Ever since China opened it’s doors for business in the late 70s, change has been flowing in a rate that is unprecedented in anywhere else on earth. This rapid change has caused Chinese consumers to experience an enormous economic and cultural transformation, that shape how they see themselves, their place in the world and the way they consume brands.
In this article we will go through some of these changes together and focus on what foreign companies should be aware of when trying to reach out to the Chinese market.
Slow down. Too much change is not always welcome
You might think that a country like China, which boasts cities like Shanghai and Beijing, would have a never ending apatite for change. In the land where skyscrapers pop out of the ground as fast as weeds in a garden and whole Metropolis seem to materialize out of thin air, change has become something something too ordinary to be special.
A recent study has shown that 61% of Mainlanders don’t want things to change, which might suggest that they are happy. Ten years ago this number was a little bit shy of 40%, resulting in a 20% shift in the way about how people feel about their lives. This is definitely an amazing result given the short time span of only a decade.
This result might be especially interesting for entrepreneurs trying to conquer the Chinese Home & Decor market, for instance. Neglecting change and the tendency to take things a little slower might suggest that people are starting to spend more time within their immediate family or circle of friends, which in turn could mean a boost for home improvement products. This leads us right into our second market tendency: the home.
Home has become the modern oasis
As China steps up as major global power, the demands needed to power this growth get transferred down the hierarchy from government to corporate and right down to the employee. As a result of this, people are having to deal with unprecedented amounts of stress in the office. Since stepping out of the office and into a crowd does very little to ease stress, a lot of Chinese consumers are discovering the joys of spending more time at home as opposed to going out.
Another factor that has contributed to this tendency is the wider availability of home decoration chains like IKEA and the overall improvement of the Chinese home. Everywhere in large cities, luxury compounds are being built to welcome the ever growing Chinese middle and upper classes. Since the show of one’s financial success is something positive in China, these new wealthier individuals don’t just want the cars and the jewels, they also want the home to match.
It is also interesting to note, that despite of China’s growing economy, prices are in the rise. Most Chinese consumers enjoy inviting friends and relatives to restaurants for long nights of drinking and eating around the lazy susan, in which occasion the host is expected to foot the bill. With cost of living sky-rocketing, the price of such gentleness has become much higher than in past years. This is also definitely something, which is contributing to people actually spending more time in their homes.
Brands who want to gain an edge in this new scenario must figure out ways to sell and interact with their customers in such a confined environment.
Earning money equals pride
Being rich and successful in China nowadays is the dream of every young man or woman. In the past, it sufficed to just be rich through whatever means: inheritance, marriage, corruption or luck. Lately, however, the will of younger generations to make it on their own, independently of what their parents did or did not achieve is growing day by day. People don’t just want to have the money anymore; they want to feel that they earned it and that they have made it through the struggle. Being successful and making their parents proud is, without doubt, a fire that burns secretly inside every young Chinese.
Understanding this new way of looking at wealth can also give your brand an edge, specially if you are looking to sell to younger generations. You might want to setup your ad campaign to impersonate the young and poor worker, who has come to the city and conquered it all. Or perhaps, you may want to associate your product with the image of the “poor little rich kid”, who has left the comfort of his parent behind to take on a world of adventure, risk and eventually success.
Travel & Adventure
In all the previous tendencies we have seen how a vast economic change has influenced the way Chinese consumers go about organizing their lives and how they are most likely to spend their time and money. Another huge tendency shift is now taking place in the field of travel. Every year more and more Chinese are venturing abroad and they are becoming the top dollar spenders in many renowned tourist destinations. It is not at all uncommon for large department stores throughout Europe and North America to hire Chinese speaking staff in order to reel in this new growing wave of Chinese shoppers.
In the past, if you asked any Chinese where they wanted to go, they would always reply: Paris, London, New York and so on. They weren’t even so sure what they would see there, but they knew they wanted to go. It was enough to just go, take a few pictures to show off to their friends, buy bags full of goods and fly back to China.
Recently, for most Chinese travelling abroad, it is much more about how you get there and what you do when you are there. They seem to become increasingly interested in living an adventure during their trip and building a long lasting memory. In short, it’s not about having a 5-star holiday anymore, it’s about having a great holiday. This is definitely good news for Western tourism industry, since they have just gained a whole new massive group of consumers for their culinary tours, wine tasting tours, spas & wellness vacations and so on.
If you are in the tourism business, this might just be the chance you were waiting for in order to boost your client list. You may want to do some research about things that appeal to Chinese like, for example, food and maybe come up with a range of adventure tours that end each day with a banquet. They also enjoy cooking very much and are proud of their cooking skills, so another great idea would be to end a particular tour with a cooking competitions during the evening. Make sure you send them back home with the feeling that they truly experienced everything that they possibly could.
Less is more
As foreign luxury brands rush into China in great hordes, the Chinese consumer is finding themselves overwhelmed by the huge amount of information being thrown at them. In the past, they have bought foreign brands just for their prestige or as a symbol of social status, but now they are tending to actually build relationships with the brand. For the new Chinese consumer, it is becoming increasingly important to know a brand’s history and the reason why they should be buying it. Brand “philosophy” is something that is making good progress in China and has chosen social media as it’s propagation method of choice.
As a marketer, you want to make sure that your brand establishes a one-to-one relationship with it’s Chinese customers, causing them to believe that your product is a part of their everyday life as opposed to something they just acquired. This will certainly strengthen the bond between your product and it’s target audience, creating a down to earth and long lasting relationship between both. So instead of being loud, your Chinese advertisement campaign should also try to just whisper. Instead of bombarding them with advertisements, you should really just try to earn a spot in their Weibo or WeChat friend’s list.
Think micro. Think social
In the past, Western brands have done everything they could in order to reach their Chinese audience, and by “everything” I mean “EVERYTHING”. It is not at all uncommon to see foreign brands advertising their products through massive TV advertisements or gigantic outdoor posters spread all around China. The funny thing is that having been in China on several occasions and having lived there for a short time, I am always very much amazed to see how much time the Chinese spend looking down at their mobile phones. They do it all the time and everywhere: while they are walking, watching TV or waiting for the metro and meanwhile all those huge public ads are hanging there unnoticed. It is almost as if a giant had lost it’s voice and stands there screaming, but no one can hear a single squeak.
If you are aiming to get through to Chinese market consumers, you must understand the way they are currently communicating with one another and where are they going to find entertainment. Your brand should invest a part of it’s time and resources to understanding how Chinese social media works and how you can use it to propagate your message. Create solid and viral campaigns that can be easily shared through channels like Sina Weibo, WeChat and Youku. If necessary, make use of the tendencies I discussed above as inspiration for creating great online videos or banners that appeal to your target audience and can be easily spread online.
I hope this quick overview of the new Chinese market has been useful. Please feel free to read my other articles on China here.