Brand Management via China's Sina Weibo

Brand Management via China's Sina Weibo
Brand Management via China’s Sina Weibo:



                    Case Studies on Durex and VANCL



                                  Meng Shi




                             A Capstone Project



Presented to the Faculty of the American University School of Communication



in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Masters of Arts in



                           Public Communication



                    Supervisor: Prof. Caty Borum Chattoo



                                April 22, 2012
Brand Management via China's Sina Weibo
COPYRIGHT©

 Meng Shi

   2012




             1
ABSTRACT




Marketing a brand on social media is one of the most popular commercial activities for today’s

corporations. In China the adoption of social media branding is also becoming an important

research subject for scholars and practitioners from public communication, advertising and

marketing areas. This paper seeks to examine the existing trend of brand management on Sina

Weibo, a Chinese social networking and micro blogging service, and to conclude with effective

strategies on brand management. The researcher compares the brand management strategies of

two brands on Sina Weibo. Evidences suggest that 1) Sina Weibo is equipped with multiple

media and functions, enabling branding activities to be more diverse; 2) Online brand

communities enable a brand to effectively connect with consumers, and to increase brand loyalty;

3) In China, social media branding is emerging and innovating.




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TABLE OF CONTENTS

TABLE OF CONTENTS .............................................................................................................. 3
LIST OF FIGURES ...................................................................................................................... 4
INTRODUCTION ........................................................................................................................ 5
LITERATURE REVIEW .............................................................................................................. 7
  Brand and Brand Management.................................................................................................... 7
    Definition of Brand ................................................................................................................ 7
    Brand equity and brand management ....................................................................................... 7
  Social Media and Brand Management ........................................................................................11
    Definition of Social Media .....................................................................................................11
    Social Media Marketing ........................................................................................................11
    Two-way Communication and Brand Management ...................................................................12
BACKGROUND.........................................................................................................................15
  Overview of Social Media in China ............................................................................................15
  Weibo.....................................................................................................................................16
  Sina Weibo .............................................................................................................................17
  Sina Weibo and Chinese Social Media Marketing ........................................................................19
METHODOLOGY ......................................................................................................................21
CASE PROFILE .........................................................................................................................23
  Durex .....................................................................................................................................23
  VANCL ..................................................................................................................................24
FINDINGS .................................................................................................................................26
  Durex .....................................................................................................................................26
  VANCL ..................................................................................................................................30
DISCUSSION .............................................................................................................................34
  Social Media Techniques of Brand Management .........................................................................34
  Challenges for Future Brand Manager ........................................................................................36
CONCLUSION ...........................................................................................................................38
  Study limitation .......................................................................................................................38
  Recommendations for future study .............................................................................................40
REFERENCE .............................................................................................................................41
APPENDIX 1 .............................................................................................................................44
    Code sheet of text analysis .....................................................................................................44
APPENDIX 2 .............................................................................................................................46
APPENDIX 3 .............................................................................................................................47




                                                                                                                                             3
LIST OF FIGURES
FIGURE 1: DUREX OFFICIAL WEIBO ……………………………………………………………….26

FIGURE 2 VANCL FAN GROUP WEIBO ....................………………………………………………31




                                                                          4
INTRODUCTION
       In the current market, brand management is becoming increasingly important but also

difficult for a business entity because of the proliferation of media outlets and brands. David

Aaker, one of the most prominent names in brand management field, anticipated this trend in

1996, stating that, “with the new media technologies, brand managers have to disseminate their

information through multiple media venues.”

       The development of new media technology has ushered in a communication revolution.

Social media, as a category of these new media techniques, is playing a significant role in

marketing communications between brands and consumers.

        The reason is that social media provides a platform for organizations and individuals to

construct interactive dialogues via “ubiquitously scalable communication techniques”

(Kietzmann et.al 2011). A variety of social media platforms, including social networks, wikis,

blogs and online forums, enable people to instantly exchange information and to generate

conversations by their own. A research conducted by Nielsen from 2007 to 2008 indicated that

many people were spending more time on social media networks and blogs, and "the time is

growing at over three times the rate of overall Internet growth." Apparently, social media is

playing a significant role in collecting information and constructing interactions in the

contemporary world (Solis, 2010).

       Meanwhile, social media is extending traditional public relations activities. Traditional

public relations practices concentrated on making a media buzz through coverage in newspapers,

magazines, television or radio to increase brand exposure and raise brand awareness. Companies




                                                                                                   5
had to compete for the limited placement on mass media since they had to reach to the audience

through those third-party inks.

         With social media, consumers are obtaining more control over personal brand experience.

They can “like” or re-tweet their favorite products on Facebook or via Twitter. Social media is a

shift in power from the companies and mass media to consumers (Hlavac, 2012). Social media

facilitates the formation of a connected marketing with performer-to-peer activities and peer-to-

peer activities (Foxton, 2006). Many brands are taking advantage of this new communication

mode to reach and engage their consumers.

         In China, brand management and brand campaigns on social media campaigns are

emerging and innovating, which provides valuable experiences for public relations research.

There are, however, fewer formal academic studies focusing on this topic.

         This paper comprehensively examines how companies interact with consumers via Sina

Weibo, which is one of the most popular micro blogging services in China (CNNIC, 2011).

Questions include how do the branded Weibo accounts engage consumers via daily posts, and

how do they raise brand awareness and increase brand loyalty among their followers on Sina

Weibo.

