23 Dec 2013
Social media in China: the marketing experience of a food importer
Interview with Kitty Lee, managing director of Luxuriance
Established in Guangzhou in 2006, Uchoice (廣州市優鮮選貿易有限公司) is a food company specialised in upmarket food ingredients supplying prime quality imported chilled seafood and meats to hotels, Chinese restaurants and western restaurants on the mainland. In 2011, the company made forays into the catering sector by opening two restaurants named Luxuriance in the city’s Yuexiu District and Haizhu District respectively. After that, the company tapped the e-tailing channels, offering imported chilled seafood and meats online under the Uchoice brand as well as natural health foods from Canada, France and Australia on taobao.com. It is a comprehensive enterprise integrating trade, catering service and e-tailing.
Online retail sales strategy: Enjoying five-star food at home
The marketing strategy adopted by Uchoice at first was driving the sales of its online shop by its restaurants. After consumers have tried the delicious food at its brick-and-mortar outlets, they can choose and buy the food they like at Uchoice’s online shop on taobao.com. The food would be delivered to the customer’s door by couriers specialised in cold chain logistics and the consumer can then cook and enjoy five-star food at home anytime. Due to their traditional culinary habit of eating fresh food, most mainland consumers do not have a good understanding of the nutritional value or the way of handling and cooking chilled food. In view of this, apart from giving an introduction to the country of origin of the food on its webpage, Uchoice also provides information on the food, its nutrition facts, efficacies and cooking methods. In recent years, mainland consumers tend to buy more imported food as they go after higher quality food and also because of the occurrence of food safety incidents from time to time. To meet this market demand, Uchoice imports natural food in its original packaging from foreign countries, examples include organic jam and honey from Canada.
Word-of-mouth among friends
In a bid to enhance the image of Uchoice as a retail brand and expand its clientele, the company has attempted the use of e-marketing such as front page promotion, keyword search and group buy. It is interesting to note that among the large number of promotional and marketing channels available on the mainland, “word-of-mouth” has the highest success rate, while social network is one of the important channels for building word-of-mouth. Hence, Uchoice has set up accounts in WeChat and Weibo in a move to engage the consumers.
According to Kitty Lee, managing director of the company, messages posted to social networks must not sound too commercial or formal because this would put consumers off. As a matter of fact, the company hopes to establish a “friendly” relationship with consumers through these social networks and promote its products by word-of-mouth in the form of short messages.
For instance, promotion of the French confection macaron on Weibo begins with an introduction to the romantic culture of France and the history of macaron, complemented by colourful pictures to attract consumers. This is followed by a message recommending the right drinks to go with macaron, and at the end of the message there is a link to the company’s website where interested consumers can make online purchase. Meanwhile, consumers can also forward the post to friends whom they think are interested in French culture or macaron, or share the post with their social media groups. Some consumers would then register as “fans”, and start receiving messages posted by Uchoice on Weibo from time to time.
WeChat is a social network which has been growing rapidly in recent years. One of its characteristics is that it allows businesses to advertise themselves via open forums and platforms. Its “Drift Bottle” feature allows account holders (businesses) to post messages and reach out to the user community at random by means of text or audio messages. Businesses can also carry out joint marketing activities with WeChat.
Online and offline integration
Uchoice organises VIP thanksgiving activities regularly, inviting online consumers to dine at the two Luxuriance restaurants. Apart from offering food tasting to these VIPs, the chefs would also demonstrate cooking on the spot and share tips on how to handle chilled food. Through such activities, the company can convert its online customers into offline patrons, thereby building brand image and boosting customer trust and loyalty. At the same time, useful information and photos of these activities would be posted on WeChat to attract new customers. Weibo and WeChat also serve as the platform for broadcasting information of upcoming food tasting events held in small communities.
Points to note on social networks
Kitty Lee remarked that instantaneity is very important in engaging customers on social networks, which are “person-to-person” communication platforms. In exchanging messages with friends, people often hope that the other party could respond instantly or as soon as possible, otherwise they would feel that they are being “neglected”. In view of this, the company has a special team responsible for handling WeChat and Weibo accounts, responding to users’ messages as soon as possible. The wordings used are warm and personal so that the users would feel that they are communicating with a friend. It is worth noting that hard sell strategies are not suitable on social networks and a link to the company’s online shop must be in place to bring potential customers to its online shop. After all, customer conversion is the ultimate goal of marketing efforts.