Is Jiepang another ‘shanzhai’ (mountain bandit – the term refers to mass produced copycat products in China) application similar to Foursquare in China?
Even the creator sort of admitted it. According to several interviews from David Liu, founder and CEO of this new six-month-old startup, told the press Jiepang is the answer to Foursquare in China. I pointed out ‘another’ because besides Jiepang, there are already at least 30 other Foursquare-like LBS (location-based service) applications in China.
Yes, competition is stiff. However, within the first six months, Jiepang (literally means ‘street side’ in Chinese) has become the most popular or at least most high profile LBS application in the country. As of data provided in Dec 2010, Jiepang has over 230,000 users in China, a relatively small population for the China market. However, given the fact that over 50 percent of its members are iPhone or Android smartphone users in addition to a 20 percent average monthly growth, the potential of reaching this group of affluent mass in China is profound.
After China, Jiepang has also rolled out its services in Hong Kong and Taiwan recently. Though we all know mobile apps enthusiasts in the Chinese community are impatient to wait for the arrival of a localised Foursquare, simply being a copycat in a local language won’t lead Jiepang to success. The secret to Jiepang’s eventual success in China, in my opinion, is based upon two key factors.
1. Jiepang understands Chinese culture
Right from the beginning, Jiepang has compiled a comprehensive directory of cafés and restaurants in most major cities in China that made instant relevance with local consumers.
Why cafés and restaurants? There is a famous Chinese saying, ‘Food is the God of the people’. Chinese people not only consider food as their primary want but also love to show off their latest ‘discoveries. Catalysed by the norm of social networks, this grassroots’ connoisseur of cuisines has become a nationwide phenomenon in the Chinese society.
Visiting a local restaurant in China, you can easily spot some Chinese customers enthusiastically taking photos of the cuisines and posting it on their microblogs via their handsets. As a foreigner, you might find it a culture shock. To locals, broadcasting about the great cuisines they are enjoying is a new way of self-actualisation. So it’s no surprise that Jiepang just added a photo-sharing function before Christmas (just like what Foursquare did around the same period), in preparing for the high traffic eating out season.
2. Jiepang does not shy from being commercial
While maintaining the interest level amongst users can still be a challenge to most existing LBS applications, Jiepang actively works with various merchants to convert its members’ check-in activities into incentives.
One of the latest partnerships is the Starbucks promotion for Christmas. At the 190 Starbucks stores in East China, the coffee chain will give away collectable Christmas gifts for customers who have collected the required virtual badges via Jiepang. It’s a fun promotion with a nice touch for the brand’s seasonal special offer rather than a ‘brainless’ check-in for free coffee.
Just providing the convenience to check-in at cafés and restaurant is not enough, Jiepang is also strategically engaging with various international brands. HTC is one of its long term and earliest partners. Big names such as Nike, adidas, Zippos, Smart car, HP, and Dell are also on the list. In addition, checking-in high profile commercial events and engaging with celebrities within a certain time period is another way to gain exposure for Jiepang.
What’s Next for Jiepang?
Jiepang’s user interface still has lots of room for improvement. In fact, its iPhone app (a Web app written in HTML5 code) looks even a bit amateur. However, I am still optimistic as it had a strong start within the first six months.
In the beginning of 2011, I summarised the following areas that Jiepang and marketers should focus on for the coming year.
Be concise: Promotional messages I have seen on Jiepang so far are probably written by clients. The copywriting are mostly long and boring. Hiring professional copywriters or a creative should easily fix this.
Be precise: While user-generated content is the key to growth, nevertheless, it doesn’t mean you should just leave it as it is. Creating new locations seems too easy on Jiepang (yet the precise address has to be filled manually, a huge drawback). I have seen there are many duplicated and sloppy entries. Regular housekeeping should be done before accumulating too much junk.
Be original: Simply taking references from others might help for building the foundation. In the long run, if Jiepang seriously wants to gain more respect in the market (you might argue that consumers won’t care), I expect to see more innovative developments rather than staying as a me-too company.
Be open: Jiepang has done a good job in connecting with most of the popular social networking platforms. It would be even better if the company can offer open API for developers to integrate or data-visualise Jiepang services with other applications, websites, or even portals.
As there is still no sign that Foursquare will enter the Chinese market (primarily China) in the foreseeable future, Jiepang is probably the best alternative available.
For marketers, LBS will be a not-to-be-missed area to explore in 2011 because the smartphone market will continue to boom within the region. For retailers, Jiepang can also be considered a potential mobile channel to engage inbound customers from other cities.
Although Jiepang is still at its incubation period and its customer base is still relatively small, this startup already took some wise steps to market its brand by creating relevant local content and actively engaging with numerous big brands. If your company believes in first mover advantage, just go ahead to test drive it while Jiepang is still the new kid on the block. You might regret if one day they become big in your city.