Win Your Market In China’s Singles Day


Emerging Communications


Nov 21, 2021

In pre-campaign live streaming performance this year, Alibaba’s Singles Day has officially been launched, and the big winners are Viya and Li Jiaqi (aka Austin Li), two of China’s most famous livestreamers. During their October 20 livestream session, the power duo sold $3.1 billion (20 billion yuan) in GMV, nearly 10 per cent of the entire 2020 Singles Day Event.

Singles Day is a national occasion, a festival about much more than the opportunity to acquire bargains. It started as an event for single people but has grown to incorporate the entire population. Planning begins many months in advance by brands and retailers that compete in generating the spectacular and biggest surprises that are about entertainment and creating consumer connections, as well as sales through immediate commercial opportunity.

The public look forward to 11 November with great anticipation, and often spend large amounts of time researching money-saving opportunities and then broadcasting their strategies on social media followed by boasting of their acquisitions. It becomes a competition to demonstrate who has the best plan, and who has bought most wisely. This behaviour is widespread.


Brand and Retailer Activity

Brands and retailers put significant creativity into Singles Day campaigns with a heavy emphasis on competitions, some with major prizes. Marketing engagement rates in the lead up to the event are extraordinarily high via sophisticated use seeding, gamification, influencers, social media and other online messaging.

 A key element of the event that can be usefully learned by marketers from outside China, is that it is not treated as an isolated day of sales or promotional activation. It is integral to complex omnichannel strategies. This in turn is based on acquiring a very detailed understanding of consumers, which enables brands and retailers to create highly targeted and relevant customer propositions, with buying journeys to match.

 Marketers often use a wide variety of communication options confident of high conversion rates. Live stream demonstrations and selling are highly effective, and popular with the public, as is gamification. KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers) or celebrity influencer messaging and peer to peer-based offers on social media are also used. Frequently, these channels will be used to promote creative in-store experiences such as virtual augmented reality games, or the unveiling of limited edition offers and product launches.


What drives the seamless and accurate brand promise and customer journey building that is common to nearly all brands and retailers in China, is having detailed knowledge of target consumers, what they will buy, why and what buying experience they want. Companies use deep learning through social media listening, data analyses, focus groups, behaviour tracking, and listening and testing via social media community management. These processes are used intensely on a continuous basis. It enables marketers to generate accurate sales propositions throughout the year, including Singles Day, New Year, Golden Week, Valentine’s Day, and other calendar events.

 A good example of putting customer understanding and service at the heart of a company is that of retail giant JD. It employs 16,380 staff in its research, design and operations department. They employ a variety of tools to gather, analyse and track information including artificial intelligence, big data, cloud functions and image recognition. This builds detailed pictures of customer psychographics, and enables the company to create accurately targeted marketing, and matching buyer experiences. The result last year for JD on Singles Day was more than £29 billion in sales.

Games for Successful Engagement

Gamifying shopping on Singles Day and in the lead up to it, has become hugely popular. Last year Taobao (approximately similar to Ebay), created a skyscraper building game that allowed players to qualify for coupons, and it was reported to have been played by more than 400 million users.

Such games attract huge numbers of consumers seeking discount or winning vouchers, and special offers featured within games. This year an estimated £100 million will be given away in coupons, with JD and Alibaba each saying they are distributing more than £22 million through games, or as incentives to get friends and family to play and buy together.

It is not just Chinese brands that have learned how to successfully generate high levels of engagement to produce impressive financial returns. Although Western brands are notoriously slow to learn in China, and some never do, Estee Lauder was one of the top selling brands in the lead up to and on Singles Day last year.

The brand created an integrated digital communications strategy with a mix of celebrities, outdoor media and use of KOCs and KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders). Celebrities were employed to build consumer reach, and fuel excitement using key social media platforms. One response was:

‘Let’s make a Single Day record,’ urging peers to buy Estee Lauder products to show support for the brand’s chosen heartthrob celebrity.


However, the communication used was more sophisticated than simply hiring well known personalities, and putting them before audiences for endorsement purposes. In the lead in to Singles Day, they were used for interaction with target consumer groups, and this in turn was supported by outdoor advertising. Celebrities were also used to anchor live stream selling and promotions broadcasts on the Taobao platform.

Estee Lauder also employed a marketing tactic that is being used much more this year. It promoted pre event selling, and in its case took early orders from fans of both the brand and the celebrities involved. On TMall alone, more than £51 million in sales were recorded in the first 25 minutes of opening the offer.

By comparison to the level of commitment that goes into the Chinese shopping festival, Black Friday is a relatively straight forward discount promotion based event. To drive sales in China, marketers have to become more inventive in creating engagement. It requires significant commitment in consumer insight in order to understand the most effective propositions and communication.

The investment that Chinese brands and retailers put into learning pays off in markets where marketing practice is five to ten years ahead of the West. Anyone who wants to see what the future of consumer engagement will look like should visit a Chinese Tier 1 city when travel restrictions allow.

Emerging Communications is dedicated to supporting Western brands navigate the complex Chinese digital landscape. We’ve developed must-have guides on what we can learn retail lessons from China and Influencer Marketing – packed full of key concepts, tips, valuable insights, and strategies, click here to download. All you need for successful and innovative marketing in China.