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UPDATED: February 16, 2015 NO. 8 FEBRUARY 19, 2015
Bridging East and West

EYES ON CHINA: Attendees talk about how to do business in China at the 2014 China Connect conference held in Paris on March 6-7, 2014 (COURTESY OF CHINA CONNECT CONFERENCE)

China Connect is the largest European gathering of experts specializing in Chinese consumer trends, particularly marketing, digital and mobile. This unique event reaches out to an audience of top-level European marketing and digital decision-makers from luxury, cosmetics, fashion, retail, fast-moving consumer goods, food and beverages, automobiles, services, communication, media and the international press focusing on the Chinese market. This year's China Connect conference will be held on March 5-6 in Paris, France, under the theme of Beyond Top Tiers. Mobile Forward: Reaching the New Chinese Consumers.

Laure de Carayon, founder and CEO of China Connect, shared her views on doing business in China's unique and ever-changing digital scene in an exclusive interview with Beijing Review reporter Zhou Xiaoyan. Edited excerpts of the interview follow:

Beijing Review: What inspired you to set up the China Connect project?

Laure de Carayon: It's quite simple, and it has been very quick. I have a background in advertising, media agencies and TV production, and specialize in branded content. I first read about what was happening in this field in China early 2010, and it has been a revelation. I saw content produced by brands and airing on TV, the web, and even shown in movie theaters, content that we hardly saw in the United States, which is supposed to serve as "the world's reference." During a holiday trip in the summer of 2010, I interviewed branded content professionals in Shanghai and published a Brand Content: China Special series of articles for a media publication for which I contributed. The series quickly enjoyed some buzz, and I figured out that nothing existed to connect China's marketing and digital landscapes and professionals with European marketers. All in all, it took me three months to make the decision at the end of November 2010 to launch the conference. The first took place in June 2011. To sum it up, I'd say it was a mix of curiosity, desire for something different, pragmatism and certainly a bit of daring.

What kind of role has China Connect played in connecting the Chinese market to global businesses? The conference is now in its fifth year--what will be the focus of this edition?

I believe, humbly, in these topics of marketing and digital in China and that I have contributed to raising awareness and opening people's eyes on China's Internet, be it on branding, searches, social media, e-commerce, online video, mobile…it's the opportunity to thank players like Tencent, Sina Weibo, Youku-Tudou, Tmall, Baidu, Meilishuo, Shangpin and LightInTheBox who have traveled to Paris so far.

Since middle of 2010, I've been writing and sharing regularly on China's digital marketing in business publications and events. I organize full-day trainings on e-commerce in China. Last May, I partnered with the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing and reported from there. China Connect will continue to link the Chinese market with global businesses.

This fifth edition in Paris this year will particularly highlight how and why mobile is brands' best ally to connect, engage and sell to Chinese consumers.

Many participants of China Connect conference have had huge success in the Chinese market, such as the Mercedes-Benz, Estee Lauder and L'Oreal brands. What do you think is the secret of their success in the Chinese market?

There are several different reasons for each, such as market growth and dynamics, brand heritage and image, product relevance, quality and performance, service, and innovation. Chinese love for Western luxury brands as a social marker is of course no stranger to the success, but they at least all share one secret of success in common: Each understands that you need to respect Chinese culture and understand Chinese tastes, behaviors and usages. In that regard, they've localized their strategies in naming, branding, positioning, product/service portfolio, communication and distribution in order to take part in people's daily lives. In the face of an increasingly competitive market and the rise of Chinese brands, this will be ever more mandatory.

E-commerce is growing exponentially in China and is enjoying faster growth than in any other country. What do you think are the major reasons for the booming performance of China's e-commerce industry?

Altogether, geography, lack of infrastructure, unequal access to brick-and-mortar stores, diverse choices, convenience, best deals, advice/recommendations from netizens (on bulletin board system and social media), delivery services--speed, Cash On Delivery, etc.

There will be more and more Chinese to buy foreign products on foreign websites. Cross-border e-commerce will contribute to the continuing growth of e-commerce. Leading e-commerce players all want to offer European and U.S. brands to their clients: Jack Ma's visit to Paris to sign a memorandum of understanding to launch a one-week Elegance of France campaign on Tmall last spring and Richard Liu who came to Paris on February 3 to launch a French Mall on JD.com are just a few examples. For luxury products, daigou selling on Taobao seems to have good days ahead to satisfy the growing middle-class demand for foreign products with lower taxes.

China has over 500 million mobile phone users, and more and more of them are using their smartphones to browse the Internet or to use various types of mobile phone applications. How do you think this tendency will change the branding and marketing strategies of foreign businesses aiming at the Chinese market?

Mobile is, for every business around the world the fastest growing platform in terms of time spent and advertisement spending. We can say that no innovation can be realized without the mobile market in mind, but like everywhere, there's still a gap between the time spent on the device and the media investments on it.

For China, its mobile market is even more crucial, so strategies should be more "mobile-centric." With WeChat success for example, foreign businesses are able to build one-on-one relationships as well as customize brand experiences and product sales. In the end, they can deliver consistent and timely messages to WeChat users. Online to Offline/Offline to Online will certainly be an area on which brands (retailers and others) will concentrate these coming months to provide 24/7services and drive-to-store incentives, build trust, ensure top-of-mind, etc.

There's an area which seems to be underestimated in terms of potential for foreign brands to engage with Chinese consumers--it's their love for gaming. KFC China's latest mobile campaign leveraging gaming is a big hit; I'm glad we'll soon understand why, as Mobile Now's co-founder, who developed the game, will speak at this year's China Connect conference.

 Email us at: zhouxiaoyan@bjreview.com

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