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A letter from Jonathan Briggs: 'Digital in China'

Posted on Tue, 1 May 2012

Dear All

I am celebrating International Labour Day in Shanghai. Its overcast and drizzly but this is an amazing city. I thought I should drop you a line to explain my visit and share a few observations with you.

iphone 4s

I was invited here by Unilever to help run a Hyper Island Masterclass for 41 marketing professionals from the region. We spent three exhausting days discussing how digital is transforming the ways in which they communicate with consumers of Dove, Liptons Tea, Cornetto and other familiar brands. A highlight for me was sharing the Wonders app and allowing them to ask "behind the scenes" questions about our processes and design methods. Many came imagining that apps costs a few thousand dollars to develop and I hope I set them right on this.

I've stayed on in Shanghai for a few days before I head back to Singapore.

Here are a few thoughts about China that may help us think about what we want as a company in this area:

1. I am shocked by the pace of change here and the wealth of a minority. The streets are lined with Gucci, Prada and Ted Baker and packed with huge local and imported cars. Although the average Chinese person still earns less than £750 per month salaries are on the rise and demands for consumer goods are amazing. The papers boast that China will become the world's largest market for branded goods this year.

2. Apple dominates the landscape here. Sit on the metro and every second person has an iPhone or an iPad. There are 3 huge Apple stores and lots of approved dealers. I did find a couple of fake iphone 4s (with removable battery, dual sim and a strange mix of Android and iphone UI) but people want the real thing. Nokia, HTC and Samsung are all here in force but Google is missing - unlike London there is no push towards Android as a brand. There are lots of local apps in Chinese as well as a fair number that work in both Chinese and English - the ones I have used feel a little more polished than Singapore although there are too many buttons and features. There are already some NFC services here.

3. China is very young - the people with the iPhones are generally under 30 and that demographic is the one that is demanding all of the consumer goods. They are surrounded by ecommerce, social media and search with Taobao/TMart, Weibo and Baidu replacing the services that we know but the scale and ambitions are the same.

4. Google works here but not well (interrupted and many services blocked). This may be political but feels more like a trade decision. There is no Twitter and Facebook is blocked. Bing has an interesting Chinese name here (Bi ying = always responds) and seems much more responsive than Google. The BBC and the Guardian are both fine. Wifi is very common in cafes and restaurants and China Telecom seems to provide 3G across the city along with a few alternative networks.

5. For the first time I have begun to see Chinese brands and regional brands that are competing with the likes of Nike and Adidas. We should watch out for Li Ning, Giordano, Bossini, Shanghai Tang etc.

Jonathan briggs in China

This all says to me that we need to take this region very seriously and help our clients understand what is going on. We need to harness our portfolio of talent: training, development, mobile, design, UX and strategy and look to develop "services" that could be offered via iPhone here.

I will be here for a few more days and if you have specific questions or things that you want to find out, do let me know.

All the best


Jonathan Briggs

Professor of eBusiness, Co-Founder, Hyper Island and Chairman of the OTHER media