The Jay Kim Show #66: Ashley Galina Dudarenok (Transcript)
Today’s show guest is Ashley Galina Dudarenok who is the founder of Alarice International, which is a marketing agency with a focus on Chinese social media. Ashley breaks down the Chinese social media landscape for us, giving us a great overview of the various platforms and players out there and what exact strategies a foreign company can use the effectively launch a successful social media marketing campaign within China. Alright. Let’s get right in to the show.
Jay: Alright, Ashley. Welcome to the show. We’re so happy to have you on.
Ashley: Thank you so much, Jay, for having me.
Jay: Yeah. It’s been a long time coming. Ashley, why don’t you, just for the audience, give a little bit of introduction of who you are and what you do for a living maybe.
Ashley: Yeah. So I’m the China marketing expert. I’ve been living in China for five years, and then in Hong Kong for seven, so 12 years in the region. And it’s always been about China, about the marketing, what the Chinese consume. I’m extremely passionate in that. Since recently, I’m blogging about China. I own two companies that are helping international brands with Chinese social media, and we also have a platform that helps internal teams to understand Chinese social better. So that’s what I do for a living. I pretty much tell people what China is all about, help them succeed there and spread the knowledge that I have out on YouTube channel and through all other interviews and appearances that I get a chance to participate in.
Jay: Yeah, it’s fantastic because you really provide a lot of free value and videos. I’ve seen some of your videos online, and it’s really a good resource for any listeners that are listening in that just want to learn about how social media works in China, which is very… It’s different than the rest of the world, and we’ll get into that in a bit. I encourage you guys to check out her channel. Let’s take a big step back and talk a little bit about your background as an entrepreneur. How did you get end up where you are? Tell us a little bit about how you came—
Ashley: Yeah, for me, entrepreneurial journey started seven years ago, six and a half. For me, at that time, I was working in PR and marketing for a while, and I was headhunted to a different industry, so I had to leave my PR firm and become corporate partnerships manager, and I didn’t really want to leave this focus and link with China because all my previous marketing work was China-related. So yeah, I established my own company just on the side at first here because kept coming to me for advice, and I thought, okay, this is a nice side income. So that’s how it really started.
And then two years down the road, this bigger client came to me and said, “You know what? I want you to execute this project. Can you do that or not?” At that time, it would cover six months of my expenses, and I said, “Why not? If not now, then when?”
So I quit my full-time job. And jumped into it. For the first couple of weeks I worked from home in my pajamas in the living room. And then I hired my first person, then the first office. And now we are where we are. I’ve got two companies, and I’ve got 15 people in one company and six in another. So we’re growing.
Jay: That’s unbelievable. It’s like an entrepreneur’s dream when your side hustle, all of a sudden, you land that first… All it takes is that one big break, and then it can change your life. Right?
Jay: So how did you learn your expertise then about China, particularly Chinese social media? Because you aren’t Chinese by background, so…
Ashley: Yeah. Ao I’m not Chinese. I was actually born in Russia in the Far East. So I really like telling people that I was born in Asia, because geographically the Russian Far East is really close to China, Heilongjiang and close to Japan and North Korea, even. So yeah, I was born there. And of course, we had a lot of contact with Asians. There were merchants. There were business people coming about. And so I was never, to be very honest, particularly interested in the Chinese culture, but I always felt that this was an incredible country to do business, especially in the ’90s as the Soviet Union collapsed, as China started opening up even more. It was extremely interesting to watch that transformation first hand.
And when the opportunity came, when I was 17 years old — it was 16 years old then — opportunity came. I could choose any city, any university to go and study and do stuff. I just felt that actually India and China are going to be driving the world in the coming 20, 30, 40 years, so why not choose between the two?
I think I took the right path and went to China instead of India, though it’s another amazing economy. But for China, back 12 years ago, very few people understood the language, understood the culture, or even went there directly. If somebody wanted to do business with China at that time, they went to Hong Kong or Taiwan. So Russians were probably the first entrepreneurs that went to China to Guangdong, to Heilongjiang directly.
