2021 Chinese Digital Marketing Predictions

Jan 15, 2021

Here at PingPong Digital, we can’t wait to see what 2021 holds for us.

As we are delighted to put the year 2020 behind us, here at PingPong Digital we can’t wait to see what 2021 holds for us. 

We are highly optimistic about the future of global brands in the Chinese market, not only because it defies the downward trending global economy, but because consumers in China prove to be remarkably resilient and a transformative force, who, we are certain, will offer guidance to the world in the immediate future. 

Here are our Chinese digital marketing predictions of 2021:

1) Give your consumers power

In 2021, we are set to see the word KOL taking on more meanings than “influencer”. 

Brands have an opportunity to become KOLs themselves by deploying strategies popular among KOLs to brands social media management. 

For example, spotlight the ordinary consumer on your official accounts.This could be done by transforming your users into brand ambassadors or featuring images of them using your products or service. 

Be particularly ‘choosy’ with this selection; find unique ambassadors that share your brand's values and purpose. 

Another interesting trend to keep an eye on is the virtual KOL

A virtual KOL can be brand-owned or independent, and in the form of a virtual spokesperson, mascot, model or a star -- only, they don’t really exist. Virtual KOLs is gathering pace in the US, and we predict China will soon adopt the concept. 

Meet Lil Miquela, a virtual version of a 19-year-old Los Angeles based influencer, who boasts over 2.9 million followers on Instagram. She has worked with brands such as Prada, In-N-Out, Off White, Nike and Mercedes.

2) Further embrace sustainability

Young Chinese consumers are calling for more companies to step up and lead the global sustainable movement. 

“I am what I buy” Gen Z China. 

According to a post-COVID-19 McKinsey & Company survey on consumer attitudes in China, 64 per cent agree or strongly agree that they would consider more environmentally friendly products. 

Brands have to listen to this, and some have: Earth Day 2020 and its associated campaigns were thoroughly supported as the hashtag #EarthDay received 1.9 billion views on Weibo. Popular brands like Pizza Hut, Luckin Coffee and Hershey’s all participated in the movement championed by the Chinese government for greener development. And they all reaped the rewards by engaging with the Chinese Gen Z, who has a higher spending power than their global peers.

“The future of China and the Chinese nation belongs to the youth”- Xi Jinping.

3) To Survive is to Localise

One drawback has consistently handicapped brands doing business in Chinese markets: The ability to localise to indigenous cultural and business practices. We believe in 2021; the ability to do so will be make-or-break for international brands who want to jump on China's bandwagon. 

Knowing in explicit detail who your intimate customers are in China, is simply non-negotiable. What are their desires, triggers, needs, and wants; what is your brand DNA and what must be readapted to the local Chinese audience; what value can you bring to the Chinese consumer?

Once brands understand these cultural and consumer nuances, brands will also need to embrace the market landscape and business practices. 

Still, many brands have doubts about some marketing tactics and strategies unique to China. For example, we’ve heard luxury brands say the format of live-streaming sales “doesn’t reflect their premium brand positioning”, or “we don’t do discounts” and refused to participate in Singles Day sales.  

The Christian Dior group localised. They had an exclusive spring 2021 collection on Singles Day and an exclusive ‘Lady Art artist collaboration series’ at Shanghai Fashion week; this strategy seriously paid off. When creating products, brands must think long-term and adopt the practice of tenacious investigation into the lessons that often exist when these product launches fail and use the feedback from Chinese consumers as signposts for further product adaptations. 

A recent way companies have launched new products to market is through innovative and surprising mega-collaborations, for example milk tea with space exploration, liquor brands with the dairy industry and fast food brands with art galleries. These collaborations have to over deliver on the short term media buzz by creating long-tail consumer affinity and mirroring brand values.

4) BiliBili is ready for a major takeoff

Some of the more forward-thinking brands have already set up official accounts on Xiaohongshu (RED) and Douyin – but not Bilibili. If brands want to target the young Chinese consumer, diversifying their 2021 Chinese marketing portfolios to add Bilibili is critical.

In short, Bilibili is a popular user-generated video-sharing website; it is themed around a plethora of Chinese youth culture topics, including education, food, beauty, and gaming. Additionally, its added e-commerce feature, unique video commenting style, and virtual token system to tackle sponsored content fatigue have made it an active, prominent community. 

According to QuestMobile, Bilibili now ranks No.1 in monthly average time spent per device and monthly average visits per device among online video platforms. In Q1 of 2020, it reported it had 172 million monthly active users – a 70 per-cent increase year on year – outperforming all of its competitors. Due to their phenomenal growth and defined community, it is rational to be bullish on Bilibili, and we expect more brands to do so in 2021. 

Furthermore, Bilibili has also evolved to become a significant player in the live-streaming space. We’re likely to see that continue to be an essential part of the platform’s evolution in 2021. We hope that more companies interested in the Chinese market this year can see live-streaming not in the same realm as QVC infomercials, but as a powerful new way of driving consumption. The brand Shiseido adopted this mindset and held a live-streaming event in Bilibili in early 2020, which generated over 1.23 million views.

5) Digitalisation and its trends 

According to the 2021 Chinese Digital Marketing Trends Report, in 2021, it’s expected digital marketing will grow 19% compared to 2020. Short video ads will be the hottest area with a potential of 93% growth. KOLs and Private Domains are also crucial areas to keep an eye on for advertisers. 

Short video

For the first time, short video ads overtake social media ads as the most desired digital marketing tactics in China. 

But don’t get it wrong, social media ads still hold huge significance for advertisers. 78% of the advertisers in China will invest in short video ads in 2021 and 75% in social media ads. 

PingPong Digital believes short video ads and social media ads are intrinsically complementary. Only the most stunning visual content and the most effective targeting and displaying, can impress Chinese consumers in a hyper-visual age. 

When used strategically, short video ads and social media ads can break the boundaries between different digital marketing channels (we call them “race tracks”), like e-commerce, live-streaming sales, and many more. 

The combination will also integrate your brands into the digital consumer market in China in 2021.


KOLs have been talked about for years, and it’s understandable advertisers are now getting tired of it. 

But make no mistake, the growth in the influence of KOLs has only been increasing sharply. The returns generated by KOLs since 2018 have grown over 50%. 

Apart from what has become the standard KOL marketing portfolio of WeChat-Weibo-Douyin combo, KOLs on other platforms are catching up quickly. KOLs on RED and Bilibili have seen their marketing value skyrocket. 

The trend suggests 2021 will be the year that brands who have already been working hard to establish their brand in China over the past few years will shift their marketing focus from branding to ROI, giving medium KOLs and KOCs more room for growth. 

Private Domain Traffic

WeChat will continue to be the leading platform for private domain marketing. 

The “consumer pool” (often taking the form of WeChat groups in which brands can engage with group members, who are your customers directly) has become an essential resource for engagement. It provides invaluable insights into the consumer base. 

In 2021, WeChat will strengthen its dominance in this regard with the launch of the “WeChat Video Account”, which sets WeChat up against Douyin and other video-focused social media. Let’s see how this will impact other social platforms, as PDT evolves into something potentially more visual. 

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