For Vans in China: a Shanghai comedian, a parent-mocker, and two Japanese artists

For Vans in China: a Shanghai comedian, a parent-mocker, and two Japanese artists

Vans fans were tossing their shoes hard in March around the globe, including China.

Waffles down, laces up. No matter how you toss it.

Yes, we got it, Vans.

By the way, how are you doing in China?

Not mainstream. Yet. This blog suggests an odd collection of online influencers who may help Vans sell more shoes in China.

On March 16, 1966, brothers Paul Van Doren and James Van Doren and Gordon C. Lee opened their first shoe store 2 miles from the then-10-year-old Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Since then, Vans has grown into a shoe and apparel maker focused on skateboarding with ~$3B revenue in 2018.

It’s hard to grow a sport brand without associating it with a popular sport.

What reminds you of Puma? soccer and track & field; Asics? running; Under Armour? bodybuilding and American football; Nike and Adidas? many. And Vans? skateboarding.

The problem is: skateboarding is not yet a widely popular sport in China.

Take marathon for a reference: in the US, the total posts on Instagram with tags #skateboard or #scooter total 13 million, slightly higher than the 12 million posts with tags #marathon and #marathontraining. In contrast in China, the Baidu search index shows that “滑板” (”skateboarding” or “scootering” in Chinese)has only half of the search volume as “马拉松” (”marathon” or “marathoning”).

(Search box suggests Converse, Nike, Puma, Adidas and other name brands as Vans’ cross-shopping keywords.)

Although online e-commerce search boxes already suggest that Vans’ cross shopping brands include big names like Nike, Puma, Adidas, and Under Armour, Vans’ online revenue still has gaps to close.

If we look at all revenue under each brand, Vans is No.6 in 2018.

Ok, Vans doesn’t exactly compete with the full-line brands. Let’s narrow down to shoes only. Still, Vans ranked only No.5 in 2018.

Both Vans marketing team and hardcore Vans fans would say: we want to be true to the core of “off the wall”. We don’t want to be another pair of everyone’s shoes.

That’s fair.

However, VF Corporation has lofty goals for Vans, a VF brand since 2004. In September 2018, VF announced its plan to grow Vans revenue by $2 billion to reach $5 billion by fiscal year 2023, representing growth between 10 and 12 percent over a five-year period.

Social marketing would definitely help, especially for a brand that craves for growth without losing its niche feel.

How to find the strong influencers who are also a good fit to Vans’ culture?

Hank Yuan from Yimian Data used a three-step approach with data from China’s social platform,

  • Identify Vans fans, those who mentioned Vans (or its Chinese translation 万斯)in their blogs.
  • Compare the attributes of these fans to followers of online influencers
  • Calculate the “influence index” using engagement metrics of these influencers, based on share, agree, and comment counts.

Based on these analyses, Hank plotted the KOL (key opinion leaders) on a two-dimensional map: fit to Vans versus influence index.

This map picks out three usual suspects: Yiyang Qianxi, Cai Xukun, and Wu Yifan. They all enjoy high influence index, with various degrees of fit to Vans’ followers.

These three celebrities have already been seen wearing Vans shoes, even pre-released ones. It’s not clear whether they are authentic voluntary Vans enthusiasts or sponsored influencers. They have apparently boosted Vans’ visibility among their followers and beyond.

This map also suggests 4 surprising high-fit-medium-influence candidates.

  • Shi Yan (史炎), a Shanghai-based talk show host especially popular among the “80’ers”, or people born during 1980-1989 now in their 30’s.
  • My Odd Parents (我的父母是个奇葩), a weibo account dedicated to making fun of our parents
  • Takuya Kimura (木村拓哉), a Japanese actor in his 40’s
  • Kenshi Yonezu (米津 玄師), a Japanese musician ins his 20’s

There you have it, Vans. An actionable social marketing plan from Hank:

Ask comedian Shi Yan to wear Vans on the talk show stage; photograph Japanese artists wearing Vans at the airport; and joke about the misunderstanding between parents and their skateboarding kids.

Would this really work? We don’t know for sure until Vans tries it.

Nevertheless, Hank knows for sure that these influencers engage consumers at a large scale, and their fans overlap with Vans lovers.

To inquire about other social insights in China, please email me at zhangrong[at]yimian[dot]com[dot]cn.


(Cover Photo by Manuel Del Moral on Unsplash)

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