The central theses:
China’s stuck-at-home internet users have risen to nearly a billion, and many social apps have a record number of active users.
Acting as both a resale app and an online fashion community, Poizon is a great place to start for brands testing the Chinese market.
Lifestyle apps like Soul and Keep offer brands the opportunity to reach China’s Gen Zers through co-sponsored offline and online activities.
In the past few weeks, Clubhouse has taken the internet by storm and is considered the hottest Silicon Valley social app since Snapchat. The hype even reached China, even though the audio-based platform required an iOS device, overseas Apple ID, and an invitation.
After Elon Musk joined the website to host a virtual talk show with Robinhood’s CEO, the invite codes were all the rage on Weibo and even sold for up to $ 60 on China’s used marketplace, Xianyu. The users were not only impressed by the exclusivity of the app, but also by the rare opportunity to speak freely in real time.
But that didn’t take long. With Chinese users gathering online to discuss sensitive topics such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong, Beijing quickly put an end to clubhouse use. However, the ban has not undermined the country’s growing interest in audio platforms or its growing desire for virtual socialization. Local designers are already talking about how to rebuild Clubhouse for the market, while existing podcast sites like Lizhi have seen their shares surge.
With part of the Chinese population stuck at home again, the demand for social and lifestyle apps has skyrocketed. By the end of 2020, China’s internet users had surged to nearly 1 billion, and large apps like Douyin and Bilibili had a record number of active users.
But where do internet users spend their time beyond the big names? Whether your brand wants to reach a younger demographic or just want to keep up with the latest trends, here are three lesser-known local apps that should have on their radar in 2021.
Poizon (得 物): The resale app for China’s sneaker madness
What it is: Poizon was developed as a sneaker resale platform in 2015 and is currently one of the five best free apps in the Chinese App Store. The value of three times the price of its American counterpart StockX is one billion dollars. A one-stop marketplace for streetwear and luxury accessories, Poizon supports interactive fashion communities by bringing looks curated by fashion experts to its style-conscious Gen Z audiences.
Here’s how it works: when a seller publishes a pair of shoes, interested buyers can bid on them or pay a fixed price to buy immediately. Once the customer has paid, the seller sends it to Poizon for authentication. If successful, it will be issued a certificate of authenticity prior to delivery. All items sold on Poizon are raw material products, meaning they are new, unused and come with their original packaging and labels.
Why Brands Should Care: A few years ago, luxury brands stayed away from shipments and stayed away from counterfeiting. With the used market now growing to $ 64 billion worldwide and gaining momentum in China, this trend should not be ignored.
What sets Poizon apart from its reseller colleagues Xianyu and Isheyipai is its focus on streetwear. The sports shoes market in China is projected to reach US $ 10 billion by 2025, which is 10 percent of the global market. With its authentication services and 1.4 million monthly active users, Poizon is a great starting point for global brands interested in gauging the mainland market before making a full commitment. In the way Gucci has partnered with The Realreal, partnering with reselling platforms like Poizon could also help companies create a circular, end-to-end brand experience. However, neglecting the resale market would mean leaving this lucrative field to third parties who may not respect the brand identity.
Hold: The home fitness app that keeps pounds in check
What it is: “Self-discipline gives me freedom” is the slogan of China’s top exercise app. With over 300 million registered users and 10 million paying members (mostly Tier 1 and Tier 2 urbanites under the age of 25), Keep has become a fitness powerhouse through training courses, an Instagram-like social network, branded products, and offline gyms developed known as “Keepland”. In January, Keep announced that it closed its $ 360 million Series F funding, doubling its company valuation to $ 2 billion thanks to a pandemic-fueled demand for home workouts.
How it works: Like other exercise apps, Keep offers a range of instructional videos, from yoga and stretching to HIIT and strength training. Paying members get access to premium services such as individual training plans and professional nutritional advice. There is also an online shop built into the app that sells the same gear and clothing that the trainers use. To motivate users to stay active, Keep organizes year-round activities and incentives, including prizes, in partnership with brands like Volvo.
Why Brands Should Care: The number of users of online fitness apps in China rose 12 percent year over year in the first quarter of 2020. However, Keep was ahead of the curve, seeing users increase by 23 percent over the same period. According to Iresearch, 18.1 million devices are accessed on average 20 minutes per day every month.
Given Keep’s diverse product offerings, there are several ways brands can get on the social fitness train. For one, Keep has already featured several KOLs in its training videos, including Youtuber Pamela Reif, model Karlie Kloss and the Chinese actor Lixian, which opens up the possibility of using brand ambassadors. The app has also advertised brands like adidas and Sketchers, created a Marvel-themed superhero class, and started a discussion forum for Victoria’s Secret Angels. Offline Keeps offers clothing line, treadmills, smart wristbands and healthy food co-branding opportunities.
Soul: The AI-Driven Dating App That Goes Deeper
What it is: In contrast to its competitors Momo and Tantan, Soul offers an alternative to the superficial swipe culture. By removing profile pictures from the equation, the Chinese dating app helps its Gen Z users find matches based on shared interests and emotional connections. And teens are pulling the bait: Since launching in 2015, Soul has reached 100 million registered users and over 30 million monthly active users. The platform currently tops the social category in the Mainland App Store and has a customized version for Japan, Korea and North America.
How it works: Soul is committed to personality tests to sort and recommend users based on similar values and hobbies. After completing the quiz, members have full access to the app, including features like Soul Cam, Audio Call, and One-to-One. There’s also an exploration page where people can share pictures, short videos, and status updates with the entire soul community. However, users cannot see any personal information other than their test match result and public contributions. Soul uses photo filters and language changers to shield identities. While this feature acts a bit like a catfish, the platform claims it is encouraging Gen Zers to express themselves freely.
Why Brands Should Care: China is no stranger to online dating. In 2019, more than 622 million people were using dating apps in China, and according to Statista.com, the market is expected to reach $ 290 million in revenue by 2024. The pandemic has only accelerated this trend, which is reflected in the 200 percent increase in soul users over the past year. With an average daily usage rate of over 60 minutes and an interaction rate between MAUs of over 95 percent, Soul is a promising platform for consumer brands targeting China’s young consumers.
However, Soul has been slow to monetize, introducing Soul Tokens (for purchasing additional services) and premium memberships in 2019. In fact, the app seems to be cautious when it comes to advertising and partnering with influencers – the latter contradicts the premise of prioritizing quality content over popularity pageants.
One way brands can collaborate with the app is through activities. Take Soul’s recent collaboration with Tim Hortons as an example. For the concept, the platform created the trending theme “100 Moments That Coffee Saved Your Day” to encourage users to share stories about coffee and give them the opportunity to win free drinks. Another example is how the app invited 10,000 Soulers who were cut off from a tens of millions competition for an offline screening of the Disney film Soul last December. On the same day, Soul partnered with the WABC Yitu Charity Foundation to organize a special charity event that invited nearly a hundred autistic children and their families to watch the film. Ultimately, brands that want to use this app and China’s burgeoning dating market need to prioritize emotional connections and tell meaningful stories – to show their own “soul”.