         This paper starts with a study of the previous literature about brand management and

social media marketing. Next, the paper introduces the development of brand management in

China and the characteristics of Sina Weibo as the background information. Then, it explores

branding activities of two brands, VANCL and Durex, on Sina Weibo. Both of the two brands

have more than 35 million followers on Sina Weibo, and both are deeply engaged on Sina

Weibo (CIC, 2010).




                                                                                                    6
LITERATURE REVIEW

                                  Brand and Brand Management

Definition of Brand
        The word “brand” has a traditional definition, referring to the mark of the ownership of

cattle (Aaker, 2009). In the modern world, “brand” has been introduced into commercial

activities, serving as symbol which can enable consumers to identify the products created by one

manufacturer (Koehn, 2009). As what American Marketing Association (AMA) defined, brand

is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or

service as distinct from those of other sellers” (American Marketing Association Dictionary,

1960). Admittedly, these brand elements are still crucial in today’s marketing strategies. In

contemporary commercial activities, however, the meaning of brand is embodied with a strategic

function and is relates to business asset as well as “brand equity” (Aaker and Kapferer, 2009). In

this paper, the researcher adopts the marketing definition of “brand equity” because brand

management has a far-reaching implication on social media marketing rather than creating some

visual materials.

       When it comes to brand management, brand contains manager-based and customer-based

functions. Brand managers usually stand from the marketers’ and the firm’s perspectives,

stressing the perceptions they accrue to a brand to promote products, differentiate companies

from their competitors and satisfy short-term commercial goals (Chematony and Riley, 1997).

From the customer’s standpoint, brands not only sign to differentiate products from competing

goods but also a semiotic engine producing meaning and values (Heilbrunn, 1996).


Brand equity and brand management


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Sterne (1999) argues that “a brand is not a name. A brand is not a positioning statement.

It is not a marketing message. It is a promise made by a company to its customers and supported

by that company…I may have intelligent agents that can go out and assemble pages of reports on

every camcorder on the market, but I don’t have time to read them. I’ll buy Sony.”

       Sterne’s statement indicated a phenomenon of how consumers give their passion and

loyalty to a brand. Gobe (2012) also explains this phenomenon in a more straightforward way via

taking Apple as an example. Gobe believes Apple maintains its consumers by creating a brand

connecting with an image of imagination, design and innovation, which is the key to its survival

(Gobe, 2012). Both of the statements put their emphases on consumers’ passion and loyalty for

the particular products that wear a brand name. This phenomenon indicates a brand has an

additional value that enable marketers to maintain current consumers and attract new consumers.

This value is “brand equity.”

       Previous studies perceive brand equity as the additional value from three standpoints,

“company-based,” “financial based,” and “consumer-based.” While the former two perspectives

relate the added value to the firm’s benefits, the consumer-based brand equity stresses the

differential effect that brand has on consumer choice process to the industry of that brand (Aaker,

1991; Keller, 1993; McQueen, 1991).

       Keller (1993) argues that the brand equity is generated when consumers equip with

enough brand knowledge. Erdem et al. (1999) believe the brand equity shapes in the consumer

learning and choice processes. Aaker (1991), however, generalized brand equity in an affective

psychology perspective as a set of emotional assets that are attached to a brand name or symbol.

These emotional assets include brand awareness, brand loyalty, perceived quality, and brand

associations.


                                                                                                   8
Aaker’s brand equity model provides managers the more streamlined and reliable criteria

to build up brand and manage brand equity in the marketing area.

       Brand awareness refers to how aware current or potential consumers are of a brand. It

means the “percentage of potential customers or consumers who recognize – or name – a given

brand.” When marketers ask the consumers to recall a brand for a certain product, the top-of-

mind awareness is the first brand to come into the consumer’s mind. It represents that the brand

is the well-recognized by the consumer. Consumers’ choices start from awareness. Brand

awareness is crucial for them to differentiate product from competing goods.

       The AMA defines brand loyalty as “the degree to which a consumer consistently

purchases the same brand within a product class.” Brand loyalty consists of consumers’

commitment to a brand, which is exhibited via repurchase activities. It is not simply a behavior

built on economic benefits. For instance, consumer A appears brand loyalty to X store if he/she

commits to buy products from X, while another store can provide similar products with much

cheaper prices. Brand loyalty also appears as word-of-mouth advocacy.

       Perceived quality refers to the consumers’ perception of the superiority of the product

and service. The quality isn’t real performance or tangible features. It is a feeling. It is the one

that drives financial performance.

       Brand association is the essential value for a brand. It is the images that the consumers

attach to the particular product, indicating how target audience perceives the brand. It exists over

the functional part of the particular product (Farquhar, 1989). Aaker (1996) argues a series of

intangible “associations and attachments” which are critical in brand management can drive the

consumers’ choices of brands. To make a brand strong, managers should shape the associations

that consumers attach to the brand (Aaker, 1996).


                                                                                                       9
Under Aaker’s mode, managing brand equity means raising brand awareness,

maintaining brand loyalty, building up positive associations about brand, and spread product or

service information via word-of-mouth communication. How to achieve these goals via

optimizing of brand management resources becomes the challenge for today’s marketers.




                                                                                              10
Social Media and Brand Management

Definition of Social Media
      According to Kaplan and Haenlein (2010), social media is “a group of Internet-based

applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that

allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.” In general, social media provides an

interactive platform for users to disseminate information and share creations (Hopkin, 2008).

