I'm still riding a high from Forrester's first ever event in China two weeks ago on March 20th entitled "Winning The Dynamic Digital Consumer In China" (#ForrForum). Approximately 200 marketing, eCommerce, and strategy executives, along with a fantastic cadre of leading agencies and marketing technology vendors, participated in the event. Via myriad content, networking, and business development conversations, it's clear that both the challenges and opportunities to engage, market to, sell to, and serve the Chinese consumer are considerable.

I've spent the last few days reflecting on my key takeaways from the event, and wanted to summarize them for you below.

1.     In China, we have already entered the "age of the customer." Prior to arriving in China at the beginning of 2012, I believed that only a select few Western firms were beginning to realize that previous sources of competitive advantage, such as manufacturing, distribution, and investment in information-centric products and services, were commoditized, and that the only true source of competitive advantage is knowledge of and real-time engagement with customers. The keynotes at the event, and specifically Thibault Villet, CEO of Glamour Sales China, showed me that I was wrong — some leading companies are already leading the charge locally by investing their time, energy, and budget into four priority areas: 1) real-time customer intelligence; 2) customer experience and customer service; 3) sales channels that deliver customer intelligence; and 4) useful content and interactive marketing. The Chinese market is evolving faster than imagined. Marketing and strategy executives hoping to win in China better do the same if they want to build sustainable competitive advantage in this market. 

2.     New marketing (and commerce) ecosystems demand changes to people, processes, and technology. Nate Elliott, in his speech "How Digital Should Power Your Chinese Marketing Ecosystem," argued that it is time for digital marketing to play a much larger role across the four stages of the customer life cycle; Discover, Explore, Buy, and Engage. Further, he proposed that marketers should use "Reach" channels such as the Internet and TVC to support the Discover stage, "Depth" channels such as the physical store to support the Explore and Buy stages, and "Relationship" channels such as SNS to support the Engage stage. Together, these Reach and Depth and Relationship (RaDaR) efforts will better support the life cycle and, ultimately, your marketing efforts in China (and elsewhere). My biggest takeaway however was that marketers should start organizing their marketing programs, budget, and teams by these same Reach and Depth and Relationship areas. Fascinating.      

3.     eCommerce in China has plenty of room to improve. During their presentation "The Path To Digital Commerce Success: Creating An Offering That Drives Transactions In China," Zia Daniell Wigder and Kelland Willis highlighted four areas where brands in China fall woefully short of delivering profitable eCommerce experiences. Probably my biggest surprise is that brands are not capitalizing on the social nature of online shoppers in China. In a market where 96% of metropolitan Chinese consumers are active on some form of social media, and 85% are the most advanced social users (what Forrester calls "Creators"), brands need to do a much better job of integrating social components and user-generated content. Enabling customer ratings and reviews is especially critical given the massive amount of content that Chinese users contribute. Have you done this at your company? 

4.     Authenticity, trust, and credibility remain concerns. One of the barriers to eCommerce/eBusiness adoption in any market is the real (or perceived) online privacy and security of customers. We've seen this in the evolution of eCommerce markets globally, and it is certainly true here in China's still budding market. Executives across the board, but especially those from luxury goods companies, expressed their desire to reassure customers, convey authenticity, and ensure the customer experience is representative of their overall brand. We didn't spend enough time on this topic at the event, but we will be sure to incorporate this into our planned research for the second half of 2013. Please let us know if you have specific interest in this area.

For those of you who attended the event this year, thank you for your support — I'd welcome any other thoughts or feedback you have. For those who wish to attend next year, mark your calendars, as we've already selected March 19th in Shanghai at the same venue (Le Meridien)! Stay tuned for more details, and until then, please do reach out to me at astockwell@forrester.com with any questions. Cheers!