So I went to China, and I took on a small project there to basically work, and I also enrolled in the university there, studied Chinese very quickly because I needed it for work and for study. And that’s how my journey began. I learned everything that I had to because I was not in one of those crazy big cities. I wasn’t in Beijing or Shanghai. I was really in the hole of the world. I was in Chongqing, which is population-wise the biggest city in the world.
Jay: Oh really?
Ashley: Yeah, so that’s how it started.
Jay: Wow. Interesting. Sorry. What made you choose that city instead of any of the other ones that you had at your disposal?
Ashley: The project that I was invited to run was in Chongqing and besides, the only person I knew from China at that time was also from Chongqing. So the choice, I mean not “knew” but knew a bit better. So that made the choice very easy, and to be very honest, 12 years ago, there was no Wikipedia page about Chongqing. So when I was… As I bought my tickets, I seriously thought I would fly into a village with barely some plumbing. Yeah. But when I landed, I figured out that this was a metropolis. It was huge. It was beautiful. It was incredible. And I had a blast.
Jay: Amazing. So how long were you there for?
Ashley: Four and half years. I like to say five because it sounds better.
Jay: When you landed and stuff, did you start learning Mandarin right away? Was that necessary for your business?
Ashley: Exactly. So when I came to China, I couldn’t really speak Chinese at all. So I could say nǐ hǎo. That was pretty much it. And by the time I was leaving, I was very fluent in Chinese. And half a year, I passed the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, which is like TOEFL, like HSK, for basically basic university enrollment, etc. So I passed that in half a year to a sufficient level to enter and get my education. So I got my business administration in China as well.
In Chongqing University, I studied together with the Chinese students and MBA students and stuff like that. So it was really, really fun.
Jay: That’s incredible. You just literally attacked it and dove head-first into… I mean, Chinese is not an easy language to learn, especially for a foreigner or someone that has no experience. I’ve tried many times, and I’ve failed.
Ashley: To be very honest, I find Chinese very simple. I don’t find it easy. I find it very simple. So grammar is incredibly simple. Words are incredibly simple. They’re constructed of very simple, short words, and every long word is just a combination of just a few basic characters, basically. So it’s really, really easy, but you need to change the way you look at the language. You cannot learn it as another Latin language or as anything else. You need to start from scratch as a baby. First you learn to listen. Then you learn to speak, and then you learn to basically read and write. I think most of the foreigners do it the wrong way because they try to comprehend too much.
Jay: Yeah. That makes sense. That’s pretty much what I tried failed basically. Thanks for sharing some of your background. Let’s skip forward now to after you sort of got your first gig, you were doing your side hustle, and you realized this is an actual business. I could do something here. And so you quit your day-job and you went full-time into… And this was marketing at the time?
Ashley: Yeah. To be very honest, my business, my dad always told me that business needs to start with business, not with idea. So he basically told me that if you’re making cupcakes somebody comes to you and says, “You know what, Ashley? Your cupcakes are awesome. I’m going to buy those.” So then you’re business started. But if you’re sitting on your couch and say, “You know how? I’m going to make the best cupcakes in the world, and I will need that much money to invest in my business before it even sells the first thing,” my dad would always say that’s not really how business should start. And maybe that’s a bit old school, but for me, that worked.
Jay: Wise words.
Ashley: Right. So the person came to me. The project came to me, and they said, “This is exactly what we want you to do. We know you’re capable of doing that. Will you take it or not?”
So I took it. I did have sort of a business plan, but to be very honest, it was very vague. I knew that whatever I was doing would cover my expenses for half a year. I knew that I wanted to link it with China because China I knew best. But marketing in China or project management in China is so vague. It’s just impossible to call it a business plan even. So now when I look back, I really think that this is a crazy thing to do. It was amazing but a crazy thing to do.
