An invitation to rethink the demographics of Chinese consumers


China is home to nearly 1.5 billion people.

I don’t think the scale or scope of a “billion” is something any of us can easily understand – in any context. My mind is a bit confused if I even try to imagine something small and mundane in such numbers (eg pencil, refrigerator, pillow).

Over a billion people? For those of us who live and work in the heart of China, this can still be a breathtaking thought. And yet, it’s a scale that still seems rarely discussed outside of China.

The myth of the monolith

As one of the world’s largest economies, China has been a key priority for much of the global business community for several years now. There is no shortage of resources, articles, interviews, analysis and more on the subject of connecting with Chinese demographics.

However, I have often found that such resources still speak of China almost as a form of a monolith – as if a consumer living in Guangzhou and another living in Harbin, although they live thousands of miles apart. on the other, they both behave in the same way. .

It is not difficult to unwrap some of the thought behind such assumptions.

Chinese culture is strongly focused on the ideas of unity and cohesion. And, from a purely practical standpoint, it will never be easy for anyone to categorize information when it comes to urban populations exceeding those of many countries.

(Going back to my example from Guangzhou-Harbin, we are discussing two cities with comparable population sizes, respectively, the Netherlands and Belgium.)

But, with the growing importance of China in the global economy and the tremendous advancements in analytical technologies in recent years, we no longer need to think of China as a billion. identical people. As never before, our companies and communicators are able to fully understand and appreciate the many different people and attitudes in the Chinese market.

Through the Beijing 2022 goal

Nowhere is this clearer than by looking at the diverse and layered fandom emerging in anticipation of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Since September, our teams have closely monitored and analyzed consumer behavior around Beijing 2022, revealing a story of remarkable complexity. On a general and fundamental level, the Chinese public has a very different relationship with the Olympic phenomenon compared to the rest of the world.

Outside of China, the Olympics are supported by an older audience and fight the enthusiasm of the younger generations. Inside China? Olympic interest is skyrocketing, driven by millennials and millennials.

But again, we are talking about the Chinese audience as one size fits all. In fact, our researchers have so far identified six distinct audience categories, just under the “China Winter Olympics fans,” all with their own unique characteristics and behaviors.

Bulls, butterflies and more

For convenience (and to add a little creativity), our teams have given each of these audiences its own animal identity: bulls, wolves, bees, butterflies, cranes and eagles. Each animal speaks to the unique priorities of the audience in question.

Eagles, for example? These fans are watching very closely how brands engage in the Winter Olympics. As the Games draw closer, the Eagles will become more and more enthusiastic and jump into the proceedings for stronger bonds.

But the bees? These fans are thrilled with all aspects of the Games. They will enthusiastically swarm and buzz about everything from the Torch Relay and individual events to the Closing Ceremonies and Olympic mascots. For any brand looking to really take advantage of the exciting buzz of the Games, bees are essential.

Names can sound cute. (And, I’ll admit, we maybe got a little too zealous with puns.) But each category was developed through rigorous analysis and data collection, using a proprietary processing algorithm. natural language to facilitate research.

So while our analysts remain prepared for the evolving conclusions, this data undeniably reinforces our central thesis: there is not a single Chinese audience. Our little menagerie does not even take into account these Chinese audiences who remain indifferent to the next Games.

In the end, we were never faced with a monolithic audience – but over a billion different people, with lives, loves, likes, dislikes, hobbies, passions, different backgrounds. To borrow from sports legend Muhammad Ali, some of us can float like butterflies – others can sting like bees!

The beauty of understanding

The business benefit of better understanding of the public has never been so intimately understood as in our high-speed era of changing tastes and trends.

By exposing the complex differences between Chinese audiences for the Winter Olympics, we can build more effective schedules, plan more ambitious campaigns, and connect more deeply with a wider range of consumers.

But beyond the business or communication benefits, there is also a cultural advantage to our pursuit of better understanding. After all, understanding is at the heart of the best relationships and the most supportive communities.

I hope that by sharing research and ideas, we can help our peers, colleagues and friends around the world better understand, celebrate, and connect with the many different people in China – all 1.5 billion (or, technically , 1.447 billion) of us!

Corbin Hsieh is Managing Director of Weber Shandwick China.

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