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What Do the Chinese Really Want?

Posted on July 17, 2012 and read 2,900 times

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photo of Qin Guo What Do the Chinese Really Want? Qin Guo
Brand Strategist
BSUR Shanghai

This is probably a question with an answer as straight as the circuitous Great Wall. My family is a good example of the Chinese middle class and each of us wants very different things. Thanks to the economic reform and opening-up policy in 1978, life experience over the past 30 years has made each of us now appreciate one lifestyle over another. Just like we say 萝卜白菜,各有所爱 (luó bo bái cài, gè yǒu suǒ ài) – someone likes carrots but some other like cabbages – each person has his own individual taste.

A Chinese core family usually includes three generations: grandparents, parents and a child. Although urbanized families do not have all members living under one roof like it used to be, life still centers around the elders and young in the family; providing for them are the key drivers for parents to work hard in China. Speaking of consumption, my generation (born in the 1980’s) is the best link between the past and current China. We grew up in a far more stable environment than previous generations, experienced the time when our life started to change, and also developed an understanding of new changes towards a modern future.

This Generation: Fitting In and Standing Out

As many global marketers have pointed out, Chinese consumers are increasingly modern and international. We certainly enjoy the flavor of this lifestyle and we are willing to spend more on anything related to our quality of life. Fashionable brands and foreign products are widely popular, but it is not as though people would blindly buy Western brands or recklessly chase luxury symbols. Speaking from my experience, we mostly want to be seen as savvy shoppers who are looking for quality at a good price. In other terms, although young consumers are less bound by tradition and they crave fashionable and famous brands, they are generally still circumscribed by our traditional Chinese values and beliefs, such as balancing quality, price, and utility.

Apple products are extremely desirable in China, not only because it is trendy and people who can afford to buy can prove their financial strength, but largely because they are quality and user-friendly products. A Hi-tech icon evokes a lifestyle that people want to have. After all the balancing measures, people believe these are the products worth buying and maintain good value for their money.

In comparison to the consumption style that my grandparents and parents have, the current marketplace of this generation is much more exciting and dynamic. There is a diversified lifestyle and different levels of demand for consumption, as we see the range of consumer goods has reached new high. It is interesting to look at where we come from, and gives an insight of where we will be going.

Grandma Says…

In the first 50 years of her life there were hardly any consumer goods; people worked hard just to have enough food and clothing. The concept of “lifestyle” was not exactly in people’s stream of consciousness. Now my parents provide all her needs and still she only asks for the basics of living – no fancy electronics, jewelry, chocolate or dessert. She often says 知足常乐 (zhī zú cháng lè), “content is better than riches.” Indeed, these days she enjoys her elderly life while everything around her is just modest and minimal. However, our new generation is distinctively happy to see there are more and more things becoming available to them.

Listen to the Parents

My father is very grateful for China’s economic reform and he says that he is very fortunate to have been built a new life. My parents are strong believers in the idea that you must give to get, and sow the seed before you can reap the harvest. They do have some strong purchasing power now, however, they do not buy more than what they really need and their lifestyle is very practical and utility-driven. I feel there is a lack of guidance in terms of consumption, which has led to their reserved manner of buying. They hardly use the Internet or mobile devices for information exchange purposes. Their knowledge of brands is mostly from the environment, word of mouth, television, and billboards on the street. China is a society with collective characteristics; people are conscience of their daily dos and don’ts based on shared traits and circumstances. This gives an understanding why consumer behavior here is status driven. People buy a brand because it can be easily recognized and acknowledged by others, and this especially applies to the lifestyle or luxury end consumption.

New Perspective

Nowadays, parents in China are exceptionally generous when it comes to their children’s education and giving them opportunities to have a better material life. Parents want their kids to have the things they could not have when they were young. What we see now is that young Chinese not only have money, they have their own perspective on how to spend money. This group is dramatically different from other age groups in China in terms of habits, lifestyle and ideology. They tend to be less tradition-bound and are quicker to accept and create new environment.

We Are All Individuals Now

Basically, young Chinese consumers are the most active, energetic, and influential members of China’s booming economy. This consumer group defines China’s new consumption patterns in taste and spending, and is attracting new opportunities to target and meet their needs. In the next decade, increasingly distinguished individual characteristics and lifestyle patterns can lead to an ever more diversified demand of consumption. Young people who were born in the 1990’s and later will make this marketplace very interesting. They never knew life during the Mao period and are the first to be raised in a more westernized fashion. We marketers need to observe with a good level of Chinese sophistication: what makes them tick and what makes them stick?

whatdo What Do the Chinese Really Want?

A Chinese fashion brand employed a very popular pop idol to endorse a statement “New Fashion, I Decide”. The brand is targeting young Chinese consumers age between 18-35, who love a fast rhythm of living, freedom and cool style.






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