      Forms of social media include “social networks, Internet forums, micro blogging, wikis,

podcasts, pictures, video, prating and social book marking” (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010; Weber,

2009; Kania, 2001).


Social Media Marketing
     Currently, marketers see an increasing impact that social media has on businesses.

According to a survey conducted by Center for Marketing at the University of Massachusetts at

Dartmouth, 43 percent of Fortune 500 companies recognized the significance of social media in

2009, compared to 29 percent in 2007.

      There are several reasons that these companies would embrace social media in their

marketing communication.

   1) “Social media is cost-efficient.” Registering a social media account costs nothing. But

       companies can use it to respond to consumers directly, promote products and build up

       community, which can create tremendous values (the Atlantic, 2011).

   2) “Allows peer-to-peer dialogue.” Social media allows companies interact with consumers

       in a real-time dialogue, which can increase brand loyalty (the Atlantic, 2011).

   3) “Reach a broader user than email.” Social media encourages the information-sharing on

       the Internet. A report conducted by the University of Massachusetts indicates that 50

                                                                                                11
percent of Facebook users log in on a daily basis, which means more than 300 million

       people use social networks every day (the Atlantic, 2011).


Two-way Communication and Brand Management
     Brand building through social media is an integral part of the company’s marketing

communication with the consumers. The purposes of brand management on social media include

improving brand awareness, maintaining consumers’ commitment to a brand, and creating brand

associations (Aaker, 2012).

      Social media brand management is different from traditional advertising because the

communication forms between consumers and brands changed. Traditional brand promotion uses

one-way persuasion, and casts advertising on mass media. Organizations control the brand image

and amplify the perceived quality on TV, radio or print media. The controlled messages attempt

to persuade consumers to buy or use a particular product or service through the adoption of

various strategies and appeals (Defleur and Dennis, 1996).

       When it comes to social media branding, traditional advertising modes seem to be

ineffective because social media audience is fragmented and requires interactive communication.

Public relations campaigns making brands out of touch with their consumers can be detrimental

to the overall brand image (Zirinsky, 2009).

       As a technical platform open to instant conversations, social media incorporates two-way

symmetric communication with public relations and enables organizations to interact with target

audience in the real-time dialogue (Solis, 2008). Therefore, social media opens the gateway

between the consumer with a brand, the company and other consumers.

      Researchers also argue that social media provides connected communication for current

marketing, which means the marketers, consumers and users of products have unprecedented


                                                                                              12
access to products and service information, and can communicate directly with each other (Kania,

2001). Moreover, social media, actually provides a connected marketing or community for

brands and consumers to “share content, insights, opinions, profiles, experiences, perspectives

and media itself.” (Solis, 2007)

       Apparently, social media platform connects brands with consumers. But how does this

connection happen? Weber (2009) argues that dialogue is the glue that builds up the relationship

between brands and consumers. Dialogue can increase the brand affinity and consumer loyalty.

The stronger the dialogue is, the stronger the brand would be. On social media, branding is

“about participating in the networks… where dialogue with consumers and between consumers

can flourish.”

       Kania (2001), however, believes that online community is the key for brands to create an

unbreakable connection with consumers on social media. Participants in the online community

can directly exchange their related personal experience to other consumers, the brand, the experts

and marketers. It is the community that builds up affinitive relationship between brands and

consumers (Kania, 2001). Keller (2001) indicated that on social media, brands provide a

community for consumers to develop conversations with brands or other consumers. In this

community, content is the important elements because they decided the consumers engagement.

        Therefore, these descriptions about social media and brand management can be

concluded with a sentence to explain how social media facilitates brand management. Aaker

(2012) defined this. He claims that social media provides companies a platform to build up an

online brand community, which can engage consumers (or like-minded Internet users) with

attractive contents and affinitive relationships. The cohesion of this community is brand-related

conversation. Moreover, he argues that the relationship and the relevance the brand provides in


                                                                                                  13
this community is the subcategory product that the consumer wants to buy from a brand in

contemporary commercial activities.




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BACKGROUND

                             Overview of Social Media in China
       As western social media like Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China, Chinese

companies invented Chinese versions of social media services. These Chinese counterparts

incorporate original innovations combined with local culture and Internet customs, rather than

being complete replicas (Yu, Asur, and Huberman, 2009).

       While the social media’s tremendous impact changing the world, Chinese social media is

also developing. In China, online social networks are becoming a major platform for the youth to

gather information and to make friends with like-minded individuals. (Jin, 2009) According to

the “2010 Chinese Internet Users on Social Media Report” conducted by China Internet

Network Information Center (CNNIC) in 2011, the number of Chinese social media users has

reached to 235 million, accounting for 51.4 percent of the entire base of Internet users.




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Weibo
       Weibo is the way people named the Chinese Twitter-equivalent social networks,

including Fanfou (饭否), NetEase Weibo (网易微博), People's Weibo (人民微博), Phoenix

Weibo (凤凰微博), and Sina Weibo (新浪微博). Fanfou is one of the earliest Chinese Weibo

platforms, but it was blocked once because of its users’ aggressive updates (Baud, 2009).

       Although some people argue that Weibo is a Twitter clone, the others prefer more the

description that “Weibo is a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook.” (Brazll, 2011)

       Sina Weibo, launched on August 14, 2009, is a sub-creation by SINA Corporation

According to CNNIC, it was the most popular Weibo platform in China at the end of 2011

(2012). Now, Sina Weibo has already owned 500 million active registers, accounting for 48.7

percent of the whole amount of Internet users in China, claimed by SINA’s CEO Charles Cao by

February, 2012.




