Chinese Men’s skincare brand L’Sphere was unknown just over one year ago, but ended 2020 as one of the top selling brands on short-form video platform Douyin. Re-Hub breaks down the secret to L’Sphere’s success and outlines how other brands can look to replicate it.
Little Fresh Meat Drive Changing Attitudes to Skin Care
The Chinese men’s skincare market, valued at 12.5bn RMB ($1.9bn)in 2020, is estimated by Mintel to grow by around 50% 18.5bn RMB($2.8bn) by 2025. This boom is driven by changing attitudes towards personal grooming amongst millennials and Gen-Z males. Their views on personal care differ greatly from older generations in China, who were happy to do with a simple bar of soap.
More men care about their appearance than ever before, and even in lower-tier cities men are eagerly looking for products and tips upgrade their skincare routine. According to Taobao data, skin care products were the top items purchased by Post-90’s males from live streams during the 2020 Double 11 festival. Social media has become awash with male grooming tips and advice on products and this upward trend does not look to be abating in 2021.
The key catalyst for the change in consumer behavior is in some part a product the recent ascendancy of ‘Little Fresh Meat’ idols like Lu Han. These immaculately groomed, dainty starlets sport androgynous looks styled on K-Pop stars. Traditional perspectives of masculinity have become usurped by more metrosexual softer images of what it means to be a man, and these trends are reverberating in the market.
Local Brands Dominated Chinese Men's Beauty in 2020
In this fast-growing category, smaller domestic brands have proven to be more adept at meeting consumer needs. According to a recent report from Ocean Engine, seven of the top ten male personal-care brands on the Douyin platform were local brands in 2020, the platform of choice for younger consumers.
Local beauty brands beating more established overseas rivals, is not a new story in China. The most visible example is of course, Perfect Diary, the Guangzhou beauty unicorn that raised $617m in a Nasdaq listing in November 2020 and whose meteoric rise has completely changed the Chinese beauty landscape over the last few years.
However, in the case of men’s beauty, local brands appear to be relatively even more dominant. Investors are taking notice and the smart money is on the look-out for the next rising brand, noted in a recent Reuters article which highlighted that six local players raised more than 300m RMB ($45.8m) in the past year.
The success of one brand, L’Sphere, ranked third on the Douyin chart, is particularly remarkable considering that they only came into existence at the tail-end of 2019. Their toner cream sold over 460,000 units on Douyin in 2019, and in one year they amassed over 170,000 fans on the platform.
In one year, L'Sphere became the third ranked brand on Douyin and sold 460,000 units of a single product, their toner cream
How Did L’Sphere Do It?
- Understood Their Customer
Many Chinese men are new to personal care and do not know where to start, this is especially true of those in lower-tier cities. L’Sphere understood that while men would like to completely make over their appearance, they felt overwhelmed by the amount of information and products available, and did not know who to trust in the market.
L’Sphere positioned their product as being simple to use for lazy men who wanted to become more metrosexual. Their slogan was “From Slob to Sophisticate” and all of their Douyin videos and marketing focused on quick and effective skin makeovers. They priced their toner at entry level pricing of RMB 59.9 which made the product attractive to the key demographic.
- Guerilla Marketing
Knowing their positioning, L’Sphere invested in a guerilla marketing strategy, named “human wave attack”, after a successful tactic utilized for the People’s Liberation Army in the Chinese Civil War. The gist of this strategy is that a smaller army can enjoy success through intense short attacks undertaken on identified chinks in the enemies armor.
L’Sphere replicated this tactic by employing a sudden wave of targeted KOL and KOC, who made numerous short videos explaining the product's effectiveness. Out of nowhere, it appeared that the brand was being recommended both from major influencers and acquaintances.
This piqued the interest of the key demographic of men who were at the research stage of buying better quality personal care products. L’Sphere appeared to be a reputable brand, at a keen price-point, with messaging and key selling points that fitted their requirements.
- Learn and Adjust
After the initial success of their toner cream, L’Sphere continued to gather and analyze customer data for a series of successive fast product launches. They also constantly adjusted their messaging and the influencers they utilized based on initial feedback.
What Can Established Brands Learn From the L’Sphere Story?
While their main strategies seem simple, not every brand is capable of replicating what L’Sphere did. The foundation of all of their decision was understanding of where the unmet demand was, only possible through their investment in data-analytics. Chinese brands are agile and utilize a user-centric business model that allows them to quickly develop both products and target messaging. On the contrary, we are seeing that some overseas cosmetic brands are slowed down by legacy procedures that are not fit for the dynamic China market.
L’Sphere were able to succeed because they utilized data to know their customers, chose the right influencers to convey their message and constantly adapted their strategy based on the real-time insights.
Established brands in China are of course not able to easily replicate this breakneck 'rags to riches' story. The stakes are higher for more recognized players, especially at the luxury end of the market and brands need to be very careful that they do not compromise their positioning for quick success.
On the other hand, they can adapt their operations to act and think more like a start-up and make quicker and better data-driven decisions. They can be utilizing the latest analytic tools and ready to upgrade approaches that are redundant in modern China.
Established brands need to learn to think like Chinese Startups
- Established brands need to learn to think like Chinese startups. The Chinese market changes so fast and brands need to be ready to quickly spot opportunities and develop product lines and campaigns to match them.
- Data is everything. As Sun Tzu said. “know yourself and know your enemy and you will not lose a hundred battles”. Better quality decisions are driven by better quality customer insights. There are now numerous solutions and startups on the Chinese market that accelerate brands' data collection and analysis, seek them out.
- Be ready to adapt. Complacency from established brands gave local startups like L'Sphere the opportunity for their quick success. They didn't adapt quick enough to a changed market and also new channels like Douyin.