How to build an international business through the power of influence
UNSW Business School Professor of Practice Tim Harcourt speaks with Access Corporate Group co-founder and chief brand officer Livia Wang about brands, consumers and the international power of influence in building a successful business
When Livia Wang came to Australia to study a Master’s in Public Relations in 2008, little did she know she would end up running a successful international company that today exports more than 100 brands to over 10 million consumers around the world.
When the concept of “daigou” emerged in Australia (a Chinese term which literally means to buy on behalf of) Ms Wang watched on and observed how many students and tourists bought, packaged and shipped Australian products to China. That’s when she saw an opportunity to improve the process and capitalise on an opportunity.
In 2017, Ms Wang and three business partners founded Access Corporate Group, an innovative brand management and distribution business. With over 2000 staff globally and offices in Australia, New Zealand and China, Access Corporate Group’s GMV (Gross Merchandising Value) is now doubling every year. For example, for the Singles Day 2020 sale alone, Access achieved sales with GMV of $210 million.
Access Corporate Group’s business model is proving highly successful – even in the face of significant challenges that 2020 presented. Her efforts once earned her the title “daigou queen”, and today, as co-founder and chief brand officer of Access Corporate Group, she has become known more for her brand acumen and says modern consumers are hungry for new products and are constantly seeking knowledge on a global scale.
How the idea of “influence” led to a new business model
The secret to the success of Access Corporate Group is influence. “Daigou are all about influence but more than merely posting a picture on Instagram we saw them recommending and selling products and saw how well this worked,” says Ms Wang.
She and her co-founders took this approach and built a new business model around it, taking the influence of individuals to scale by giving resellers the tools, training and technology to power their own marketing efforts, and identify and develop the right brands to appeal to their consumers. The result is a complete brand ecosystem, and because the distance between the brand and the consumer is much shorter, it makes it possible to use data and insights to develop, test and refine products more quickly and responsively than ever before.
“Originally, for many Australian brands, it was a different way to reach consumers and tap into the Chinese market, but we have always wanted success for our brands at home, in China and now we can see ourselves taking this idea globally.”
Healthcare products and brands such as Blackmores have long been very popular among the Chinese middle-class demographic, as they value health and wellbeing and trust the quality of Australian products but consumers are always looking to discover fresh, exciting new ways to enhance their lives. Ms Wang says this is the reason Access Corporate Group has focused on identifying, developing, incubating and nurturing premium health, lifestyle and beauty brands that people are happy to use as part of everyday life.
“Consumers are very demanding, and their increasingly sophisticated behaviours will push for better quality, better design, better style or better ways of doing things. They get bored, and this will force brands to advance in manufacturing and technology to fulfill consumer needs,” she says.
“The image of a clean and green product and the quality of Australian products have been very well-received from consumers in China. But I think Chinese consumers are very demanding. They will start to push other brands to start producing better products,” says Ms Wang. Access Corporate Group has acquired and invested in more than 20 brands while marketing and distributing 80 others including Napoleon Perdis, Vida Glow and Lovekins, as well as various wine labels such as Robert Oatley Wines, Paulett Wines, Burge Family Wines and Vandenberg.
Leveraging resellers and influencing consumers through 2020
Ms Wang says the world changed in 2020 from a number of important perspectives: “It's not about China and Australia and the world economy. It's about how consumers’ behaviours have been formed a different way, with markedly different attitudes and behaviours.” Australian exporters are also being forced to become more creative and innovative.
Access Corporate Group launched its own proprietary reseller management system in 2017, which also helped future-proof the company through the ups and downs of COVID-19. This system is also a platform for the company’s extensive education reseller programs, which cover everything from running a business to supply chain management that encompasses manufacturing, warehousing and logistics.
Education has been a key element in furthering the success of Access Corporate Group, which currently has 60,000 individual resellers (known internally as “solopreneurs” or “ConsuMerchants”) and has sold to more than 10 million consumers in the past 12 months alone. With so many brands, products and categories, making sure resellers are given the tools and knowledge they need is critical.
“Our resellers operate as individual businesses,” says Ms Wang. “We provide comprehensive training and coaching – everything from how to apply make-up to meal preparation and more, as well as marketing content for our brands, and advice on running a small business.” An app also aims to help shoppers and brands get to know one another better.
Diversifying to minimise risk
2021 will undoubtedly continue to be unpredictable and challenging but Ms Wang says the way leaders face challenges is more important than being reactive to change. “External challenges and threats are beyond our control whether you like it or not. But what we can do is change our attitude towards them,” she says.
"You need to diversify to minimise risks and prepare for the worst. For example, we know we can’t rely on only one market. And we knew we had to go digital and if we didn’t have that ‘practical paranoia’ I think it would be a pretty dangerous space. So today we can reach out to 50, 60, 100 million shoppers with different brand offerings globally,” says Ms Wang.
It is important to remember that factors such as COVID or natural disasters are a threat but they are beyond our control, so it is important for businesses to prepare themselves and their people to be resilient and think differently. “This may require a lot of energy from corporations to change the way they engage with their consumers, but I believe it will be worth it for them,” she says.