers. You don’t need to go too broad. You’ve just got to really nail. What they are and how they consume and what they’re interested in?

Elisa Harca:  Absolutely. When we’ve been working with brands lately, what we’re doing is actually auditing their product skews in light of what’s already in the market and seeing. Have they got a killer eyeliner?

Have they got a killer highlighter? Have they got killer brushes? What is it that makes them stand out? And what is a bit mediocre in their portfolio? So, is that eye shadow a bit weak?

And if it is, we’re quite honest with them to say, okay, we think these should be your hero products. And we discuss it with their TP. So, we think these are the winners in terms of social buzz, because of what’s out there.

And we think the brand could come to life in this way through social conversations, particularly on threads. We say push, those are the hero products. And actually, we’ve been really pleased with a lot of brands in terms of accepting that feedback.

And it’s quite tough sometimes to say to a client. We think your eye palates, not that great. But we think your brushes are amazing. And the clients that we’ve been talking to we have been really open to that and quite keen to say, okay, that’s great, because we know how competitive the market is.

We’re probably not going to win in all categories. But let’s go into some categories, we think we can win and stand out in. And then as your brand gets known, you can broaden out into other products, that you’ve been treating people on your brand that they’re willing to give that eyeshadow a go.

Allie Rooke:  Absolutely. I think it’s great that your clients have been receptive to that, because that is something that is quite difficult. Even if they’re not offended by something being mediocre. It’s just about focus.

Really trying to focus on those few products that we think will win. Don’t worry about the rest. Your brand name is on it. They’ll still know about your brand, but you just in order to hook people, you need to hook them with something.

Especially because to your point before about the Chinese consumer picking and choosing the best of each brand. And they’re not going to buy your whole range. Yeah, that’s a really good point.

Elisa Harca:  Yeah, it’s really interesting on the skincare side of things as well. We’ve been working with quite a few brands.

And what we have found is sometimes the ones that are perceived to be but this is before we start working with them, perhaps the ones that have been introduced to the market initially, perhaps by a Daigou.

So, this is where the Daigou you’ve got the love hate relationship with them. Because sometimes they’re brilliant for driving sales. But sometimes it can be a little bit detrimental to brand image, because maybe they just pick up a product that for them is easy to understand.

But they’re not thinking about what perception that we’ll have in the market. So, we see sometimes they don’t care. They don’t get it. It’s like, well, I think I can sell that. Great.

But from a branding perspective, it’s about taking a step back and say, does that hero product that the Daigou have pushed out, actually represent your brand in the right way? And do we think it’s enough to say, yes, it might be enough to say, I’m going to try that product and that brand wants.

But, will I come back? Whereas what we do is go a bit deeper into all of the ranges and say, what do we really think can stand out? What do we really think is quite different? And then suggest that we shift focus on to those.

And I’m sure this is not unique to China, because there is so much information overloads these days. And we’re all looking for a product that is going to make us look better, younger, whatever, the long term.

And it’s just about taking that step back and not being too convinced that it’s about everything that you’ve been doing is right up until now and it’s been willing to test and learn and try and see how it goes.

Allie Rooke:  Absolutely test and learn and try and do it in a really fast pace. Because that’s what China requires. 

Elisa Harca:  Oh, it does.

Allie Rooke:  You need to be up for that.

Elisa Harca:  China’s speed for sure.

Allie Rooke:  Well, thank you so much. That was super interesting. And I’m sure that everyone will have been able to get lots of different takeaways from it. So, if people want to contact you or contact Red Ant Asia. What’s the best way to do that?

Elisa Harca:  We hope people would like to speak to us. We’re always interested to talk to people. And you can find us at Or you can find us on LinkedIn through my LinkedIn, Elisa Harca. We’re also on Instagram, at red_ant_asia. And WeChat, it’s redantofficial.

So, there are many channels, but we have to talk to people we’d love to hear what people think and what they’re up to and hear if they’ve discovered any trends in China lately.

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