“We’re defining a new industry.”
So said Wen Zhong, general manager of Taobao’s E-commerce Content Division, who took the stage at the Taobao Livestreaming Gala on March 30 to outline the company’s ambitious “Village Broadcasting Plan” 村播计划 (Huanqiu Tech), which promises to turn China’s farmers into a new breed of content creators:
“According to the announcement, [Taobao will] train 1,000 live-streaming program hosts from across 100 rural counties, using the hosted show-and-tell format to help promote agricultural products.”
The way Alibaba frames it, the plan is multi-functional, combining e-commerce, popular content trends, poverty alleviation and rural revitalization:
“We hope that Taobao Live-streaming can truly empower local villagers, and foster rural internet celebrities, allowing them to rely on their own abilities to achieve wealth. At the same time, agricultural products will also reach consumers in a more vivid and intuitive way, with live-streaming as the fastest and more convenient shortcut to poverty alleviation through technology.”
Some context: Poverty alleviation and rural revitalization are top priorities for China’s government (see Trivium’s February 12 Tip Sheet). So it’s interesting, but not surprising, to see China’s big tech companies bringing unique commercial solutions to these policy issues.
Taobao’s move has been a long time coming. Alibaba, Taobao’s parent company, has spent the last five years attacking rural e-commerce on three main fronts:
- Fulfillment: Alibaba’s logistics wing Cainiao has focused on providing fast delivery of goods to and from remote areas.
- Rural Taobao: This program is a suite of initiatives and digital tools that assist rural residents in running shopfronts on the Taobao platform.
- Video content: Over the course of the past year, Taobao’s various marketplaces have broadcast over 150,000 live streams featuring agricultural products.
All three prongs of that strategy have been relatively effective. As of mid-2018, Cainiao and the Rural Taobao initiative covered 700 counties with over 30,000 service centers, and the growing presence of rural live-streaming in e-commerce marketplaces has given birth to a whole new type of KOL. “Village Influencers” 淘宝乡红 use China’s various short-video streaming platforms – like Kuaishou and Taobao Live – to promote their products and connect with consumers.
Village Influencers: Alleviating consumer trust issues
Case in point is Shang Yukang, a young chicken farmer from Gansu province who began live-streaming on a friend’s recommendation after attempts to advertise his struggling farm via WeChat met with little success. According to branding blog Pingwest, Shang now has over 400,000 fans, and business is on the up. He accredits his success to the direct connection video creates between agricultural producers and buyers, particularly in a market rife with distrust after years of food safety scandals (Pingwest):
- Shang Yukang believes, [his success] is because his fans can see the actual environment in which the chickens are raised, they can see that they’re not raised in pens, that they’re really free-range, and so they choose to trust him, and buy from him.
- Now, 30% of his hens, and 90% of his eggs are sold through [short video platform] Kuaishou.
Given the power to connect a rural farmer to almost half a million potential customers, it’s no wonder Taobao’s Wen Zhong sees such promise in the Village Broadcasting Plan.