As China eliminates animal-testing on many beauty products, ethically minded beauty brands are eyeing the market in a fresh light. Cruelty-free brands, and especially indie brands, have long looked forward to the potential opportunity.
Entering China means connecting with some of the world’s most discerning and highly engaged beauty consumers. With the beauty market projected to grow to $60 billion in 2021 it will be the largest beauty market in the world, according to GED China. Though entering China will not be without its challenges as brands navigate cross-border distribution and launch to a broader audience.
For cross-border beauty accelerator, GED China, who has worked with brands including Caudalie, GlamGlow, and currently with Dr. Barbara Sturm, RéVive Skincare, Embryolisse, Tocca Perfume, Tria, and Clark’s Botanicals, among others, to bring omnichannel experiences to life in China, commitment to brand building is paramount in the cross-border journey. GED China knows that to create a meaningful connection with China’s discerning Gen Z and Millennial audience, brands must build awareness by localizing brand DNA and enhancing cultural relevance. Through education and authentic social engagement, GED China continues to establish brands’ lasting impact and long-term success.
Here, Jean-Philippe Benoist, founder and chief executive officer of GED China, talks to WWD about the opportunity in cross-border distribution, de-risking market entry, and how to resonate with China’s beauty consumer.
Fairchild Studio: How do you work with brands to know if they are ready to launch in China?
Jean-Philippe Benoist: Brands must be clear on the strategic vision for their brand in China, and do their internal due diligence around appetite for risk, must-haves from their future partner, growth targets, marketing support, and financial, operational and supply chain readiness.
Brands must understand their target consumer, the products that will resonate and why, and how their brand will be experienced and consumed. At the same time, it is helpful to understand the drivers of brand building – from seeding and organic engagement on social media, selling through social commerce on RED, WeChat and Weibo, and increasingly on Kuaishou, Douyin and Bilibili, and eventually, harvesting on e-commerce platforms like Tmall and JD.com.
Fairchild Studio: How does GED work with brands to empower an omnichannel experience?
J.P.B.: Pre-cross border, brand building was concentrated in a few specialty beauty chains including Sephora where GED built several brands from the ground up in China including Caudalie and GlamGlow. Since the advent of cross border, the customer journey takes place on digital with the last mile experience managed by Tmall and local resellers who deliver to their customers. Recently, with the emergence of online to offline luxury beauty stores, GED is creating a seamless online to offline experience for its brand partners in luxury retail settings.
Now, with the elimination of animal testing, GED will help brands to prepare and position for brick-and-mortar retail. Initiating product registration is the first step in this process. Cross-border distribution allows brands that aren’t registered in China to sell to customers in mainland China. Distributors with warehouses within free trade zones in China and Hong Kong sell these brands on digital platforms such as RED, Taobao, and Tmall Global as well as in specialty brick-and-mortar beauty stores that integrate online to offline selling.
Fairchild Studio: What is China’s beauty consumer looking for today?
J.P.B.: China’s beauty market is fueled by avid Gen Z and Millennial consumers seeking innovation, quality and performance. The Chinese consumer takes their cue from the brand in its homegrown market – be it the U.S. or elsewhere. They want to experience the brand on their terms and in their vernacular. For instance, we help some of our partners customize sets and packaging for Chinese New Year to amplify their cultural relevance.
The Gen Z and Millennial audience looks for a differentiated and authentic brand story with a value proposition based on science-led innovation, a strong ingredient story and performance driven products. They do brand deep dives, extensively researching and reading reviews across multiple platforms as part of their purchase decision making.
Fairchild Studio: When launching a brand in China how does GED build a strategy to maintain its DNA while enhancing cultural relevance?
J.P.B.: Educating on brand story, value proposition, ingredient story and product performance through handpicked KOLs and influencers who decode brand messaging for their micro-communities of avid brand followers. In turn, they generate brand momentum and drive growth on leading social commerce platforms and social media platforms.
Fairchild Studio: To that end, how are the social media platforms in China similar or different than those in the U.S.?
J.P.B.: China’s leading social media platfoms optimize shopability. As a datapoint, WeChat – China’s largest social messaging platform – doubled total transactions in 2020 to $247 billion in and the goal is to grow this further through short form videos to compete with leading short form platforms like Kuaishou and Bilibili.
To scale sustainably and build brand equity, GED avoids the peaks and troughs of high-octane promotional selling by prioritizing organic engagement over live streaming on Tmall. We help brands set up their own channels on WeChat, Weibo, and RED in addition to driving micro-community building collaborations and activations with key opinion leaders, influencers, and celebrities on leading social media platforms.