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Sina Weibo
         As a platform providing information exchange and instant interaction, Sina Weibo allows

two-way conversations and word-of-mouth advocacy. Similar to Twitter, Sina Weibo limits the

messages into 140-character bites. It provides the register a user profile and contains functions

like repost, @usernames, hashtag (#), private instant chat, URL shortening, and direct insertions

with graphics. Users can post their own updates, follow their favorite Weibo accounts, create

event with hashtags, repost their concerned messages, and interact with others via comments.

         Sina Weibo includes several functions that are not included on Twitter.

         1) “ Limitation of words.” As 140 characters in Chinese are ideograms, each Weibo post

may contain more information than 140 alphanumeric characters on Twitter. Sina Weibo is being

used for more complete communications than mere short messages, which made it suitable for a

wider range of audiences and purposes (Lenn, 2012).

         2) “ Convenient social feedback.” Users on Weibo can comment directly below a post,

“@mention” other people in the comments, or repost the message with their comments (Lenn,

2012).

         3) “Rich media.” Rich media is a concept related with the amount of media channels

that a media platform has. The more, the richer. Sina Weibo allows users to directly insert media

including images, videos, music, game apps and graphic emotions without extra plugins. Other

users can view videos without leaving the site. Sina Weibo, has extremely well-developed video

and photo sharing functions. It even allows public polls, public comment wall and photo wall

(Fenn, 2012).

         4) “Micro topics.” This is a function particularly created by Sina Weibo for its users.

Sina Weibo tracks and collects posts during a certain period, and creates a homepage for a topic

                                                                                                    17
if it becomes hot. Every day, the most popular topic will ranks on the home page of Sina Weibo.

For instance, when Steve Jobs passed away, Sina employees created a topic wall to memorize

him, which gained around 700,000 comments (Lenn, 2012).

       5) “Verified account.” Verified accounts are specifically created for famous public

figures and organizations. Those who got verified by Sina Weibo will have a blue bold “V”

attached to their Weibo names. Users with “V” will be treated as more trustable and powerful

information sources. Sina Weibo also categorizes verified celebrities and organizations based on

their identities. More specific, each category has more subcategories. For instance, the category

“entertainment figure” includes “actor,” “musician,” and “entertainment executive.” As its

annual report indicated, Sina Weibo has more than 60,000 verified accounts consisting of

celebrities, sports stars, well-known organizations (both government and commercial) and other.

(Lenn, 2012)

       8)   “Self-censorship.” The Chinese central government censors the Internet and requires

every website to adhere to legal regulations. Sina Weibo is subject to the censorship regulations

and practices self-censorship, which means they would delete or blind messages if they were

proved to be political or cultural progressive. Such censors, however, concentrate on political

issues more than commercial activities, allowing the flourish of commercial activities on Sina

Weibo (CNN, 2011).




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Sina Weibo and Chinese Social Media Marketing
       “When in the middle 2000s many international brands like Volkswagen or Honda started

leveraging Chinese online forums to talk about their nameplates, the world of Chinese social

media was muddy ground for doing business”(Fenn, 2012). But now social media is becoming

“the core platform for brands to spread messages to their audience and to build supporters’

communities” (Fenn, 2012).

       Chinese is a social-media-connected country (Crampton, 2012). Chinese Internet citizens

trust “strangers with experience” (Fenn, 2012). Internet in China is the reliable source,

sometimes even more reliable than mass media. According to a research conducted by Global

Web Index in 2010, “Chinese Internet users trust reviews and insights on social media three

times more than a recommendation from an acquaintance in a bar.”

       Chinese consumers learn knowledge and make decisions about brands through social

media. 69 percent of Chinese consumers purchase or consider the products after seeing them

online (Global Web Index, 2010).

       Another trend on Chinese social media is that many international brands are joining the

conversation with their target audience in Chinese market. “International brands are entering full

force the Chinese social media space. Today, most brands have a branded page in social

networking sites like Kaixin or Renren (Facebook’s counterpart in China)” (Fenn, 2012).

       Early in 2008, cross-cultural companies like KFC or Coca-Cola have been active on

social media and now they have hundreds of communities on Chinese SNS, with their “huge

retail footprints” in China (Fenn, 2012)


       “However, it is also true for brands that have been slow in penetrating the Chinese market

or that have lagged behind in terms of brand definition in China. Sportswear brand Reebok has

                                                                                                 19
suffered from unclear brand positioning and poor sales in the past few years, and is now

straightening its status in the Chinese market by aggressively building communities and buzz on

social media.” (Kania, 2001) Now Chinese brands are developing their own approach to take

use of social media, and they are entering the field very quickly.




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METHODOLOGY
         The literature review explored previous research on brand management and brand

building on social media. The research hopes to compare the trends on Chinese social media

marketing and to assess how social media helps managers build and manage brand equity in

China.

         Taking China’s most popular social media Sina Weibo as the research platform, this

thesis explores how marketers adopt Sina Weibo to engage Chinese consumers, increase their

awareness, and build up relationships with them in the interactive online community. The thesis

answers the following questions:

         1. How do marketers engage users on Sina Weibo?

         2. How do brands construct conversations with users on Sina Weibo?

         3. How do these efforts affect the relationship between brands and consumers?

         To answer these questions, the researchers takes qualitative methodology based on the

research questions and purposes, existing literature about the research topic, and the time

resources.

