China Live Streaming: Five Home Truths for Luxury Brands

Live streaming is more than just entertainment, especially for brands targeting high-end consumers. 

As the number of China’s live streaming platforms grows, luxury brands can find ways to take advantage of access to immediacy, authenticity, celebrity, and more. (Shutterstock)

The industry buzz around live streaming is getting louder all the time, and with luxury travel and other sectors getting in on the act, there’s a growing desire for the immediacy and authenticity of live video delivered directly to the user’s choice of device. If projected figures are to be believed, live streaming is set to become a key marketing focus over the coming years, with live streaming activity, from platform development to advertising and events, destined to be worth almost US$16 billion by 2020.

Delivering live content was a key element in last year’s Singles’ Day extravaganza, with brands including Burberry, La Perla, and Paul Smith taking part in Tmall’s eight-hour live-streamed fashion show featuring 200 top models and celebrities. From a revenue-generating perspective, the “see now, buy now” trend promoted by these events is really taking off—Alibaba reports a 32 percent conversion rate on its Taobao live platform alone. Meanwhile, the number of choices of platforms is ever-increasing—in addition to Tmall and Taobao, major players Sina Weibo, JD and a host of more niche services such as Inke, Bilibili, and Panda TV all offer live streaming experiences.

However, as with any initiative tagged as the “next big thing,” there are lessons to be learned from the early adopters:

1. Celebrity delivers engagement.

Giving people the opportunity to watch a live event has proved to be an effective way of engaging an audience, but using KOLs and famous faces can have a significant effect on viewer numbers and post-event activity. As an example, Maybelline’s Chinese brand ambassador Angelababy hosted a live broadcast on video sharing platform Meipai. Known as the “Instagram of video” and with more than 100 million users, its impressive reach led to lipstick sales worth US$220,000 in total. And last year, global luxury fashion, beauty and lifestyle department store Lane Crawford featured leading fashion KOL Fil White (Yen Sze-po) in a live-streamed in-store designer event that saw viewings more than triple compared to their previous event that had no celebrity element.

Home truth — It’s clearly worth asking the right kind of celebrity/KOL to appear on your live streaming event. They bring their fans and followers with them, increasing exposure and opportunities for promotion. The most popular ones don’t come cheap, but it’s a worthwhile investment which pays off in increased engagement.

2. Live can be exciting, but unpredictable.

While there’s nothing like live streaming for delivering a “right here, right now” experience which has the power to at least drive engagement and at most increase sales, once the cameras start rolling, it’s out of the broadcaster’s control to a degree, which some brands may find uncomfortable. Like live TV, the fact that anything can happen adds to the excitement of an event, while simultaneously increasing the risk that it could all go horribly wrong at any point, as Kanye West found out to his cost at the live-streamed launch of Yeezy 4. There’s no editing, nowhere to hide false starts or mishaps—luxury brands which like to be tightly in control of their image may find the prospect to be too much, though there is evidence to suggest that audiences are very forgiving of live mistakes as it all adds to their authenticity.

Home truth — The best live events are backed by a lot of planning—when you can’t control or edit the output, it’s absolutely essential to plan to control every element you can of the event itself. That means carrying out a risk assessment on even the minutest details, from weather predictions to what else might be scheduled viewing for that day and having a backup plan for every eventuality. It’s important to choose the right platform, too—Tmall is geared up for people who want to ‘see now, buy now’, for example, while Bilibili, with its audience of anime, manga and gaming fans, is better for more creative projects.

3. Live streaming is the one place where less is not more.

In a world where brevity is the norm when it comes to getting the message across, live streaming is one of the few formats where long content is still very welcome. According to digital video analysts Visible Measures, on-demand promotional video clips tend to lose 20 percent of viewers in the first 10 seconds. But, if the build-up has been handled properly, live-stream viewers have already invested time and effort in getting ready for the event, and are prepared to give an average of 30 minutes to an hour to the experience. It’s like going to a gig or performance—if it’s happening live, the audience wants to be there for it all. In an extreme example of audience endurance, Xiaomi showcased the battery life of its Mi Max phablet with a live stream that lasted 19 days, when the battery finally ran out. It was even touted as ‘boring’ by the company—still, 39.5 million people tuned in.

Home truth — Live-streamed events work best when they’re at least half an hour long. Building up anticipation in advance brings the audience to the virtual arena—compelling long content will keep them engaged. And for those who missed out, engagement should be augmented by post-event video on demand, to cover all viewing preferences.

4. Get the audience involved with interactivity.

Live-streamed events can be engaging enough in their own right, particularly if they’re linked to an exclusive launch or catwalk show. But smaller, more brand-based events can become significantly more interesting to the audience if they are able to interact with what’s happening in real time. From showing viewers’ live tweets to more creative projects, such as Adidas’ ZX Flux live stream where a graffiti artist changed his patterns and designs based on viewer requests, involving the audience is a powerful way to keep their attention.

Home truth — Sometimes it takes more than just showcasing a product. Live streaming is an ideal medium for innovation and creativity when it comes to audience involvement—at the very least, viewers should be able to ‘see now, buy now’ as mentioned above.

5. Rules and regulations

While there is audience and appetite for live streaming in Asia, inevitably there will be restrictions on what can and can’t be broadcast. China, in particular, has seen the introduction of a series of regulations since November of last year, which are designed to control output and monitor activity. The State Press and Publication Administration has stipulated that hosts of live-streaming talent shows will need a license, and all live-streaming hosts will have to register details of their identity cards or business licenses.

Platforms carrying out interactive sessions will also have to employ censors to manage their live comment sections and ‘bullet screens’, which allow viewers to see others’ comments as they are posted.

Home truth — Putting together a fully-realized, engaging, and interactive live streamed event will have no effect if it never makes it to the screen. It’s essential to account for all the legalities in the initial planning stage to avoid regulatory hurdles further down the line when it could be harder and more costly to put right.

The final home truth:

Live streaming has proved its worth as an engaging, exciting medium with the potential to bring the luxury experience to a whole new audience. Planned for properly, it can be a very useful, strategic tool in a brand’s promotional kit.

Elisa Harca is a regional director for Asia at Red Ant, a technology partner that empowers retailers to connect online with offline, delivering smarter ways to drive innovation and fully connected retail experiences.

— This article originally appeared on China Film Insider‘s sister siteJing Daily.