And of course, in the coming three years after I quit the full-time job and went into business full-time, we went through phases where you just need to start saying no. And that’s the scariest thing. So projects keep coming to you. Marketing in China can be events, can be PR, can be social, can be this, can be that. As a small business, the biggest mistake that you make is you take everything because you need to pay your bills. So you say yes, yes, yes, yes. You fail to specialize. You fail to tell them what exactly is your thing, and you even fail to understand it yourself. So for us, the big break came when we started saying no. No to the big clients who paid really bad money. No to the projects that, again, wouldn’t make sense for us. No to something that we didn’t want to do.
Once we focused just on China social and focused on a few clients that really worked well, they started bringing similar people into our circle. So our whole business was through referral. 100% by referral, through referral. We didn’t advertise. We didn’t do anything, and it was growing, and it was successful. But we had to start saying no first. And that’s scary.
Jay: Well there’s something to be said for that for sure because when you’re first starting out, you want to please everyone. You want to take on as much business, and you feel like you can. And to a certain point, you can do it because you’re hustling and hustling. You’re staying up late. You’re burning the candle on both ends. But then, as you mentioned, you quickly realize… There’s a saying, “The riches are in the niches.” The more you specialize and you literally just focus on one thing, and you go all in on that, burn the boats, and you go full on into that one thing that you own. Anyone that wants to do social media in China, they go to Ashley. So there’s a lot of power in that. And then, of course, you can start raising your prices, like a premium service.
So let’s talk a little bit about Chinese social media now. Social media marketing is all the buzz these days in the last few years. There’s been a lot of hype around it and, quite frankly, most people don’t know how to do it effectively, even in the West. And even more so challenging must be China. And China is very nuanced in the way that people do social media — well, do business in general, but social media particularly. So many you could give us a little bit of 101 of what the Chinese social media landscape looks like, and then we can go from there.
Ashley: Definitely. So China is extremely different. We all know that. The first thing to understand about China is that really, it’s not one market. I think a lot of people still are not getting that. They think that they are entering China as one single market. But China is more like Europe. It was 23 provinces. It has cities of special administrative format. It has 33 distinct markets, just like Europe. And you will never start selling or marketing the same way to somebody from Iceland as you do to somebody from Spain. And the same way in China. Selling to somebody in Shanghai is very different to trying to market to a guy from Guangdong or from Heilongjiang. So that’s the first thing.
However, there are two things that unite the whole market, in a way. Number one is Putonghua, which is the Mandarin Chinese. Mandarin was introduced into China in ’49. So it’s a generated language. It’s not an organic language. And literally, no matter where you live, from Ürümqi to Guangdong, you speak to language.
And the second thing is social media mania. In the past 10 years, all the Millennials, all the young people, everybody who is basically late ’80s, mid-’80s and onwards, are on social networks. The first big social platform that won the hearts of millions of Chinese people was Weibo. It is still the second largest social platform in China now. It is basically a micro-blogging site. So think about it as a hybrid between Twitter and Facebook but with a lot more functions. So on Weibo, there’s a purchasing function. There are campaign functions when they basically have the preset campaigns for you to fill in and put out the GIFs out there and you can run it right away. So Weibo is quite amazing.
When it just started, there was the war between different types of Weibo. There was Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, etc., etc., etc. But Sina won.
Then one more platform started popping up. Diandian was another great platform, but it died out. Back in 2011, WeChat came up. So Tencent introduced WeChat, which is not really like Whatsapp. A lot of Westerns don’t understand what’s the big deal — just the Chinese version of Whatsapp.
So it’s really an operating system for life in China because it gives you an opportunity to send a newsletter directly to the phone of your followers. It gives you an opportunity to link the online shop to have an app, to have your customer service, to launch campaigns or H5 pages with all these videos and clickable stuff. So it’s quite comprehensive and very beautiful. Besides that, there are more than 60 different platforms from live streaming platforms like Meipai, Yizhibo to copycats of YouTube, which is called Youku in China to Xiao Hong Shu ( little red book) which is like a specialty marketplace with reviews, etc., etc., etc. So there’s a lot of niche platforms that we never even heard of outside of China that are extremely popular, have a lot of followers, but they are just specialized.
