Losing control is probably the best thing that has happened to world’s leading skin care brand SK-II in the Chinese market.

According to China Daily, its classic essence is called “miracle water” by Chinese consumers online. Its whitening essence is known as “a little light bulb,” and its mask is called the “ex-boyfriend mask.”

But the effect of the nicknames on consumers has been phenomenal, helping to make P&G’s high-end skin care products a success story in 2018, according to a report by Kantar Worldpanel China.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to let go of the control that has contributed to that success,” said Sandeep Seth, chief executive officer of SK-II Global.

“We can’t control everything because the brand is as much owned by our consumers as us. You let the consumers decide what the brand stands for and you accept it. That’s how you relate. Five years back, a brand would never allow that to happen.

“But today, we are open and receptive to what the consumers have to say because we belong to them,” Seth said.

SK-II has rolled out a series of measures to engage with younger generations of consumers through art exhibitions and retail enhancement with the support of digital technology, the report said.

In November, SK-II launched an art show Power of Pitera featuring a collection of art works telling the story of its iconic essence Pitera, which is a naturally derived liquid from the yeast fermentation process.

SK-II’s global ambassador, Chinese actress Tang Wei, unveiled a giant photograph of her by renowned photographer Zhong Lin, which forms the center piece of the show. With a bold and sincere closeup of Tang’s face, the art work aims to showcase the transformation to clear skin that millions of women have experienced with Pitera.

Asked what makes the younger generation the focus of the campaign, Seth said:

“The younger generation always defines how everyone sees the world. I mean, the general belief is older generations influence younger generations, but in reality, it’s the younger generations that influence everyone.

“So, how can we as a brand understand the younger generation and how can we stay connected to them? We strive to understand consumers and to change with the generations, while staying consistent at our core.”

Seth, who has an engineering background, says technology plays a big role in people’s lives. Hence, a lot of the work they’ve done is to make shoppers feel they are in control. So they don’t feel like they’re being pushed to buy a product, but able to make the right choice with the right information.

“All our lives today, from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, are driven by some form of technology. We are always interacting. But it is important not to use technology for the sake of it, but use it to make consumers’ lives easier.

“We started with our communications and advertising in a lot of traditional media and moved to fully digital media. On the retail side, we’ve brought a lot of technology into the store to create a seamless shopping experience — a ‘phygital’ environment.

“Chinese consumers are some of the most discerning consumers in the world,” he added. “They are the ‘now’ generation — they want everything now. So, as a brand, to succeed here, you really have to be able to communicate with the Chinese consumers in real time.”

Whether you are a big brand or a small brand, Seth says there is room for everyone.

“So, it doesn’t matter whether you’re niche, small or big. As long as you can be a human brand, as long as you have a core purpose that resonates with consumers, they will not see you as big or small, they will see you as another brand with whom they can align.”

Data from Daxue Consulting seems to confirm this. Sales volume of the Chinese skin care market reached US$26.5 billion, representing 50% of the total cosmetic market’s sales revenues in 2017 – twice as much as the world average.

Skincare products in China are seen as essentials among Chinese women. In 2017, the sales volume of skincare products in China amounted to 50% of all sales in the Chinese cosmetics market.

The willingness to invest more money into better quality and, therefore, more premium products has considerably increased, the report said. Spending more money also goes along with sharpening product knowledge to ensure they choose the option that best fits their expectations.