Alibaba’s Taobao Maker Festival evolves into roadshow, online exhibition amid the pandemic

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The Taobao Maker Festival featured a new hybrid online-offline virtual experience on its fifth anniversary.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Living up to its name, the Taobao Maker Festival (TMF) of the Alibaba Group is innovating ways to promote the app’s young entrepreneurs, designers, and creatives amid these challenging times.

On its fifth year, the usually jam-packed TMF has hit the road on July 30 with a double-decker truck converted into mobile storefronts. The 20-day road trip will traverse four cities — Hangzhou, Chengdu, Xi’an, and Wuhan — allowing dozens of merchants to display their products in each city and meet their fans while following safety protocols. At each stop, Taobao, China’s biggest online marketplace, and selected makers will hold mini offline events that draw on each city’s unique culture and heritage.

The Taobao Maker Festival Caravan went on a road trip to visit four Chinese cities, starting with Hangzhou, followed by Xi’an, Chengdu and Wuhan.

Hybrid offline-online experience

TMF will also live stream the road show throughout the month to online audiences around the country. This will be complemented with an immersive 3D simulation of the exhibition on the Taobao mobile app on Aug. 10-14. Powered by Taobao Life, a 3D avatar-based virtual world, the app’s users can visit a six-themed online pavilion using their unique avatar, interacting with the virtual figures of what they call the app’s “New Blood.” Fans can explore the booths of more than 150 featured merchants spread across the “kingdoms” of technology, fashion, anime and games, food, cultural heritage, and novel designs and curiosities.

Chris Tung, Chief Marketing Officer of Alibaba Group, said that Taobao has upgraded its popular TMF awards into a rating system that will provide China’s most talented and entrepreneurial young minds with a year of brand exposure and marketing resources.

“Young makers are shaping the future and leading the way,” said Chris Tung, chief marketing officer of Alibaba Group, in an online press conference. “They are tech innovators, fashion designers, and gadget makers who come to Taobao to launch their stores, to introduce what they stand for, and to make friends. It goes beyond a buy-and-sell relationship. Our makers are creating communities and telling stories.”

Digital tools for the ‘New Blood’

Launched in 2016, Taobao Maker Festival is the annual culmination of Taobao’s advocacy of championing idea creators, emerging brands, and young entrepreneurs. The mobile app has introduced various rich-media formats and digital tools to help these makers connect with millions of consumers.

For one, the aforementioned Taobao Live, its live streaming channel has been proven a hit among the merchants to communicate with their customers amid the lockdown. This is on top of Weitao – a social media platform on Taobao – that allows merchants to publish short-form videos and microblogs to build a following.

The Taobao Maker Festival Caravan was transformed into a mobile exhibition hall. The caravan departed from Hangzhou and traveled to Chengdu, Xi'an and Wuhan to display selected goods featured in the Taobao Maker Festival 2020.

“It was a no-brainer for me to launch my business on Taobao because it is so simple to get started,” said Wu Qiuqiao, owner of a Taobao store that specializes in heritage-inspired pet costumes. “This is also the go-to platform for me and many other young Chinese consumers in terms of shopping, showcasing our lifestyles, and interacting with one another,” she added.

Wu, who is among one of the young makers participating in this year’s Taobao Maker Festival, shared that the app’s dedicated merchant-support team and extensive online tutorials helped her gain 16,000 followers in just one year of business.

GRAF, another merchant creator of the Taobao Maker Festival 2020, introduced original new works during the press conference. He encouraged young entrepreneurs to make use of Taobao when starting their business. “If you’re a college student, it won’t cost that much. Take the chance. Somebody gonna give you a chance,” said GRAF, who now has two million followers after being a merchant on the app for seven years.

New Maker Rating Experience

Chris Tung, Chief Marketing Officer of Alibaba Group (second from left) and merchant creators (first and second from right) at the Taobao Maker Festival 2020 press conference.

To help support merchants like Wu and GRAF, Taobao has also upgraded its popular TMF awards into a rating system that will provide year-long brand exposure and marketing resources to China’s most talented and entrepreneurial young minds.

A panel of industry experts will review and rate all the TMF merchants that have participated over the past five years. The four-tiered rating system will reward digital badges to approximately 200 merchants. This will allow them to be included under the personalized product recommendation feature “Good Find” section on the Taobao app.

“The new rating system promotes and celebrates originality and creativity. It will enable merchants to leverage their participation in the Taobao Maker Festival into a source of year-round benefit for growing their business and customers,” said Tung. “This is an initiative driven by our longstanding goal of helping small businesses and young makers to achieve their dreams and find success.”