And largest ones are WeChat and Weibo.
Jay: Right. So those two are pretty much like the institution… This whole theme of sort of the China and the rising middle class and the technological innovation that’s happening there. And one of the most exciting things is, when you talk about Tencent, is the fact that most people in China, they actually don’t even carry wallets anymore. They do everything through mobile banking. And so that’s a clear case of China having superseded the US or the West when it comes to technology. Before, it was always, “This is the Facebook of China.” “This is the XXX of China.” China has far surpassed them. So that’s quite exciting to see.
As far as when it comes to social media marketing now… Let’s say I am a client, and I come to you, Ashley, and I say, “Ashley, look. I really want to get my company into China.” So let’s say I run — I don’t know — a clothing company, fitness apparel company here in Hong Kong, and I want to break into China. So I come to Ashley, and I say, here’s what I want to do. What’s the best strategy for me to get into China?
Ashley: The first thing you need to do is to really understand whether you’re ready for China. So China is really not for everyone. It is a crowded market. It was an expensive market, and it is a market where you need to invest long term. If somebody comes… Let’s look at this. If it is a big company that you’re bringing to China now, most likely you’re already late. If you are a new product that’s getting into China now — like you’re new in the US and you’re new in China — you need many millions of dollars to actually promote unless you are in a very special product category, and you’ve got a really niche market to reach.
If you’re a small business, it might be just too much of a market, too much, again, the time investment, money investment, etc., for you to enter. So there is no… There’s threats everywhere when you talk about China. So again, as a company, you need to understand whether this is the right market for you.
How to do that? My advice is always ask yourself the question, is China your top priority for the coming year? If your answer is no… “I’ve got a Hong Kong market.” As you said, “I’m apparel company in sporting goods. I’m from Hong Kong, and I want to sell in Hong Kong. This is my first priority.” Then China should not be on your radar.
Only if you say that, “For the coming year, China is my most important market. I’m in this game long term. I really understand why I need them, why I need to get into that market, what I want to achieve there, etc.” Then you need to start moving forward.
So if that’s the case and you’re ready the move forward, by then, you hopefully already understand your consumers and you understand where they are geographically. You already know which bit of China you’re going to target first because, as explained before, you cannot cover the whole country in one go. Impossible, impossible.
So you say, you know what? I’m going to focus on Shenzhen or I’m going to focus on Guangdong only. And then you definitely need to set up your social accounts. So for that, for some platforms, you would need China registration. For other platforms, you do not need China entity.
Then the content is extremely important and context is even more important. For content creation, everything needs to be in Mandarin Chinese, written really, really well. The major reason for people to unsubscribe from social networks, for example, like WeChat, is actually repetitive or not enough content. So although those people are over-flooded with so much stuff, they still say original content is just never enough. Brands cannot offer them enough stuff.
Then you start building that community which can be built through advertising, which can be built through bloggers, which can be built through reaching out to offline communities, organizing offline events, and trying to cross promote, basically do the service better, etc.
Once you’ve already activated one social platform, let’s say Weibo, and you’ve already got let’s say 100,000 fans within a year, then you can expand into other regions or other platforms. Unless you have a lot of money, don’t go on all platforms at the same time. It’s going to be tough. Also, if you had to choose between two platforms… For instance, if you only look at WeChat, Weibo, maybe Weibo is a better platform because it’s an open platform. You have an opportunity to collect more fans. For WeChat, it’s extremely difficult and expensive to get people to follow you. And then, chances are, they’re going to unsubscribe because you as a person, you’re giving somebody permission to send you push messages. You really need to like that person and like that brand to do that.
Jay: That’s true. Go ahead.
Ashley: Just another strategy. If you want to avoid — and in some cases it’s possible — to avoid the big boys — so not go on WeChat and Weibo — you can always try to activate and basically roll out your marketing and sales strategy through smaller platforms. For example, like Xiao Hong Shu, or you can just work through live streaming platforms. It’s also possible but for certain product categories.
