“China has its own gravitational pull,” said Ken Mandel, founder, JAM Ventures while defining the Chinese market and its consumers at the recently held second edition of Festival of Media Asia 2013. During the event, the industry experts whether from a brand, a media house, or an agency, all sang the same song when it came to China – that the consumers need a special treatment which is different from rest of the APAC region.
“China is becoming modern, internationalised, but not westernised. Stability is very important to the Chinese, where family and responsibility take precedence. In the Chinese society, the person is not individualised, he or she does not stand alone, independent of his responsibility to family and society,” explained Tom Doctoroff, CEO, APAC, JWT, giving us an understanding of the consumer that makes the market in the country.
There is also the emergence of the middle class with more spending power, who love to spend on luxury. More and more, luxury brands and products play an integral role in Chinese lifestyle. This is because owning such products demonstrates progress, shows the owner to be a connoisseur of good things in life. It is important because here personal expression is limited and often ruled by the codes of the society, so owing a high end product defines the owner without flouting the norms.
In fact this uber consciousness about luxury has led brands like Diageo, and Haagen Daaz to put major focus. The high end ice cream brand has over 550 parlours across the country. Meanwhile Diageo has opened not one but two Johnnie Walker House in Shanghai and in Beijing. The House provides consumers with bespoke experiences to immerse themselves into the world of whisky and Johnnie Walker. James Thompson, chief marketing officer, Asia Pacific, Diageo said that with China poised to become the world’s most powerful market for luxury goods the Johnnie Walker House serves to meet consumer demand for luxury with substance. “To focus on this market we actually transformed the product line and involved the influencers like the bloggers in luxury space,” he added. In fact the second Johnnie Walker house was in response to the demand from Chinese consumers for in-depth knowledge, not only of the specific luxury brands they indulge in, but also of the broader categories the brands fall under.
This growing consumerism and brand consciousness is driven by the internet and social media. “Internet is changing China. It is more than a communication system in a scene where personal expression is limited. This makes self-expression easier,” added Doctoroff. That is why in the digital space in China you find so many bloggers and social media enthusiasts in the online space constantly sharing their brand experiences.
“Chinese also have a fear of missing out that is why mobile and social play a big role in their lives,” said Alex Cheng, VP, Baidu. This is also the reason why there are over 135 million interactions daily over Sina Weibo. “We find users from tier 1 and tier 2 cities involved in majority of the interactions. The crowd is mostly young adults and 85 percent of them are looking for product news, new products, and brand information. We have found that 66 percent of the social media users in China want to hear from brands over this channel,” said Ken Hong, general manager, Weibo marketing strategy, Sina Weibo.
So we find that not just consumer goods brands but even car brands like Volkswagen taking the social route to engage the consumers. Volkswagen refreshed its brand image as the people’s car in China over social media by starting and engaging in a brand conversation. “It was important for us to give relevancy to the Chinese crowd as the people’s car, so we took to the social media platform. We initiated the People’s Car project which called on to the consumers to design, talk, and imagine the car they wanted,” said Paul Hu, MD, Volkswagen China.
So when focussing on China, brands not only need to drive traffic to their sites and social media platform, but also should start relevant conversations that get the consumers talking, and turn your fans to your brand enthusiasts, and then convert them into buyers. “Products and brands are means to an end for the people in China, the benefits need to be externalised which shows advancement in life while remaining true to the old world traditions,” explained Doctoroff. Once that engagement happens, selling becomes easier in China.