Digital marketing in China: Douban and the brand identity

06 Jun 2013



When we talk about digital marketing in China, we suddenly think about today’s biggest players: Sina Weibo and Weixin. But the vast Chinese 2.0 landscape has way more to offer. More specifically, we want to focus on a “minority” – yet very influential – Chinese SNS: Douban.

Known as the main review-based social network in China, it offers a series of peculiar features to create value for both users and brands.


Douban and the “douban-ers”

Douban was launched on March, 2005, probably is the most unique and innovative SNS in Chinese Internet. It allows registered users to record information and create content related to film, book, music, culture, lifestyle, recent events and on-going activities in Chinese cities.

Douban also owns some mobile apps, like internet radio station and book reader app. The popular Douban Radio station ranks No. 1 in IOS app store as of 2012 reading apps (as we found on Baidu blog).

Douban was initiated from the idea that your purchasing choices often come from  friend’s recommendation, people around you, and probably the most efficient resource is people have the same interests and tastes as you.

In December 2004 Douban’s founder YangBo started to realize this idea programming the website code in a Starbucks bar in Beijing. Little trivia: the name Douban literally means “bean seed”, it actually the name of the street where this Starbucks bar is located.


Douban homepage


Unlike Weibo or Renren – the Chinese version of Facebook launched in 2005 – Douban is open to registered user and non registered user. For non registered users, the website is a good place to find ratings and reviews of books, movies and music, also get access to all informations. For registered users, the site recommended potential interesting according to user’s profile and records, in addition to serve as a social network website, blog, Douban group discussion, and record keeper.

At the end of 2012, Douban announced that they had covered 100 millions unique visitors monthly, and more that 62 million registered users, and figures are still growing today.

Compared with the enormous users numbers of Sina Weibo or Tencent, Douban stands out as a “minority” SNS, targeting educated young urban dwellers, “white-collar” class, intellectuals and university students.

Since DouBan has been initiated as an raking and review sharing platform, the user community gathered together based on same interests, from books, films, musics to lifestyle, cultural activities, even consumption taste and behaviors. Douban-ers are usually considered as new lifestyle drivers or urban trendsetters.

Douban got a remarkable reputation in terms of its business potential, creative innovation and social value; it has been considered as one of the most successful and influential platform for digital marketing in China. Let’s see why.


Douban’s marketing strategy

As an independent UGC (User Generated Content) website, Douban’s web structure has been divided into three main parts:

  • Raking system: UGC on raking, reviews and comments on books, film and musics. Learning from Amazon, it also embedded some informations from Chinese e-commerce platforms, such as Dandan and
  • Self-expression system: user’s personal profile which keeps review records, system offers recommendation based on personal interests and review history.
  • Interaction system: users join Douban discussion groups based on same interest, city locations and topics. They interact actively both on-line and off-line, participate on following the on-going events and create their own activities.


Douban digital marketing strategy


It is worth to mention that Douban keeps a simply and fresh UI design style as its own visual identity. Douban’s website prefers to use more verbal communication rather pictures and image sharing, to ensure the quality of content and the focus of communication.

Compared with the majority of Chinese websites, Douban treats advertising display carefully. Aiming to provide an authentic user experience and brand communication, Douban hardly used pop-up ads and any kinds of flash ads. Normally one screen has only one ads window.

So what’s exactly Douban’s marketing strategy?

From 2009, Douban began to promote his on-line ads service. Because of its limited advertising space and quantity, Douban selected the brands that match with core users’ value and demands. What’s Douban’s key feature for advertisers? Since it’s an interest-based social network, it helps ads accurately reach to potential consumers, which also maximizes the value of ads launching.


Douban brand station: a strategic opportunity

Douban brand station offers service and applications for brands to set up their own communication page – similar function to Weibo company pages.

In the pas years, nearly 140 international and Chinese brands have set up their Douban brand station. By communicating through brand station and using interactive marketing O2O (online to offline) marketing, on-line promotion etc, brands have enhanced their reputation and even re-create their brand image.


Marketing on Douban


For instance, many luxury brands like Rolex and Gucci are well-known by Chinese consumers, but there are still many misunderstanding or blind areas referring to their brand culture and image. Through Douban brand station, Luxury brands can tell the true cultural story behind the brand logo and name. As an example, you can check out the Adidas Originals station. Other than that, it is believed that a good amount of Douban users are regular Luxury consumers or potential consumer group (for further reading, here’s a nice post from Socialbeta).

Let’s now explore a successful Douban marketing case: Lenovo ThinkPad Edge.


Lenovo Douban


In 2012, Lenovo launched a new product: ThinkPad Edge, which mainly targeted to young consumers. Aiming to spreading a new product image and brand value, Lenovo set up a ThinkPad Edge station and launched a series of UGC active campaigns, calling for users to share their original photography works, blogs, songs, film scripts and interesting personal stories. The first campaign – calling for self-timer photo and autobiography blog – was launched between March and April 2012.

In one month, about 3,000 photos have been collected, more than 600 Douban-ers shared their autobiographies on Douban blog, in total more than 50,000 Chinese characters. The station got more that 1,160,000 visits and 40,000 users followed the ThinkPad Edge station (now over 160K).


Lenovo ThinkPad Station


The success of the Lenovo brand station resided in the usage of Douban’s most used content (photo sharing, Douban blog etc.), as the easiest way for douban-ers to participate the campaign. And these UGC activities are the popular topic that attracted many users’ interests.

ThinkPad Edge got many exposures to potential consumers through the campaign and brand station; at the same time, it has expressed positive brand image and brand culture.

What are the key learnings? Helping brand to target on right audiences and user groups – and spreading information more preciously – are the biggest advantage for Douban as social marketing platform.

Nannan Li

Nannan Li

Originally from China, after a Art Design BA degree and one year in a Shanghai Ad agency, she moved to Italy and got a MA degree in Product Service System Design. She keeps her eyes open on the digital world and on user-centered design.


One Response to “Digital marketing in China: Douban and the brand identity”

  1. [...] And with the continuos growth of WeChat’s popularity, another interesting question to ask is: how are traditional social networking sites such as Kaixin and RenRen doing? And how about more niche-oriented platforms such as Douban? [...]

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