Jay: Interesting. So you made an interesting point earlier before you ran us through the scenarios, saying something along the lines of if you think that you can come into the Chinese market, or maybe brands come in and they realize that they’re too late, the foreign brands coming into China. And is the reason because the Chinese consumer tastes have changed and now they prefer local, homegrown, curated products as opposed to import products?
Ashley: There are many reasons. It really depends on the category. But first of all, if you are a big company, and you’re not yet in China, there must be something wrong with you. Where have you been 10 years ago? Just look around yourself. There must be a problem. And this problem is either bad management or bad planning. Either way, you’re too late because if you’re going to go into China now, presumably all your more-aware competitors have already occupied the market share, and you’re just going to fight so much harder and invest so much money. So it will not be market entry; it will be the battle from Rome replayed. So that’s one.
And of course, another thing is if you have a new product that recently is very successful in Europe or in US, and you want to bring that product into China, you need to understand that you will most likely have to adapt it before introducing into the market.
When I was in China first, when I got to Chongqing, Chinese consumers were primarily, at least in Chongqing, followers. So they would see my buying and piece of cheese, and they would go and buy the same brick of cheese because they thought, “Oh, the foreigner knows best.” And you need to know that in supermarkets, in China generally, people don’t eat cheese. And in supermarkets, this was like the loneliest corner of the dairy section. It would just never have people there. But they will follow us. And if you wanted to sell something to China, you just had to put, “Made in US,” or “Made in New Zealand,” or “Made in Australia,” and it would go and do just fine.
Now it’s very different because Chinese consumers are, honestly, the most sophisticated consumers that I know. They know what they do not want. They know what they want. They know that they are driving this market. So basically, if you want to sell to them, you better play by their rules. You better be fast, efficient. You better offer them the colors and the styles that they want. At the same time, you need to establish genuine connection with them. So it’s not that easy. They are not those guys that are standing outside of LV stores and queuing up to buy five bags. Each person who is spending there has a story why he is there exactly. But majority of savvy, online, modern consumers are extremely different, extremely sophisticated. So preferences and tastes are different. Market realities are different. A lot of companies don’t understand that.
Jay: Yeah. I think that you bring up a good point because a lot of people that haven’t been in China or haven’t done business in China, they still have this perception that it’s like a third-world country. You could just throw anything in there and 1.4 billion people will buy it for one dollar, and you’ll be a billionaire. So you’re all set. Right? So I think one of the big takeaways from our conversation today is that, yes, China is extremely sophisticated when it comes to consumer spending and shopping habits and this sort of thing. So don’t think you could just steamroll your way in there.
I have another question for you, Ashley. I would think about, say, 10 years ago, there was this big trade movement of ecommerce from sourcing cheap products from China outside. And I know that that still exists. Now there is also recently I’ve seen some of these higher-end, almost artisanal, boutique-type brands that come into China. And some of them actually are fairly successful. So I can’t think of anything in particular off the top of my head. But let’s say, for example, like a high-end — I don’t know — leather goods or something artisanal that comes into China. What do you think about that trend? Does that trend have any legs? If you are someone outside of China that is an entrepreneur, or you’re starting a business that is creating a very high-end, boutique-type product, is there a chance that you could actually penetrate that market?
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. China is the new America. It’s the new Land of Opportunity. So if it can happen in China, it can happen anywhere. I would say if your product is extremely unique and if you are able to find people to promote word-of-mouth, you’re going to be extremely successful. If you cannot find people that love your product enough to actually promote word-of-mouth for you, it’s going to be a huge fail because you cannot, with advertising budgets, you just can’t do that.
Jay: Right. Okay, so actually this leads us into another key area that you have expertise in, which is sort of influencer marketing but in the Chinese style, which is sometimes referred to KOL marketing. So maybe you can talk about that. Would that be a viable strategy for, let’s say, my boutique, high-end leather good products? Would that be one of the first touch points that I would want to hit, is try to find some sort of influencer on the ground to help me spread word-of-mouth marketing?
