Buying Mr. Bags - Part | of How to understand changing Marketplaces

For who: Once a month Brandsom takes a closer look at developments within marketplaces. By placing these changes within a broader context we hope to help you understand how marketplaces are changing, and how your brand can benefit. You can find our articles on Brandsom.nl, LinkedIn, or via the mailing list(link).  Comments, concerns, and suggestions can be send to Ivo@Brandsom.nl

Summary: 

In this article, I explain two developments within e-commerce based on the example of Mr Bags. These developments are: how selling feelings and lifestyle has become central to consumption, and how social media has decentralized this process.

In the video above we see an interview with the famous Chinese influencer/Key Opinion Leader Tao Liang, better known as ‘Mr.Bags’. What makes him special, is both the trajectory of his career, as well as, the way in which he sells his ‘goods’. If we take a broader perspective, Mr Bags is a representation of larger developments within (online) consumption. In this article, I will discuss these developments based on the case of Mr Bags. I will consider two developments in particular: consumption as lifestyle, and social media as marketplaces. The first is a long term development beginning in the early 20th century, now more relevant than ever due to the rise of marketplaces. The second development is the way in which social media platforms are becoming marketplaces in themselves. 

The goal of this article is to give broader context to the changes within e-commerce. Often are we are only focused on the short-term innovation of our brands and the implementation of the current online strategies. By taking a broader perspective, we can understand the chaotic and fast pace changes inherent to our industry.

Some basic concepts:

Before moving on, it is important to have a basic understanding of the following two concepts:

  • Key Opinion Leaders (KOL): these are people who have authority on within a specific field. Within marketing, they can be used to give credibility to a product, for instance: dentists recommending a specific toothpaste. The difference between KOL’s and influencers is that the former has specific knowledge for a certain demographic, the latter is not necessary an expert on a specific topic, but speaks to a broad audience. People can be both KOL and influencer, like Mr Bags.

  • Marketplaces: Amazon, Alibaba, and Zalando are examples marketplaces. These platforms are different from ‘normal’ e-commerce spaces in that they sell product from multiple suppliers on the same platform. 

Consumption as lifestyle

The way in which consumption has become part of expressing one’s lifestyle is not at all a new development. Indeed, those of you who have watched HBO’s Mad Men know that linking lifestyle and consumption is a development that started in the 60’s, with the Coca Cola commercial of 1971 as a prime example. A still earlier example of successfully selling ‘lifestyle’ as a product were the Disney theme parks opening up in the first half of the 20th century. Even now, the brand ‘Disney’ is synonymous to happiness. Sociologist Alan Bryman analized Disney's theme parks, and found four key elements in explaining its success: 

  1. Theming: this is the most explicit element of the - theme - park that has been copied by other brands. The advantage of theming makes the ‘feeling’ sold to the consumer more explicit. This makes it easier for the consumer to know what to buy for what emotional need they have.

  2. Combining different forms of consumption: where Disney parks were revolutionary was in combination of both the selling of entertainment in the form of rides and shows, as well as have shopping and eating areas.

  3. Merchandising: this is in line with number two. By merchandising your brand you create a feeling of attachment to the product you’re selling. In the case of Disney, the success of this strategy is easily seen: people are willing to spend more for a Mickey-item than for a regular one. 

  4. Emotional labor: this last point is crucial for the believability of the specific lifestyle the brand wants to sell. If the workers at the theme parks break the experience, you’re not buying a fairytale but only a day at a cheaply made concrete jungle.  

Although these four elements were distilled from Disney’s theme parks, now these elements are incorporated by most, if not all successful lifestyle brand. Just think about how M&M, Nike, Lego, Apple, StarBucks ect. sell their brand, and compare that experience to the four criteria mentioned above. 

When we compare the four elements with the example of Mr Bags, we get a clear view of how he sells his brand. To begin with theming: the name says it all. Tao Liang (the birth name of Mr Bags) differentiates himself from others on social media by explicitly theming what he does. The second, combining forms of consumption is a less prominent aspect of the Mr.Bags brand. However, we do see a clear broadening of products. The influencer began as entertainer journalist writing about bags, slowly added advertized content and moving towards selling his own brand. Merchandising fits better with Mr Bags brand. The bags sold in the video at the beginning of this article are by Italian fashion brand TOD’s, in effect making it merchandize. Lastly, emotional labor is at the core of Mr Bags success. A large part of the success of the brand, is that his audience wants to be associated with the image of the personality. Especially within Chinese culture it is important to have a certain ‘face’ and to create trust with your potential customers. 


How social marketplaces make a difference

When comparing how established (Western) brands sell their lifestyle with new social media Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) like Mr Bags there are two substantial differences. First of all, the lifestyle name is based on the person, not on the the brand. Sure, established lifestyle brands use high profile media personalities to sell their brand, and KOL’s like Mr Bags can use brands in order to strengthen their own credibility. The key difference is the goal of the collaboration. Within social media marketplaces it seems that personal branding is more successful, it is easier for the potential customer to identify with a person, than with a brand. Especially in China, where personal connections are at the center of (business) interactions, it is important to know the (perceived) personality of the seller. Therefore, it is not surprising that the East is further allonge with this trend.

The second difference is the way in which social media is used. For a traditional brands, social media is  primarily an outlet for marketing. Fundamentally, the way in which a brand like M&M uses Facebook is not different than how it uses adds on more traditional media like TV and magazines. Mr Bags uses social media as a marketplace, in addition to it being a marketing platform. In the Video at the top, you can see that he uses WeChat (China’s Facebook, WhatsApp, and more) to communicate to his followers, and to sell them bags. 

The way in which social media are becoming more and more like marketplaces are reinforcing the rise of personal brands like Mr Bags. It is no surprise that the Chinese WeChat is forward thinking in this regard. For the Chinese, the prominence of individual reputation is part of centuries old traditions relating to social convention. I will explore Chinese perspectives on marketplaces in more detail in a later article. In the West, social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube are playing catch-up, only recently starting to incorporate marketplace mechanics into their services. With these developments it’s save to assume that social marketplaces will only became more important in the future.


Conclusion 

In this article I have given a perspective on the phenomenon of KOL’s on marketplaces. Using Mr Bags as an example, I show that his method of selling is part of a continuing trend of selling products as lifestyles in part developed by Disney. Furthermore, I explained how the rise of marketplace elements within social media facilitates the marketization of KOL’s. 

In the future, it is likely that these figures will only became more important. It is therefore important for brands to take advantage of the new opportunities these developments bring, and to adjust your strategies accordingly. In the meantime, I’m curious to know how you see the future of social media marketplaces. Please send your thoughts on the subject to ivo@brandsom.nl.


About Brandsom:

Brandsom gets your products online on marketplaces, your marketplace listings optimised, and your operation running smoothly.  More information (link)

About the author:

Ivo is Assistant Marketplaces at Brandsom and has a Masters Degree in Politics, Society and Economy of Asia from the University of Leiden. He is interested in the rapidly changing marketplaces of China, in particularly how we can learn from their innovation. 


Thijs Verhoef