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Bull Session

Rand Han: Riding the Trends of the Digital Wave in China

May 30, 2016
Resonance China Co. founder, Rand Han, reveals optimal strategies for China's digital market

Rand Han is the founder and managing director of Resonance China Co. Ltd., a digital consulting firm that strategizes, plans and manages digital branding campaigns for global firms. Having created his own company and navigated China’s unique market, Han suggests strategies and provides actionable insights that amplify his clients’ brands in the digital domain.

What fascinates you about China’s digital scene, and how do you keep up with the fast-changing pace?

China’s digital scene evolves very quickly and it’s very interesting to see how there’s a continuous demand to explore and determine the next big thing. There is constant wild innovation that doesn’t stop, and it all lurches forward based on the whims of the consumer.

Keeping up with the pace of change is easy when you are small, but harder when you’re big, especially since change doesn’t scale very smoothly. At Resonance, we’re in between small and medium at 50+ people, so we’re still able to catch up with the changes as they happen. At the end of the day, change is spurred by customers of clients, and clients who are looking to stay ahead of the pack.

With so many domains to choose from (WeChat, Weibo, Tencent Holdings, etc.), which platform do you think is the most influential and engaging for foreign brands in China?

WeChat is definitely taking a lead, leaving Weibo and other platforms behind.

Western companies are best off using platforms like WeChat to reach out to Chinese audiences, since the app is used by hundreds of millions of Chinese daily. WeChat is a first step. Developing China-centric e-commerce apps is a hard strategy — getting consistent downloads and being relevant to Chinese audiences are two very large mountains to climb. Having said that, those brands with strong recognition in China and a good record for online sales can certainly benefit from an expanded mobile suite.

The most important thing a brand can do before coming to China is getting its story straight — what it stands for and how that's relevant to the Chinese and the local market. From there, developing a mobile, digital strategy to support the brand’s local story is a simple pivot.

Mobile is definitely here to stay, and mobile strategies are different from TV and desktop marketing. It all comes down to your personal experience: how do you behave in front of your TV, in front of your desktop and in front of your mobile phone? Chances are, on mobile you’re used to small bursts of frequent content. Strategies should be formed based on how users interact with the medium. So content and engagements for mobile should conform to netizens’ natural behavior when using their mobile phones.

Could you provide some best-practice examples of a foreign company successfully becoming integrated into China’s digital market?

There are many ways of approaching the market based on the brand, the product and the target consumer. For instance, some of our luxury clients sell watches valued over US$100,000. For this client and market, we developed a very specific campaign targeted at watch lovers that included a WeChat app where people could disassemble and reassemble a watch’s movement on their phones. This led to evergreen content on their WeChat and Weibo accounts that further discussed the watch collection. The campaign was very successful. Another client of ours is one of the top food store chains in Europe. They weren't greatly known in China, so we worked with them to craft a strategy that integrated their products into modern Chinese cuisine. This then led to us working with online cooking influencers to visually demonstrate how the products integrated, which was then followed by a robust Weibo content plan that encouraged visits to China’s digital marketplace.

What do you see as a recurring challenge(s) for your clients when they try to enter China’s digital market?

Staying relevant and interesting to the Chinese consumer is difficult. There are so may brands coming in every day that Chinese consumers are becoming numb to new information. Constantly getting the word out again and again becomes increasingly difficult, so it’s best that brands come in with a realistic strategy prior to dedicating their resources to the market.

It looks like the latest set of governmental rules will restrict foreign digital content from being shared freely. With the need of potential publishers to now negotiate with state officials before being able to post anything effective March 10, do you think this mandate will deter foreign companies from tapping into China’s digital domain?

No, digital is still the fastest way to connect with a Chinese audience. When you consider that other methods like print, TV and outdoor are all heavily regulated and expensive, digital is still attractive, even with the new regulations.

What were some of the biggest factors that solidified your decision to start your own company? What did you learn most about starting your own business?

The desire for freedom was a big part of the reason for starting my own business. That, and the excitement of creating something on my own.

I learned that I need to keep learning and changing. Each stage of the business, from one person, to 10, to 15, required me to totally change the way I think and the way I approach my staff and my clients. Running my own business has been one of the most amazing learning experiences I’ve ever had.

Starting a company in China is easier than starting one in the U.S., because the demand for quality in China is higher, while there is much less supply. Building a small, nimble company primarily led by the founder is easy. But growing a company in China is hard for the same reasons. As you grow, you must depend on others to do the work, and then training the local workforce becomes important. In addition to this need for a strong workforce, there’s also a talent war for capable people in China, so those you train can get stolen from you, and you may also need to steal from others. It’s a very dynamic market with a lot of ups and downs and compromises. But if asked to choose between China and somewhere else, I’d choose China every time.

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