In the digital world, the multitudes of data available from disparate sources are only valuable when they are synthesized to paint a single coherent picture. The all-important “single source of truth” can be hard to come by, but understanding and leveraging it should be the foremost goal of any company doing business in China and the Asia-Pacific Region at large. It’s not enough to have decisions be informed by data, they must be led by data. 

Having decisions be informed by data — like the one to enter the Chinese e-commerce market in the first place — is of course the appropriate starting point. Any diligent company would have done the necessary homework to understand the potential for growth as well as the potential pitfalls of tackling a brand new market. Additionally, the right analytics will certainly illustrate some of the particular nuances of the Chinese market and consumer, enough perhaps to gain a modest foothold in the Middle-Kingdom. 

But the most successful companies are those who lead with data; ones that use the China digital transformation to their benefit. That’s where long-term sustainability in the world’s largest e-commerce market comes from. 

So how does one take data from multiple-touch points and blend them together to build for the short, medium and long-term future? It starts by knowing where to look. Fashion and apparel manufacturers ought to pay close attention to the colours and sizes that sell well among Chinese consumers and those that take up shelf space. A crisp white t-shirt for working out might be a top-seller in North America, but in China, that may not resonate.

The Chinese consumer is not monolithic, however. While certain cultural taboos are well-worth paying attention to, attitudes are changing. Sales data can offer insight into such changes. If green pants have become a hot commodity according to the data, but green hats are selling poorly, brands must use this and relevant, corresponding information to lead their design, manufacturing and marketing efforts. Ultimately, that feedback loop needs to be closed and that information needs to be fed back into the product development process to really lead with data.

Fortunately, China’s digital transformation has not only allowed this kind of information to become available quickly, but decisions informed by it are able to be implemented with equal speed. 

The China digital transformation arguably takes its most obvious form in marketing and advertising. Gone are the days when a billboard or placard were the most sought after means of attracting attention towards a brand or product. Instead, mobile and digital advertising through channels like WeChat, Weibo, Tmall, Taobao Live and Douyin are where brands must fight to leave their mark and induce sales. Once again though, the data has already made it clear that that’s where companies need to advertise. So how then does one lead in the digital marketing space with data?

One way is to be plugged into whatever the next social media/digital platform to break the mould will be. One day there was no Douyin, and then there was. Companies that quickly understood the potential value of companies like Douyin were able to get in-front of a massive audience before their competitors were able to.

Another leverage point is using data to understand what types of advertisements work best. A/B testing allows brands to understand how long an ad should be, what kind of media should be featured, and — perhaps most importantly — which audience to target. This kind of valuable information let’s brands take measured risks with their advertising and marketing, and should embolden them to innovate. With it, the marketing funnel becomes wider and increases the likelihood someone will progress within it. But all could be for naught if data isn’t being used to lead decision making around logistics.

China has already overtaken the United States with regard to logistics. Whereas marketing and advertising might be the most visible touch-point for the China digital transformation, logistics is where it often displays the most tangible benefits. Analysts predict sub 12-hour shipping times will become the norm in the coming few years. And this norm is to be expected not just in China’s tier-1 and tier-2 urbanized cities, but across the entire massive country. Finding the efficiencies, preparing the infrastructure, and running the operations that will allow this sort of lightning quick logistics reality all rely heavily on data: where customers live; what sort of products customers buy in different parts of the country; and what sort of seasonality products have are all relevant data points when building and implementing a logistics strategy. 

Once the norm has been established, the burden falls on companies to figure out how to optimize their services within these new parameters. Improving tracking technology and notifications, streamlining returns, and overall customer service will be paramount to keeping up with the competition.

The information is out there. The spoils will go to those who know how to harness the information, turn it into tangible reality, and, ultimately, delight customers throughout their online and offline lives.