Retail in Asia recently caught up with Luka He, former brand initiative director, Fitness and Women Business at Li-Ning Sporting Goods, to learn about her experiences in China and top tips on shopper marketing ahead of the Shopper Marketing 2011 conference in Shanghai on 5-6 September.
RIA: How important is "shopper marketing" for Li-Ning in China? How much does the Li-Ning brand invest in shopper marketing?
Luka He (LH): Shopper marketing is very important for Li-Ning because we need to showcase to our clients that building a standard is important as well as the effectiveness of new collections in addition to the fundamental of keeping the sales going.
RIA: Can you share an example of the positive effect of shopper marketing to your business?
LH: Just before the 2008 Olympics, we leveraged our heritage sport, gymnastics and diving, to draw attention from consumers and again reiterate our brand story with past Olympic stories and anecdotes. The year on year same-store-sales grew over 60 percent although we don't sell gymnastic and diving products.
RIA: Some says segmenting shoppers is important for brands to answers the requirements of individual segments. What is your take on this?
LH: I think it's quite important. As retail landscape is changing, consumers are getting more sophisticated and tend to buy different products at different types of stores. Say, a consumer will go to Li-Ning's stand-alone stores for one thing and go to multi-brand outlets for another thing according to consumers' feedback. We need to segment shoppers to fully capture the business potential.
RIA: What do you think are the best ways to get buying behaviour data in China?
LH: A brand's own transactions will be a strong base. The key is not getting the data but growing the ability to read through these data and analysis. Besides, a competitive transaction analysis and observation will be very useful.
RIA: What do you see as the top-three challenges for retailers to deploy their shopper marketing strategies in China? Why?
LH: Firstly, people think they know China because they grew up here. But China is too big and different. To correctly segment from a geographic point of view is a challenge. Not along that in a super city like Beijing, there are areas just like any third-tier cities.
Secondly, Chinese companies' biggest rivals are themselves. These companies grew their distribution network very fast in the past few years. When you know it, the network is a bit too big to handle.
And the third top challenge is execution – as the devil is in the detail – or execution.
RIA: How does your brand cope with these challenges?
LH: Doing research and diligent at market visit will somehow compensate the lack of knowledge. Also, developing the mindset and the team to do solid execution helps. Employing a few talents with experience is very effective as well.
RIA: What other brands do you think effectively market in China?
LH: Coke, as an example, has established the coverage and kept dominant brand exposure at small village shops as far as a small village in Tibet. Uniqlo is very sophisticated as well although their store operation is a bit inferior compared to Japan. But their product assortment, distribution network and visual merchandising are all managed very well. They are also very creative at translating their on-line efforts to foot traffic through the doors.
RIA: In your experience do shopper behaviours vary across different parts of China?
LH: Yes. Some differences come from weather, others from the priority industries of each city. Lots of factors affect their behaviour. Take Li-Ning's collaboration project with a fashion designer Zhang Da for example. Despite that the income level in Harbin might not be as high as Shanghai, people in Harbin have a higher acceptance for fashion items and higher spending per transaction for this collection than in Shanghai; even though people in Shanghai are seen as being more fashion-conscious.
RIA: What are your top tips for marketing professionals who want to promote their brands to Chinese consumers?
LH: I think doing homework is always the key. Then you can make your decision based on facts, not second-guessing without any proof.
Luka He is the former brand initiative director, Fitness and Women Business of Li-Ning Sporting Goods. Prior to this role, Luka worked in a variety of industries including mobile communications, payment platforms and marketing consulting. She has worked with brands including Visa international, Far EasTone, Nike, ESPN Star Sports and New England Patriots. Her marketing coverage includes branding, advertising, PR, digital marketing, shopper marketing, usage analysis, new product development and customer lifetime management.
Luka He will be the chairperson at the upcoming conference Shopper Marketing 2011. Organised by Marcus Evans, Shopper Marketing 2011 will be held in Renaissance Shanghai Pudong, Shanghai, China on 5 and 6 September. The two-day event will feature various workshops, presentations and case studies on shopper marketing.