Ashley: Right. Totally. So KOLs are Key Opinion Leaders, or bloggers. They are extremely, extremely popular and powerful in China — a lot more powerful than their counterparts in the West. And they do drive a lot of purchasing decisions. So not so long ago, just a couple of weeks ago, 90 Mini Cooper cars were sold through WeChat. That’s crazy. Right? Hundreds of bags have been sold in 10 minutes, again, on social media. A lot of live streaming platforms that are linked with micro-blogging sites are also specifically catered to sell.
You know what the biggest difference is? In the West, we actually mind. If somebody is trying to sell us something on social, we’re quite upset. We went to Facebook to look at kitty cat pictures and stalk our friends, but we didn’t go there to be sold. But in China, social media is used, in a way, to find new products, to find recommendations, to listen to the voice of the blogger that borrows his, hopefully, advanced understanding of whatever is happening in the fashion world, etc. So people are looking forward to that. And they are hungry to try new things, and they are interested, and they buy.
Bloggers offer this additional endorsement, and they have a huge database. So for you, as a small brand, to build a database of hundreds of thousands or millions of fans, it’s going to take many, many, many years. So that is why, of course, it’s a great way to tap into that network and see whether your product really has potential or not.
So before just placing all of your hopes on that one blogger promotion, I would strongly suggest to budget some money and time, of course, to actually understand whether people are interested or not. Do some testing. And through that, again, you can use bloggers. So see what is the feedback, what is the understanding.
Then, if you understand that, yes, it’s working well and people are generally interested, then you can start doing sales promotions. So how it usually works, you choose 10 bloggers and you are a promotion with them. Then you figure out these six are performing better. And you run another promotion with them. Then you choose five, and with those five, you keep running promotion. It’s an ongoing thing.
So there’s no such thing as magic bullet or do it once and it’s over. You basically keep reminding the blogger’s database of who you are and what you do. It’s not the cheapest strategy because bloggers in China are getting extremely expensive as well. But it’s definitely a very risk-free, easy entry point into the China market. If you start with zero, as with zero database, with zero current fans, you will have to promote your account to build and beef up your database. So bloggers add additional value there.
Jay: Do you know much about the online shopping sites? Let’s take this example. Would you connect then and try to push the traffic that you’re generating from your social media marketing campaign to, say, like a Tmall site or like a Taobao type site? How does that all fit into the big picture?
Ashley: That’s a fantastic question. One of my favorites. There are six major ways to sell online in China, so basically the online channels. If you’re an international business, you can do that through your standalone website. So you basically can have a website hosted back in the US and then you hope that Chinese consumers are going to stumble upon you and buy from you, and you can do business. So that’s extremely difficult and really not viable because it takes a lot of money to promote your standalone site. It grows extremely slowly and basically, even if the Chinese consumer found it, most likely, they will not trust. They will not get the customer support that they need, and they would also be very unwilling to leave it up to chance whether the product is actually going to be delivered or not. And if it’s delivered, damaged, you know… So this is just not going to work.
The second way to do that is through online mall. And this online mall for example is like Tmall or JD or like Suning or Yamato. So all these are online malls. What they offer, they offer people an opportunity to open their own store. Like if you’re a company, open your own store, and they are the platform that hosts those stores. So I, as a shopper, I will go to Tmall, and I will buy all different things. And I can check out in one go from all these 20 shops that I visited.
As you mentioned, if we’re promoting a link and trying to drive traffic to some of our online selling channels, a lot of people make this mistake because they send traffic to their official website, and nobody is buying. And the reason is I just explained. But if you’re sending to traffic to, let’s say, your Tmall store or JD store, to be very honest, you can also potentially be directing traffic to your competitors because just below your page, you’ve got the suggested projects which are cheaper guys here or better ones here. So it’s also risky.
