Retail in Asia

In Telligence

How to become a market leader in China?

In the last four and a half years, we have seen Chinese cosmetic brand Perfect Diary rise from nothing to a new cosmetic beauty market leader in China. The brand successfully and effectively captured Gen Z’s attention and became the leader of online sales in cosmetics.

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How did it manage to do so?

The first ingredient was to understand its target market: the famous Gen Z everybody writes and talks about. This generation, as it is abundantly documented, is a generation that wants to explore the many possibilities beauty offers. It does not buy into the concept of a unique standardised vision of beauty that society sometimes tries to impose on women.

Perfect Diary understood this and delivered this message in the right tone to a younger target audience. Unlike Dove in China, it did not make serious militant campaigns promoting diversity in beauty with its global self-esteem concept. On the contrary, it made light, playful campaigns and collaborations with unexpected brands such as Discovery and the British Museum, the Met and so forth. Their approach was spot on, tapping on art and nature, two of Gen Z’s key interests.

Source: Perfect Diary

These collaborations were also the opportunity to launch new innovative trendy products such as the eye-shadow series for the Discovery Channel collaboration, which attracted attention and got people talking. The 12 shades eye-shadow palette inspired by wild animals played perfectly on the taste for uniqueness of the Gen Z target. It sold out on Tmall the day it launched and quickly became the category number one seller.

These collaborations for product launches are also the opportunity to nourish the image of a high-profile brand. A result of a series of events regularly organised every two to three months and combining creative themes and a very appealing spokesperson, generally males (a preference for this target group). Together with premium packaging, these collaborations allow Perfect Diary to sell itself as a brand with all the qualities of a hot premium brand, only five times cheaper than Estée Lauder or Lancôme. Price combined with a premium image is a key factor behind Perfect Diary’s success. Cutting margins is always an option in a highly profitable category.

Source: Perfect Diary

Another key reason for this success was the particular use of digital media. Perfect Diary is permanently present on the platforms where its target market gathers: Douyin, Bilibili, Weibo and Red.

Red was key. Rather than using top KOLs whose data and efficiency can be sometimes questionable, it chose to go for quantity and stickiness. Perfect Diary focused on medium-size KOLs, which often have a more loyal follower base and ordinary users to surround the consumer with notes. The conviction process was as follows: attract attention with a star colour and get KOLs and KOCs to test the colour to generate the will to buy, be it in an article or even better in a video. This is where the sale takes place these days. The buying process’s experience step is by far the most important in decision making, whether it be an experience in a physical store or a digital one.

Make-up tutorial videos on Bilibili complemented its presence on Red. Bilibili offers the advantage of being the favourite platform of Gen Z, with high fan loyalty and the ideal place for affordable brands. Perfect Diary leveraged Douyin with a combination of generic KOLs for brand exposure and smaller beauty and make-up KOLs for product evaluation, colour testing, and direct selling. This combination of KOLs allowed to build both the brand and stimulate sales in parallel.

The integration of e-commerce was also crucial. E-commerce is always embedded in any marketing action Perfect Diary undertakes. Almost all articles and videos drive traffic to an e-store, whether on WeChat, Douyin, Red or Weibo. Brand building and sales are constantly combined.

One last thing that became key as success started building up was the approach to the private domain. It is not a secret in China that the cost of marketing in the public domain (inside the platforms) is high. It is vital to channel public traffic into private traffic that is free (i.e. on the media that you own), such as an official WeChat account.

Perfect Diary
Source: Perfect Diary

Brands often make the mistake of spending a lot of money on advertising to recruit followers and try to convert them into buyers. Perfect Diary saw official accounts for what they are: tools to build loyalty and generate repurchasing. This is why it only focused on recruiting buyers from marketplaces by adding a promotion card with every purchase, incentivising them to join its official account with “lucky” money. This allowed Perfect Diary to recruit followers at a fairly low cost.

Nevertheless, another barrier needed to be lifted. WeChat official accounts show some limitations, and as years go by, consumers often lose interest in them as they are not personal enough and lack interactivity. Perfect Diary overcame that barrier by offering followers to follow the official account as well as a personal account called Xiaowanzi.

Xiaowanzi is a virtual imaginary KOC with a personality close to the Perfect Diary target: lively, positive, beautifully dressed and with many hobbies. Personal accounts have a reduced number of people and allow interactivity which allowed Perfect Diary to engage in a conversation with its customers in a friendly personal way. Xiaowanzi provides information on products, tips, customer service and exclusive promotions based on the group’s interests. Today Perfect Diary has hundreds of personal accounts with no more than 3,000 members, each managed by one person.

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To sum it up, seven ingredients were key in Perfect Diary’s success: a deep understanding of the Gen Z target market, an original positioning as a high-profile brand at a low price, buzz products and collaborations, clever use of digital media and KOLs all across the consumer journey and particularly during the experience phase where it matters most, a permanent integration of e-commerce and an innovative, cost-effective, interactive and personal approach of the private domain.


Sandrine Zerbib
Source: LinkedIn

Sandrine Zerbib

Over 25 years’ experience in consumer business in China, out of which the last seven years working on cracking the code of Chinese digital native millennials.

Sandrine Zerbib founded and is currently running a Shanghai based and China focused brand management and digital agency specialised in digital brand strategy, e-commerce operations and 360 marketing – from performance marketing to community management and event digitalisation. Most Full Jet clients are international fashion, lifestyle and sports labels, such as G-Star, Dr. Martens, Lacoste, TOMS, Brooks Running, Skechers, UGG, DeBeers and many others ( ). Early this year, Full Jet was acquired by Baozun, the undisputed e-commerce service provider in China.

Until mid-2007, Sandrine Zerbib was the President of adidas Greater China. She was appointed in the mid-1990s to create and develop the China business of adidas. She started and successfully developed the adidas business in China, from its naissance stage to its present market leading position.