Mailman Journal: Reflections of an Intern
Armed with a truck load of enthusiasm and a mere pocketful of knowledge, I spent my summer as an intern with the movers and shakers of China’s Digital Landscape, the awesome Mailman Group and their team at KAWO. As I write this, with less than one week until I’m back on the shores of the Emerald Isle it’s safe to say that I’ve learnt a lot. Beyond my previous pocketful of knowledge, which consisted mostly of facts and figures that might come in useful for a pub quiz, here are few things I learned about digital marketing in China.
The Internet (in general)
Originally I often wondered about the ‘The Great Firewall’, how did it affect the content that was accessible to Chinese netizens? How would western brands fair connecting with consumers on the web? What problems did they face?
Whilst the Great Firewall is possibly the largest, most extensive, and most advanced internet censorship regime in the world; In terms of communication and advertising, there is a revolution in China and it’s most definitely a digital one. A quick search on Baidu, Sogou or 360 search, or if you really want to Google, would reveal the true extent of internet users, around 668 million, that’s roughly 104 times bigger than my entire country’s population. No wonder western brands want a crack at the whip.
In terms of how they can connect with internet users; in theory, I thought it would be simple. Tried and tested tactics should work, choose the right platform(s) and success will follow? It has to work, right? WRONG. Chinese consumers behave a lot differently, brands need to understand this and dress their campaigns for the occasion.
Again, with the firewall in place, most western social media platforms are banned. What did this mean in terms of social networking? How many are available? Are they the same?
The Chinese “Socialscape” is prospering, and long may it live. A legion of platforms exist in terms of numbers, and the vast majority mirror a lot of those in the west in some way or another. The two that come to mind though when I think of Chinese social media are Weibo and WeChat, Weibo cast the line and WeChat reeled it in. WeChat takes social networking to a whole other level though. When I landed in China I had it purely for messaging purposes, tip of the iceberg comes to mind, only the tip of that tip, that’s a pretty small tip, and the iceberg is huge and it’s not made of ice, instead it’s got the core components of an operating system because that’s how I would describe it.
Need a cab? WeChat one. Hungry? Let’s see what restaurants are on WeChat. Don’t have money to pay for that food? Let me transfer you some through WeChat wallet. The food delivery may take a while, play a game on WeChat. Get the picture? WeChat also has a lot of social features beyond those needed when you’re broke, bored, or hungry. Some of the campaigns that brands have coordinated through the app are also inspiring. The founders, Tencent, have recently invested in the western app KIK; I can’t wait to see how it evolves.
Key Opinion Leaders (KOL’s)
Before I came to China I would have associated the abbreviation “KOL” more with Nashville’s finest, Kings of Leon. I was slightly familiar with the term in a marketing context, but I soon learned in China these guys are a force to be reckoned with.
KOL’s can come from all walks of life, from your trusty neighbour who always has some solid advice about what brand of washing powder you should buy, to the global superstar who wants you to buy everything in his latest fashion line. It soon dawned on me that the term ‘Google’ doesn’t have any sway with a Chinese internet user. I also learned that netizens are suspicious of formal institutions; no wonder they value the advice of their friends and idols. KOL’s are an integral part of digital marketing campaigns, often with the power to make or break your brand.
Mailman represents several of football’s heavyweights in China’s digital realm, creating innovative campaigns that produce incredible results; hopefully they’ll count my beloved Derry City FC among their ranks someday.
The passion and vocal nature of Chinese football fans make Derry’s Jungle Side Supporters Club look like a bunch of avid indoor bowling fans by comparison. I knew the Chinese Super League had taken off in recent years, but Top teams from Europe’s elite have an obsessive fan base. Several games are broadcasted through the internet and on TV, and once that final whistle is blown; you can guarantee one thing, pandemonium on social media. Several clubs have cashed in on this, creating a digital buzz, engaging with fans online in an array of different ways.
One difference I did notice though was an even bigger passion for individual players, who more often than not command more fans than their actual team page. I found that fans are often quick to draw their social media swords when their teams lose or switch their digital alliance when their star player gets transferred.
On my commute to and from the Mailman office one thing that struck me was the amount of time people spend on their mobile devices, watching their favourite soap opera, playing some derivative of candy crush or shopping. This intrigued me as to the state of the mobile market, and yep, it’s huge. 89% of China’s internet users surf the web on their mobile.
Half of e-commerce spending will be on mobile in 2015; I wouldn’t even want to think how much money that equates to being spent by people on their morning commute. In terms of video platforms, users can access a wider variety and breadth of selection than traditional TV, viewed on their own time at their personal leisure i.e. on their commute to work. Don’t even get me started on mobile gaming; there are more mobile gamers in China than there are U.S. citizens!
I didn’t know what to really expect from an internship in China, I knew what I wanted, but the two often don’t meet. I wanted an experience beyond the cultural aspect of being in Shanghai, I wanted to gain an understanding of how business went down in a massive market and I wanted to explore possible routes my career path may take me once I complete my degree. I can happily say I got everything I wanted, and more. It was a pleasure being part of the Mailman family; the people, the work and the food have been amazing, so with a heavy heart I say Slán Go Foill Mo Cháirde, goodbye for now my friends.