Shane Sondermann knows that getting his company’s fruit snacks and juices onto Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms is only the beginning when it comes to selling into China. The marketing and business development manager at Canadian food-and-beverage company knows that SunRype needs to achieve brand awareness like it does at home to be successful.
But how does a foreign brand stand out in a market as hotly contested as China? For that, Sondermann turns to the Chinese technology giant as well.
“The beauty of Alibaba is not just in helping us get our products to online consumers and cutting out middle men,” he says. “It’s also an effective channel that helps consumers get to know our brand faster, with tools that make it easy to collect consumer insights and launch new products.”
WATCH: Find out how SunRype’s Fruit-to-Go became the go-to fruit snack in China.
SunRype has been using Alibaba’s ecosystem to reach consumers with the help of Vancouver-based JustOrder Technology, a full-service distributor that handles everything from logistics to digital marketing on Alibaba’s platforms. In addition to selling SunRype’s Fruit-to-Go snacks and 100% juices on Taobao Marketplace, JustOrder operates a flagship store on Tmall Global, a B2C shopping site dedicated to cross-border e-commerce.
Jerry Chen, the export director at JustOrder, is an adept user of Alibaba’s marketing and business-development services, leveraging them to better promote his client. Here are a few of the tools he’s putting to work:
Alibaba’s digital-marketing team has created features such as search- or display-marketing campaigns to help merchants target potential customers. Whether it’s paying for placement in search results or on specific pages within Taobao and Tmall, Alimama can get a brand in front of about 500 million Alibaba users.
For Chen, that means having SunRype products show up in search results for several keywords. Even if consumers are looking for a different company with those keywords, SunRype still appears, familiarizing them with the brand. The next time they’re shopping they may search for SunRype directly. If so, the JustOrder Overseas Flagship Store comes up first in the results.
He often buys display-marketing space based on keyword searches as well. If someone looks for “Canada” this time, the brand’s logo and a call to action will appear in a banner at the top of the search-results page or on the right side of the screen. Consumers who click on the display are brought to the JustOrder flagship store.
Alimama can also connect merchants with bloggers outside the ecosystem. That allows JustOrder to partner with external websites that, again, link back to the flagship store. In exchange, the blogger earns sales commissions.
Chen uses Alibaba’s flash-sales site in two ways: for promotions based on product category, such as the baby and mother verticals where SunRype’s fruit snacks have been popular, and to push specific SKUs.
He says it’s a great way to quickly boost transaction volumes. It’s worth noting that the higher a merchant’s sales, the better the ranking in Alibaba’s search results. Therefore, Juhuasuan can deliver a marketing ripple effect: It drives sales higher overall, while also putting the company in front of more consumers, both of which further grow brand awareness.
Sometimes Chen will use Alimama’s marketing services to drive traffic to SunRype flash sales. For example, if someone searches for specific associated keywords while such a sale is going on, a SunRype call-to-action will appear on the search-results page that brings them to Juhuasuan.
Chen will also use the site to draw attention to new products, as consumers go to the site with fun and experimentation in mind. “If we want to promote new SKUs, we’ll also use Juhuasuan,” he says.
Weitao is a social-media feature within Taobao that allows for engagement with consumers through micro-blogging, video and other interactive campaigns. Chen leverages it to capitalize on one of the most popular ways to reach those consumers happening in China today: live-streaming.
In fact, he has two teams dedicated to live-streaming at the moment, one in Vancouver and the other in China. The Canadian team tailors its content to introduce customers to both the company and the country, taking them on different kinds of travel adventures, he says.
On other e-commerce platforms, customer reviews may be just a one-way exchange. But not with Alibaba, whose platform is as much about community as it is commerce.
Chen and his team pay close attention to customer comments for SunRype, he says. This allows them to respond in real time to suggestions or complaints. If there’s a problem with the packaging or the quality of a certain product, Chen is able to relay that information to SunRype as quickly as possible. The result: happy consumers.
The comments are also a way to market in creative ways, says Chen. Reviewers who post photos of SunRype products maybe rewarded. And sometimes live-streaming hosts even spotlight customer feedback during a broadcast.
“You’re going to go to the store with the most exciting shopping experience,” Chen says. “So this is something where we try to be creative by using the Alibaba system.”
Chen even sees the JustOrder flagship store itself as a branding opportunity for SunRype. Because Taobao sellers tend to stick to only the most popular products, Chen works hard to make sure the Tmall Global operation is successful. That includes stocking the most SKUs and offering customers the best service. So far it’s working—300 Taobao stores currently have SunRype goods for sale.
Throughout all of these campaigns, Chen is constantly fine-tuning his strategies. He calls it “being proactive in promotion.” Each week his team conducts a review, adding and subtracting keywords, planning new flash sales and changing the selection of products, all to get the best return on investment for SunRype’s marketing spend.
“The whole idea is there are so many tools within Alibaba, you should utilize all of them,” Chen says.