Making Fireworks in China: An Interview with Digital Strategy Expert, Andrea Fenn

The growth of social media in the past few years has reached staggering numbers, and there is no doubt of the power it has yet to gain in a variety of industries. Especially in China - expected to become the largest economic power in the next coming years - agencies and firms have been popping up left and right, trying to take advantage of this largely growing market. 

Andrea Fenn

With all the competition in this arena, how can one successfully keep up with the quick developments in the social media industry? Fashionbi interviews Andrea Fenn, Managing Director of digital creative agency Fireworks.

Formidable,’ says Fenn to describe the Chinese Digital Market. “Changes and occurrences happen at such a large extent; they are representative of, and an insight into the complexity of China as a whole.” And this does not come as a surprise, with China’s e-commerce market expected to grow in large numbers over the following years, the growth of mobile usage, not to mention China’s diversity and penchant for innovation! 

Fenn, who has been working in the social media and digital industry in Greater China since 2008, has gained a name for himself with his experience as a founding member of Social@Ogilvy. Fenn has had significant exposure to a number of projects, including launching digital strategies in China for big fashion and luxury conglomerates like Armani and LVMH. “I have been observing social media since 2008, and I can certainly say in these there has been a degree of convergence towards understandable patterns, and sometimes even towards international standards,” says Fenn on his observations of the digital industry. “It is now easier to comprehend platforms and their behavior, and this makes the work of a brand or agency acting on Chinese social media less like shooting in the dark - as it was in the beginning - and more based on predictable trends.” 

Fireworks

In late 2012, Fenn moved on to found Fireworks, a digital consultancy agency focused on fashion and luxury industries looking for creative solutions in China. Described as a guerrilla creative agency, Fireworks gathers bright minds based around Greater China to provide disruptive ideas and constructive solutions.  

“Everything is unique, from the channels used to the behavior of the average user. Famous brands are used to dictate messages thinking that they will be automatically understood by their target audience, but that not always happens in China,” comments Fenn about their social media scene. “Understanding language, cultural and structural peculiarities is key for communicating relevant and accessible messages to the Chinese consumer.” And we would have to agree, with China’s diverse culture and ever-changing preferences, it isn’t quite as simple as East meets West. The Great Firewall of China says it all. Entering the Chinese market requires a deeper level of understanding of the Chinese ways and customs

Given that, what are the other obstacles and opportunities for western brands hoping to gain significant presence in Chinese social media? “The opportunities are clear: big market, increasing digital use, strong impact of digital awareness and decision making,” comments Fenn.The biggest obstacle for a fashion/luxury international brand is managing to localize their messages for the Chinese consumer. Localizing does not mean simply translating into Mandarin, but it also does not certainly mean becoming a ‘local brand’ only to appeal to the consumer of a certain market.” There has to be the right fusion between catering to the Chinese audience, whilst maintaining a certain brand image and association with western heritage.  

With all that being said, how would social media analytics firms, like Fashionbi, fall into this whole network of media relations? “I think it is a powerful tool for a HQ to understand the impact of their communications plans around the world. ‘Quality control’ is an increasingly important issue for brands that are internationalizing their operations,” says Fenn. Big Data clearly has its niche in the growing social media market. 

And there you have it! An overview of what it really takes for western brands to penetrate the Chinese social media scene. Clearly this is a tough arena to compete in - but as they say, you’ve got to risk it to get the biscuit! And with all the possibilities this market holds for the future, it’s very exciting to see how it unfolds, and which Western brands have enough talent to make it all the way to the East.