         In this paper, the researcher conducts two case studies to explore the specific brand

management strategies and consumers engagement on Sina Weibo. The researcher compared two

most socially engaged brands on Sina Weibo via textual analysis. They are the U.S.-based

condom brand, Durex, and the China-based clothing retailer brand, VANCL.

         The researcher conducted the two-week textual analyses to examine the content of each

branded Weibo account. The researcher manually coded each update based on the self-defined

classifications. Categories include Providing information (news and knowledge), Providing

entertainment, Promoting product/service, Offering tangible incentive/ discount, Providing


                                                                                                 21
interaction, Expressing human solicitude expressing opinions on public affairs (refer to

Appendix 1 - code sheet).

       Meanwhile, the researcher calculated the popularity of each update based on the rate it

was reposted and commented on. The researcher randomly studied 20 comments posted under

each update to understand the audience’s perceptions and attitudes. The purpose is to figure out

what circumstances motivate the followers to interact with brands.

       To learn the popularity and influence of the branded Weibo accounts, the researcher also

used a Weibo analyzing app, Weibo Feng Yun, to track the demographic information of the brand

followers, and the popularity degree of the branded messages.

       The researcher believes the two case studies could specifically answer the following

questions.

       1. How do the brands express their brand personality in the placement and daily

interaction on Sina Weibo?

       2. How do the two brands construct daily conversations to engage consumers on Sina

Weibo?

       3. How do the two brands maintain the consumers’ passion and loyalty to keep an

interactive community?

       4. How do the two brands use two-way communication for brand management?

       5. Under what circumstances do fans want to follow and interact with the brands?




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CASE PROFILE

                                          Durex
       Durex, produced by the London-based company Seton Scholl Healthcare, is the best-

selling condom brand in the world. The brand plays as a market leader in more than 40 countries

all over the world.

       This brand was introduced into the Chinese market by 2007. The subsidiary company is

located in Qingdao Province. After Durex entered in the Chinese market, it became the top

condom brand in less than two years. Now Durex accounts for 10 percent of the market in China,

followed by Jissbon, which is produced by the Australia’s Ansell. The result was seen as a desire

for branding amongst Chinese consumers (CBN Weekly, 2008).

       According to SSL’s CEO Garry Watts, the company is planning to expand its brand

promotion plan in China and expects to make Durex the most popular brand in this marketplace

with an expected £2 million investment (Wall Street Journal, 2010).

       Now Durex’s brand identity is “sexy, fun and very, very interactive” and the brand

targets an audience who is “Pleasuratis,” which was created from Durex’s tagline “That’s My

Pleasure” and now refers to those who have a “mature yet adventure outlook on a healthy sex

life” (Jim and Joseph, 2010). Originally, Durex defined its brand identity as “Durability,

Reliability and Excellence.” Early in 2007, SSL incorporated a “better sex” theme to Durex’s

previous “safe sex” brand identity and turned the brand logo from “masculine” into “softer” one.

Meanwhile, Durex positioned itself as health sexual initiatives expert and conducted lots of

campaigns to promote the relationship between sexual and general wellbeing, and educates

consumers as well as retailers about “sexual wellbeing” in an acceptable way.



                                                                                               23
VANCL
        VANCL is a leading Chinese clothing retailer operating e-commerce; the store was

launched in 2007 without any tangible store until now. VANCL, stressing “fast fashion” and

“cheap-chic duds,” offers products that are less fashion-forward but with an affordable price for

the young group from a low-to-middle socioeconomic status. Compared to its competitors H&M

and Uniqlo, VANCL drives a big draw for the following of young urbanites in China because of

its price.

        VANCL became the largest apparel retailer in China's online B2C clothing industry only

two years after its founding. According to "Research Report (2009-2010) on Online Clothes

Shopping in China," released by iResearch (2010), a Chinese authoritative organization

specialized in Internet research and consulting, VANCL’s online commercial website ranks first

with 28.4 of market share among all Chinese self-operating B2C clothing websites. VANCL

owns four million mobile clients in 2011, and its mobile site had more than ten million views

(iResearch, 2010).

        The brand identity highlights sincerity and honesty, which is reflected from its Chinese

brand name “凡客诚品.”

        VANCL’s consumer is seen as having a resourceful living style and sticking to fast

fashion clothes. Since this group was born under the one-child policy, they show more

preference to individualism and creativity than other generations. This group is mainly from the

generation born in the 1980s and served as the main creator of contemporary popular culture

(CNNGo, 2010).VANCL spent great advertising expenses tracking the consumers’ culture and

winning over them. More importantly, VANCL encourages its consumers to create their own

clothes style and popular culture. To some extent, VANCL’s brand wins over this group’s heart

not only by its reasonable price but also by representing the lifestyle for this group. (CNNGo,

                                                                                                   24
2010) Professionals believe VANCL is turning consumers’ love of fashion and photography into

a word-of-mouth marketing tool. In September 2009, VANCL opened its Sina Weibo site,

providing consumers with a social media platform to express themselves and interact with the

brand.