The third way to sell in China online is through hypermarkets. So here, hypermarket, the difference is they actually buy the merchandise, like Western merchandise, and they list it on their platform. So it’s not that you have to visit a hundred different stores, but you go to, for example, Kao La is one of the biggest hypermarkets and all the products that they bought from overseas are listed there. You buy and you check out also in one go.
Jay: So is it something like an Amazon-type thing where you go to one large aggregator where they’ve curated their products from third parties?
Ashley: They don’t curate. They buy. So they basically buy directly from overseas manufacturers or brands, and then they list these products as part of their merchandise.
Jay: So it’s like a department store online where they’re the middle man, and then they sell it to you.
Ashley: Yeah. So basically, they are the hypermarket. The model is B2B2C. And then, of course, there are vertical specialty marketplaces. So these guys, for example, like Xiao Hong Shu these guys are very, very particular in what they are selling. So for example, it’s only baby products, or it’s only cosmetics, or it’s only this, only that. And the difference is that they are usually very focused on specific geography or target audience, and they very often introduce some social elements into the marketplace. For example, on Xiao Hong Shu you can also review the products and write very long article explaining the whole experience, and they try to make it a lot more word-of-mouth driven. And these are the golden mines for so many international companies. It’s such a pity that very few people know about it and use it. Again, very, very few people do that.
Just to give you a few ideas of what these platforms are… One is called Xiao Hong Shu. The other one is BeiBei. There are basically four or five different ones, depending on which category you represent.
The other two options are flash sales websites, which is basically a crazy idea. You go to something like Groupon.com, but the China version, and you sell a limited number of products on those sites. It’s really good for brand awareness, but it’s definitely not for moneymaking.
And the last option is WeChat store, of course.
Jay: And how does WeChat store stack up against the other options?
Ashley: For WeChat Store, I think if you have a strong WeChat account already with enough followers… What I mean by enough is at least there needs to be from 20, 30, 40, 100,000 fans because you need to have a database. So if you have a strong database, I think it’s a great way to sell your product. At the same time, whatever you’re selling on WeChat will have to be unique. So if you have other channels — let’s say Taobao — or you have offline channels in China, you cannot really expect too much of WeChat because you need to be selling a special product.
Four example, in your offline stores, you’re selling only blue shoes, but on WeChat, you allow your customers to choose the color or to personalize, or you say, you know what? We’ve got limited edition stuff which can only be accessible on WeChat. So you need to give them an incentive. And then WeChat stores can be extremely popular and extremely effective. But if you just leave it out there and say, oh, you know what? It’s WeChat store, nobody is going to come. And if it is your only channel, and you don’t have database, then you will have to invest a lot of money into trying to build that database and sell through that channel. So it really depends which stage of, I would say, establishment you’re at.
Jay: That’s pretty interesting, though. It sounds like there’s a lot of tools at your disposal, and based on what your product is and how you want to position yourself and where you are with your social media reach, this seems like a lot of options. But also that brings a lot of competition, I suppose. That’s why we need Ashley to help guide us.
Ashley, why don’t you tell us about your two companies and what they specifically do.
Ashley: So my first company is Alarice. It was a social media agency with focus on China. So we help international brands get into China and do, basically, social media marketing. So we manage their pages. We create amazing visuals and graphic design for their pages. We manage the community. We launch creative campaigns to activate the database. We work with bloggers, and we do advertising for those pages to make sure the social media strategy is sound, strong, and delivers results.
My second company, which is called ChoZan, which is “Chosen” in English, and it means “Awesome,” it is an online membership platform for marketers that work with Chinese social media. So if you do not have, I would say, enough money to hire an agency or for any other reasons you don’t want to do social media or outsource social media marketing, and you want to do it in-house, the only way for you to do that is actually to hire a person and train him to be a marketer. And our platform helps you to do that. So we share our years of agency expertise and experience in those comprehensive navigators and we provide resources like lists of bloggers. And we provide case studies, etc., all for disposal of internal marketing teams. And you can subscribe and get access to all that to make sure that your learning curve and process is much faster, better, and more enjoyable. So that’s the second company.
