What international brands can learn from China's early adopters

Hong Kong is traditionally positioned as "the world’s gateway to China". As marketers and business transformers, Hong Kong is often sold as a well-positioned strategic hub for brands wanting to enter the world’s largest economy. The city is in the perfect position to access a billion Chinese consumers and its professionals best understand the brand-thirsty burgeoning Chinese middle class.

But that gateway now swings both ways.

More and more Chinese brands are beginning to look outwards, ready to take their stories to a world open to products “Made in China”. Just look at the success of Huawei, a brand that now sits proudly among the world’s top 100 Most Valuable Brands.  And let’s not forget the impact Jack Ma and his special brand of customer-centric genius has had on the West.

So, does this mean the role of Hong Kong’s professional and creative services is also evolving to push not just ‘up’ but also ‘out’? It makes sense the answer to that question is, yes.

When it comes to brands using technology, Chinese consumers, and in turn Chinese consumer behaviour, has proven to be a predictor for the West. The most obvious example of this is the rise of social commerce in China, and now in turn the rest of the world.

International clients often ask Hong Kong professionals: What can we learn from this early adopter behavior?

Artificial intelligence done right

With two negative AI incidents in the press (Microsoft chat bots and the Tesla Model S fatal accident), a question lingers in the air - what is the safe and moderate application of AI that will steer our society? Here in China we’re seeing AI applied to enhance service and app experiences, raising Chinese consumers expectations.

Didi, a taxi hailing app, has seen refinements of its user experience to incorporate AI through machine learning i.e. when booking a car in the evening from the office, it predicts where you want to go and pre-fills this information in the destination field. This makes booking a journey a more seamless experience.

For brands, it’s time to think of AI as a way to elevate the customer experience.

WeChat shifts to value and utility

As platforms like WeChat evolve, so do consumer behavior and expectations. A major WeChat revolution is boiling up - the pendulum is swinging from push based content and marketing to pull through utilitarian and value.

Smarter brands are moving away from conventional communications and content to provide valuable tools that connect to the IOT. Wulian, LeEco and Caesars Entertainment have all leveraged WeChat as an interface to control electronics and connect to various services.

Other brands are using WeChat as the core platform to manage customer relationships.

At Wagas, a restaurant group, their consumers are able to accrue reward points, redeem and manage their membership all via their WeChat experience. It’s time for brands to ask, how can my WeChat strategy evolve to keep me ahead of my competitors.

Mobile payments as a catalyst to success

The tipping point for any technology is mass consumer adoption. Behavior always wins - mobile payment purely as a technology isn’t new, but China is well ahead the curve in adopting it. The masses are using it, for everything, everywhere!

Mobile payment is not only a critical factor to a brand’s success in China, but also the rest of the world. AliPay, WeChat Pay, UnionPay (alliance with Apple Pay) are all commonly used forms of payments Chinese consumers are using in China. But we must remember, China also has the biggest amount of outbound travelers around the world.

There’s a lot to learn from China’s mobile payment experiences. We’ve tackled security concerns - bio security and single use passwords. These have given Chinese consumers a unique perspective on mobile payment technology and reasons of why it is so widely adopted.

Emotion in design

As human being's digital communication has definitely changed the way we communicate over the last few decades. But no amount of technological brilliance has been unable to fill the gap of what is human after all - emotions.

All experience designers face the same conundrum, how to bring a human element into interfaces and interactions. This element can change the entire customer experience, elevating the interaction with your brand’s product or service.

Notice how brands like Facebook and Apple iOS 7 have evolved their social and  messaging platforms from simple “likes” to now a plethora of emojis? Apple is also leveraging full screen take over animations in the up-coming iOS release. BUT these were all in China first, WeChat had already introduced full screen animations and customisable emoji-cons for its various users to better express themselves in richer forms.

How can I trigger or allow for the expression of emotions in the experiences I create?

Whilst this is just a starter list, and there’s so much for global brands and global consumers to learn from China’s experiences and consumer behaviour.

James Chiu is executive creative director at Razorfish China.