The hottest new craze in Shanghai, a two-hour queue for tea with …

It’s just before 11am and the queuing time for the latest craze to reach Shanghai is running at two hours. At this shopping mall adjacent to People’s Square, near the city centre, a crowd of mostly young people are revelling in their shared experience.
Far from being frustrated at the long line, most are joking with each other, taking selfies and cataloguing the occasion on WeChat, China’s ubiquitous social media service. They are queuing at length for what is no more than a cup of iced, green tea, with dollop of whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles on top.
“It’s just normal tea,” says one of the security guards hired for crowd control.
But like most of these trends, which break out periodically across China, the frenzy around local brand Hey Tea is less about the product and more about the experience and ability to tell others about it. And lining up is all part of that experience.
For foreign firms looking to make it in China, the lessons from these queues according to Tanner, is to recognise the importance of having an effective WeChat campaign, but also moving quickly in step with the ever-evolving tastes of Chinese consumers.
“Starbucks have done this really well while KFC have fallen well behind,” he says.
Tanner says Starbucks recognised WeChat early and have continued with this marketing strategy, while regularly changing shop formats to meet the changing expectations of consumers – the US chain’s latest campaign is built around sending your friends and family a free coffee via WeChat.
“KFC on the other hand are stuck in 2012,” he says. “They were the pin-up kid for localising menus while keeping the American sense to the product, but they have not moved on since then.”
The idea of a brand life-cycle spanning just five years in China years would be a frightening prospect for many foreign firms, but it also suggests the likes of Hey Tea and Kiss the Tiramisu will need to employ more than a few packaging gimmicks to sustain their buzz over the longer term.
“The Chinese consumer is so much more confident these days making their own choices about what they like,” says Tanner, “but they also know what is good value rather than something just being expensive.”

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