Jay: That’s awesome. That sounds like… It makes perfect sense because you’re basically feeding your experience and database from Alarice down to something that someone that wants to keep it in-house can use. So it sounds like your first company, Alarice, is the one that a company would come to if… Let’s say my sports apparel company or a leather goods company or whatever, they would approach you, and you would literally do the one-stop-shop complete solution. Right?
Ashley: Yeah, that’s right.
Jay: Perfect. That’s awesome. And so, Ashley, what else… Not that you have any free time. It sounds like you’re pretty tied up with doing two ventures here. What exciting things are you working on for this year coming up, maybe in the next year or 12 months? Any exciting projects that you’re working on specifically with either of your companies or personally?
Ashley: Yes. Personally, I have a couple of super exciting projects. Personally, I recently started the online blog, which is called Ashley Talks. I’m also on YouTube at Ashley Talks China. So I’m literally at the point where I feel the need to share the knowledge about China and Chinese consumers and China social and digital and all that with people. So it’s a free channel. I share a lot, a lot of stuff, and I hope that it helps people. And of course, in the past — I would say — half a year, I received so much love and support from around the globe, people sending their regards and saying how amazing this information was and how helpful. So that’s what keeps me going. And this channel is active and it’s growing. So I’m super, super excited about that.
On the other hand, business-wise, we also, as a company, recently started venturing out into a new direction. So previously for six years, our company was focusing on helping international brands to enter the China market, and this year, for the first time, we’re actually helping a big Chinese client to enter overseas and do marketing for them outside of China in the West. So it’s also an extremely exciting development and fingers crossed for that.
Very soon, Alarice will be the digital link between West and China, but not one way — both ways.
Jay: That’s right. Two-way traffic. It’s the best. That’s awesome. It’s so exciting. We’re really excited to see how it all pans out. In the meantime, like Ashley said, she has a really good channel that she does for free. How often do you put that content up?
Ashley: We’ve got three to four times a week, new YouTube videos. So it’s very, very comprehensive. Each video is about three to five minutes long. It’s really easy to watch. Honestly, without much modesty, but it’s really the best English content that you can find in form of video and, very often, text out there online. So do check it out. I try my best. If there’s any topic you would like to know about China, do let me know, and I’ll try to figure it out, dig it out, learn it, and basically present you the best and most relevant picks because I really enjoy doing that.
Jay: That’s amazing. Thanks for the offer. Again, to the audience, she actually is not bragging because I’ve watched her stuff, and it’s very comprehensive, and she’s actually very knowledgeable. She’s spent a lot of time. So definitely, definitely head over there. Check out her channel.
Ashley, where’s the best place that our audience can find you, follow you, connect with you, or maybe ask a question for you to go investigate?
Ashley: Definitely. You can always connect with me through my email which is Ashley@ChoZan.co. Our company websites are Alarice.com.hk and ChoZan.co. But definitely, if you want to connect with me personally and check out the blog, check out AshleyTalks.com for free resources and YouTube channel Ashley Talks China is also a how lot of playlists and videos about mainland China market.
Jay: Excellent. And are you active on social at all?
Ashley: Yes, I’m on LinkedIn, Ashley Galina Dudraenok. Yes, it’s a very long and hard-to-pronounce last name, but if you type Ashley Galina, you can definitely find me. The same name will give you my Facebook account which is public so you can follow. And of course, I’m on Twitter. I’m on Snapchat, and I’m on Instagram under Ashley.lina.
Jay: And we’ll get them all linked up on the show notes. I don’t know how you do it all, Ashley, but you’re inspirational for all of us listening in. Thanks so much for your time, Ashley. It’s been such a pleasure. And thanks for the insights on social media in China. We’ll be certain to find you and follow you and watch some of your videos that you provide for free. That’s awesome.
Ashley: Definitely. Thank you so much, Jay, for having me. I really had fun. Cheers.
Jay: Awesome. Alright, take care. Bye.
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