         VANCL invited Han Han, the most famous blogger in China, and Chinese popular

actress Wang Luodan, as its spoke persons. These two celebrities were born in 1980s, belonging

to the Chinese “post-80s” generation. Their key characteristics are striving to success and being

real, which matches with VANCL’s target consumers, “post-80s,” and aligns with VANCL’s

brand identity. In 2010, VANCL created two ads starring them and featured with the succinct

and humor advertising text. The ads went viral on Sina Weibo in one week (CNNGo, 2010).




                                                                                                25
FINDINGS

                                               Durex
Webpage

        Durex has a Weibo page named “Durex Official Weibo” with 380,449 fans as of April 20,

2012 (pictured in Figure 1 below). The page features include verified information, a wall with

recently updated posts, photo wall, a list of sub-brands, a list of tags. The photo wall is a newest

ad featuring Durex’s brand.

        Durex’s labels: Infinitive creativity, Affinity Distance, World’s No.1, Be brave to love.




(Figure 1: Durex Official Weibo Page)

Data

        Based on a one-year report from Weibo Feng Yun ended at April 19, 2012, 1.2 million

followers of Durex are active users (means accounts have more than 30 followers and tweets at

least once a week). Among them, 67.8 percent are males and 32.2 percent are females. The

majority of followers are from age group 18 to 34.

        During the two-week period, Durex account posted 139 updates. 60 updates (46.7%)

provided entertainment messages, graphics or videos to the followers. 16 updates (12.1%)
                                                                                                    26
provided health information or knowledge related to the brand and its products, 4 posts (2.2%)

product function promotion and new product introduction. Thirty-five updates (25.1%) requested

direct interactions with followers, like answering questions, or inviting people take part in

themed discussions. Fourteen updates (10.1%) provide incentives or coupons, and 8 updates

(5.7 %) expressed human solicitudes like emotional supports or comforts (refer to Table 1).

       Based on the data, the researcher found that the two brands’ Weibo accounts adopted four

same strategies to engage their customers in the brand community on Weibo.

       Firstly, the researcher found that Durex official Weibo has a high update frequency,

reached to an average of 10 updates for each day. These updates stick to schedule. For instance,

interactive conversations are always posted at midnight and information updates are usually

posted during daytime.

       Secondly, the brand posts engage people with brand-related entertainment including

jokes, graphics and videos. The researcher found the brand likes to provide entertainment

messages and activities to increase customer engagement. The updates are mainly entertainment

information, a small portion of them are news and knowledge.

       Third, Durex’s updates are also closely related to its brand position. Durex combines

brand image into its updates and strives to differentiate it from other brands. Sixty percent of

these posts stress health sex initiatives, free and funny life, the search for love and happiness, and

responsibility in relationships. Even though the brand account adopted more than 60 percent of

online contents, which they tagged as “Revised from the online content,” it doesn’t simply copy

these contents for their updates, but related them with brand personality, branded emotion

appeals, and product promotion.




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The updates adopt an informal conversational tone. The brand account uses the nickname

“littile Dudu” or “Dudu,” which was shortened from its Chinese name “Du Lei Si” (“杜蕾斯”),

and acts as a “playful boy who is funny and humorous, he knows how to make life comfortable

and interesting” (Jin, 2011). Weibo accounts also focus on providing interactive, entertaining,

and informative conversations to match with this personality.

        Finally, the branded account provides three entertaining online activities to interact with

their followers during the two weeks. These activities include daily themed discussion,

photography competition and product placement design competition. The most frequent activity

is the themed discussion session. Every midnight Durex posted a discussion topic and invited

followers to contribute their relevant personal experience. Topics ranged from family

responsibility to sexual health. Durex makes the discussion as a regular interactive activity and

tagged it as “#Night Discussion” (transferred from Chinese “#夜福利”). Durex chooses one

favorite comment and awarded the comment creator with Durex products.

       During the 14-day textual analysis, each update with “#Night Discussion” attracted more

than a large amount of comments and reposts. The maximum amount reached to 1720.

Responses included not only answers to Durex but also interactions with other users. Some

comments even showed the followers’ long-term dedication to this activity. Some comments

even asked for the topic in advance.



Followers

       The researcher believes the feedback from each post can reflect the preference of

followers to a certain extent. Seventy posts have more than 100 comments. 85 posts have been

reposted more than 500 times. Among these comments, most users showed favor and passion


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toward the brand’s posts. Among these tweets, around 14 updates had been reposted more than

500 times, including entertainment (12), daily information (4) and messages offering incentives

(1). The three most socially-engaged posts that have been tweeted more than 1,000 times are

entertainment messages.

       Thirty percent of followers prefer to use nickname “Little Du Du” or “Du Du” in their

comments. Followers also expressed their favor to the contents and the brand. Some users

expressed that they read Durex posts almost every day. Some followers showed strong

preference for Durex brand because of this Weibo account. Some even connected the Durex

brand image with their online advertising and compare it with its competitors.

       Examples:

       “DuDu, I’m coming. I guess I am the first person. I think I am one of the persons who

likes Du Du best. The content here is very eye-catching.” (Xiezi)

        “This is the most interesting weibo I’ve seen.”(RenRen81)

       “DuDu, what are you going to talk about tonight?”(MR_Tonice)

        “Sleep after 3 a.m. every day. Today I’m planning to sleep before 1 a.m., but I will read

DuDu’s updates before going to sleep.”(Love2010)

       “I know this weibo from Bo Sheng Yun Feng (Durex social media PR agency).Not bad. I

will change to use Durex in the future.” (You’re my Cocaine)

       “(I think) Durex is well educated than Jissbon.” (Tracy-Is me)




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VANCL
      VANCL opened seven Weibo accounts to serve to different purposes. The most social

engaged account with more than 4.5 million fans is the VANCL Fans Group (translated from

Chinese “凡客粉丝团”). This is not an official platform. VANCL used it to interact with

followers, provide service or product information, send incentives, and distribute entertainment

messages. Other accounts include VANCL Official Weibo, which is used to release official

commercial information; VANCL Star, which is used to engage followers to participate in

VANCL Model Competition, and the other four accounts used to promote different products or

service.

