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Why China Is a Hero Product Market…And That’s Not a Bad Thing

Published January 17, 2022
Published January 17, 2022
Augustinus Bader

The China beauty market is known to be powered by a love of hero products. China’s beauty super-consumers take to social platform Xiaohongshu to share their meticulously curated beauty regime—Crème de la Mer sitting alongside emerging brands like Augustinus Bader and 111Skin. Even mature brands use hero strategies—on Tmall, Shiseido’s top-selling SKU last month sold twice as much as their second most popular product. There are many reasons for the enduring draw of hero products, including some super catalysts for this trend that are unique to China.

First, China is the most competitive global beauty market, boasting 50% of total sales online, reduced barriers encouraging selling through cross-border e-commerce, and rapidly growing C-Beauty brands like Florasis and Colorkey. This translates into rapidly rising costs—some platforms have seen CPA around key retail moments up 120%+ year on year.

Second, digital channels are less scalable than advertising through Meta or Google in the West. Word-of-mouth channels such as Livestream have enormous influence, and top talent like Austin Li select less than 1% of products presented to them. Their selection is driven by success, measured in global sales, or evidence of potential, measured in marketing budget.

There are potential pitfalls to this environment, but they can be managed. Maintaining pricing is a challenge, and overdistribution can devalue the product. Conversely, understocking sacrifices hard-won momentum and threatens profitability. Both can be mitigated with proactive monitoring and a strictly enforced channel strategy.

Quickly and accurately identifying your heroes is the first step. This needs to consider your own data and global strategy, alongside market fit and scoping the competition. Next is building the marketing plan, of which wide and deep product seeding is a core pillar.

As brands mature in China they can diversify their heroes, and leverage this to broaden their range. The right channel strategy accelerates this; for example, leveraging trusted audiences of newness-loving social commerce channels, whose GMV grew to more than USD $360bn in 2020.

Emerging trends like mono-brand regime kits may loosen the grip of heroes over time, but for now, picking a hero is the supercharger for China success.