2 False Starts to Kobe’s China Game

2 early fumbles to Kobe's China Game

The rich and famous are very different from us. They have more money. And fame. Besides that, they tend to make the same mistakes as the rest of us, only on a larger scale. For those of us marketing to China, let Kobe’s early fumbles demonstrate.

 1. He Didn’t Stay a Free Agent

Kobe has formally declared allegiance to Alibaba, the emperor of ecommerce. But Jack Ma is a Lao Tzu-style, laissez-faire emperor. His koan for those seeking Tmall success– “We are a platform.”

That means the 99.9999999% of us who don’t enjoy a golden cult of personality get no help with marketing, or even logistics from the emperor. The cleverest and best funded among us profit. The masses stay in the commercial peasantry, and celestial harmony is maintained.

No spite here, Kobe, just an admonition that the emperor’s special favor is a dubious honor.

You see, China’s Internet comprises 3 kingdoms, and by becoming Alibaba’s grand courtier, you have declared yourself against the rival kingdoms: Baidu, which controls information, and Tencent, realm of social media.

But wait – Alibaba and Sina will help you with your own social media platform? In that case, your Mandarin word for today is “Lai Wang” (Don’t say it around Jack!) As for Sina – Weibo sucks, Kobe. Maybe not for you personally, who will enjoy a lot of attention there. But you’re basically going to be Meryl Streep slumming at the Golden Globes.

In a nutshell, you’re leaving a lot of  opportunity on the table by freezing out Tencent and WeChat, champ.

WeChat should actually be your hub for sharing content and building brand, which leads to the next false start:

 2. Not Keeping It About the Fans

Why will Chinese fans have to pay 8RMB to watch your documentary, Muse, when those of us outside the firewall (or with a VPN) can watch it on Youtube for free?

We can guess. Muse will be available exclusively on Tmall’s “Magic Box”, Alibaba’s bold but misguided attempt to commercialize entertainment.

How the heck do we know it’s “misguided”, you may ask.

We’ve got enough legal constraints in this country, Kobe, without being locked into Alibaba’s version of iTunes. Remember, this is the land of jail-broken phones. No one out of earshot from Jack or his board believes streaming content will be willingly paid for on a large scale, rather than ripped and shared P2P for free.

 But that’s Alibaba: online commerce, first and last. Are you sure that’s the best play for you, though?

Let’s look at this from your Chinese fans’ perspective. Your early press releases trumpet your official entry into the China game via an ecommerce channel, with products yet to be decided.

 In the meantime, we can pay 8 kuai to watch Muse. We can look forward to having to leave WeChat to visit your upcoming personal social media platform in order to “connect to Kobe and his philosophies.”

We have a few philosophers of our own over here, Kobe. We were kind of hoping for some exclusive footage and messaging, maybe an exhibition game. We’ll buy your products, for sure, but telling us you’re here to sell and philosophize, selling just what TBD, is not the high-flying form we love you for.

 Are you sure you don’t want to just play ball with existing platforms, and let Alibaba be grateful for the business if and when you decide to sell through their site, as well as on JD and WeChat?

Put it another way: why must Alibaba’s bottom line rest on your broad shoulders? Tmall and Sina are no dream team for China success. Repeat after Jack, “Just a platform…just a platform….”

 And as for being in a Chinese partner’s pocket, hopefully it’s not too late to consider Alan Iverson’s cautionary tale.


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