    In addition to the organizational accounts, VANCL’s 13 high-ranking executives, including

VANCL’s founder, Chen Nian, also opened their personal accounts on Sina Weibo. VANCL

also encouraged its employees to use Sina Weibo. More than 100 employees have registered on

Sina Weibo to promote this brand. In this paper, the researcher studies the updates of VANCL

Fans Group to explore VANCL’s interaction strategy because of its popularity.



Web Page

     VANCL’s Weibo page is named “VANCL Fans Group,” and it has 453,633 fans as of 20,

April 2012 (pictured in Fig. 2 below). The page features include verified information, a wall with

recently updated posts, photo wall, a list of leadership, and a list of tags. The photo wall is a

newest ad featuring VANCL’s spokesperson, Han Han

    VANCL’s labels: I am VANCL, Han Han, Xiao Ming Huang, Chen Nian, Wang Luo Dan,

Li Yu Chun, Corn (indicated the fans of Li Yu Chun), VANCL (Chinese and English brand),

Fast-fashion.


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(Figure 2: VANCL Fans Group Weibo Page)

Data

       Based on the statistics by Weibo Feng Yun at April, 19, 2012, VANCL Fans Group has

50,000 active followers.

       During the two-week time frame, VANCL Fans Group updated 189 posts. Among the

189 updates, 72 updates (38.1%) provided entertainment messages, graphic or videos to the

followers. 46 (24.3%) updates requested for direct interactions with followers, celebrities, and

leaderships. Thirty-eight updates (20.1%) provides product function promotion and new product

introduction. Fourteen updates (0.7%) provide incentives or coupons, 11 updates (0.3%)

provided information (news or knowledge), 7 updates (0.4%) expresses opinions to public affairs

including criticism on government, and 2 updates (0.1 %) expressed human solicitudes like

emotional supports or comforts (refer to Appendix 2).

       During the two-week time frame, the researcher found that VANCL’s updates have the

following characteristics.




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VANCL interacts with the followers positively. During the fourteen days, VANCL Fans

Group account posted more than 13.5 updates per day. Similar to Durex, VANCL Fans Group

provided a large amount of entertainment messages combined with videos graphics. Most of the

updates are gossip with a relaxed and personalized conversational tone. VANCL also developed

dialogues with fans, celebrities and even its leaderships. In addition, VANCL posted a bunch of

messages, combined with multimedia, to promote its products. These updates don’t stick to a

strict schedule. Updates are used to provide service and product information, and develop

entertaining interactions based on the needs of followers.

       Most of posts by VANCL Fans Group are online video, interaction, and promotion

information. Most of them are not originally created by VANCL except for interaction and

promotion. The entertainment messages didn’t go viral on Sina Weibo. During the two weeks,

those messages that had been reposted more than 1,000 times were discount/incentive

information; these occupied 50 percent of the top ten most-socially-engaged updates of VANCL.



Followers

       The researcher collected and analyzed the feedback from each post. Most posts had fewer

comments and reposts than 100. Twelve posts have been reposted over 500 times. Among these

comments, most users showed favor and passion toward the VANCL’s products.The 12 updates

that had been reposted more than 500 times include entertainment (2), information (2) and

promotion (8). Compared to Durex, VANCL got less feedback for its comments and reposts. But

VANCL’s brand account often replies the posts, which is embraced by the followers.

        Feedback on VANCL’s post wall mainly expresses the followers’ expectation and favor

of VANCL’s products.


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Examples:

   “Love VANCL, Love VANCLE’s style!” (from Angle1077)

   “I like VANCL style because they match with me.” (form Moli)

   “Thank you VANCL, I love VANCL style, I wish to buy!” (from Kakasolarwing)




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DISCUSSION
       In this section, the researcher uses comparison method to analyze the two cases and sum

up a series of tactics and development trends of brand management on Sina Weibo. The

researcher concluded them into two perspectives: 1) the techniques on brand management of the

two brands; and 2) the challenges for future brand managers and marketers.


                       Social Media Techniques of Brand Management
       The two brands adopted several similar techniques on Sina Weibo to engage consumers,

and maintain brand loyalty. These tactics contain building interactive brand community,

providing attractive content with multiple media, maintaining frequent interaction, using an

informal conversational tone, showing brand personality, sticking to business goals, and sending

incentives.

       Online Brand Community Weibo provides brands a platform to build online

communities in order to engage followers and maintain loyalty. Both VANCL and Durex build

up online communities revolving the brands. To maintain the engagement of the community, the

two brands provided attractive content, positive interaction and extraordinary updates for their

followers. VANCL even uses multiple communities to serve different audience groups.

Feedback from followers indicated consumers on Weibo favor the connections with brands in

community. The online brand community is crucial to brand management and social media

marketing (Kania, 2001; Aaker, 2012).



       Conversational Tone Both branded accounts interact with consumers in an informal

conversational tone instead of serious attitudes to interact with followers. Durex even infused

the tone with its own brand personality. Using a relaxed and personalized tone to communicate

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with consumers can express brand personality, and increase brand affinity. Feedback reflects that

consumers prefer the personalized expressions of brands.



       Business Goals Social media strategy should serve to macro-level business goals. Both

brands came up with different interactive forms to maintain their consumer engagement and

passion for the brands. VANCL uses its Weibo account to process e-commerce transition and

promote its products. Durex’s brand management on Weibo is to communicate with consumers

and increase its brand exposure. Hence, Durex’s brand community is much well-organized but

VANCL is more diverse, flexible and having more elements.



       Entertainment Durex’s contents are closely related to its brand. Entertainment, safe

sexual initiatives, living your life, sense of responsibility all related to Durex products and the

brand identity. VANCL appears multiple in interacting consumers. VANCL operates with other

brands on Sina Weibo, combines online and offline activities together. The “VANCL Star”

activity attracted VANCL great attention every day. Its celebrity effects also greatly increased its

brand exposure.



       Social Currency Social currency or social trend is crucial to social media marketing.

Brand community on social media consists of many like-minded people or groups. Marketers

should monitor these target individuals or groups to understand their popular culture, preferences

and conversation spots. Understanding your target audience cannot only increase material

benefits but also reduce the economic risks brought by cultural difference. International brands




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should be even more careful on these social currencies appeared among social media

communities. The failure campaign of Durex in South African is a good case in point.



       Entertainment Elements Durex and VANCL all combines messages with multimedia

and providing many entertainment information on their brand page. From the two-week

observation, it can be concluded that brand-related entertainment and promotion activities are the

main favorable for Durex and VANCL. Even if there is not an accurate quantitative research to

prove the causal relationship between content categories and audience preference, this research

still suggests a possibility that entertainment and incentives are the most attractive information

for brand followers of Durex and VANCL.



       Multiple Media Multiple media on Sina Weibo contain video, music, graphics, and

facial expression. Sina Weibo enables people to directly insert and view videos and graphics.

Users can adopted multiple media when disseminating information or interacting with others on

Sina Weibo. And also, Weibo is a high traffic information channel. On Sina Weibo, the

information traffic is busy. People’s attention can easily switch from one topic to another.

Continuous updates and dialogues in the social media brand community can increase touch

points with the brand’s audience.


                            Challenges for Future Brand Managers
     Early in 2000, Chinese marketing might not be suitable to talk about businesses. At that

time, rules were unclear, governmental control was tight, and many websites like Facebook,

Twitter and Fanfou had been blocked. And Chinese Internet audience seemed have more

interests in online games rather than brand and product information (Fenn, 2012).


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Now, Chinese social media communities and brand management are developing and

innovating. Admittedly, the brand communities on social media are not the professional and

well-organized online service communities like Dell and Starbucks. But Chinese consumers are

becoming sensitive to brands, especially those young Internet users. Brands who take more time

on social media to interact with consumers would raise brand awareness among this generation.

       There are, however, still a series of challenges facing future marketers and brand

managers. Communication via Sina Weibo is very flexible and fast paced. There is a huge traffic

on Sina Weibo every day. Hence, on Weibo frequent interactions between brands and followers

can maintain brand loyalty, increase long-term engagement and cultivate followers to receive

information via a regular schedule.

      In addition, it is difficult for Sina Weibo to reach as broad an audience as traditional ads

because the majority of Chinese citizens are still exposed to traditional media like TV, radio or

billboards. Moreover, the proliferation of information and products makes it difficult to build up

product awareness among segmented audiences than ever before. Therefore, adopting multiple

media channels can be more effective in media planning for brand managers.

       Censorship is another aspect of China’s media system – including branding – that’s

worthy of attention. Although the current censorship regulations concentrate on political issues,

instead of commercial messages, it is still unclear if the government will bring new rules to

censor information on this social network platform. Reports indicate that the Chinese central

government is trying to control Sina Weibo with real-name registration, which means that users

have to register Sina Weibo with real identity information (Wall Street Journal, 2012). The

Marketers can hardly expect for tomorrow of this developing online platform. Companies,




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especially international firms, should prepare for the unexpected future and complete a series of

government public relations plans.




                                        CONCLUSION
       The objectives of this paper were to explore how brand management works on the

Chinese micro blogging service, Sina Weibo. In this paper, the researcher figures that creating

social media subcategory products is crucial to a brand positioning on social media (Aaker,

2012). The researcher also finds that brand communities aimed to provide a venue for followers

to exchange information and interact with each other; information exchange focuses on

providing attractive content and providing opportunities of self-expression (Keller, 2001);

interaction calls for personal experience related the brand and maintains customer’s loyalty

(Kania, 2011).

       Social media branding and marketing is about listening and talking to consumers. In the

online brand community, consumers will participate in shaping the brand image on their own.

The best strategy is leaving space but also monitoring the online discussions, knowing what

consumers are thinking, and being positive as well as sincere.

       Brands on Weibo should be dedicated to providing values. Good content provides value,

useful information provides value, and supportive interaction provides value. These values

connect the consumers and brands together. They are the glue of the community.


                                         Study Limitations
       The limitation of this study is the size of research sample. Durex and VANCL belong to

the supplies industry, which needs a fierce competition and extremely high brand differentiation.


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