China’s Youth Measured as Human Beings. Not Just Consumers

Thursday, May 21, 2009 10:13
Posted in category Going to Market

Recently found an excellent report from China Youthology called China’s Youth Trends and Business Implications where the authors took an approach I have yet to see through others in measuring the youth market here:

Different from many consumer trends report, we understand the youth as ‘human beings’, rather than merely as consumers and shoppers. In order to understand them as human beings, we believe in a holistic approach that accounts for social changes, especially in an environment as fast changing and complicated as the China market.

It is a lens that as I was reading through the report proved refreshing, and where many like to either look at how spoiled China’s Post 80s kids are, this report does an excellent job of showing that there is another side to “China”.

At the same time, when putting forward their 5 trends, I also like the approach of showing that while their data reflects a trend, there are nuances to each trend. They recognize that context is everything, and that while they see “a” trend, there are clearly other parallel trends occurring.

Trend 1: From ‘Little Emperors’ to A ‘Bird Nest Generation’: Making Small Differences by Social Participation
For some, there will be a natural reaction that will immediately cause your eyes to role back into your head while uttering “yeah right, yet I encourage you to maintain focus.  That whether through volunteering at the Beijing Games, donating to the Sichuan Earthquake, or harnessing the power of the internet, today’s youth are beginning to understand and experiment with a new role.

That of a socially responsible citizen.

It was a role that was traditionally heavily manage and influenced by others, namely the State, but with this change will come a need for firms to also make changes

1) CSR will be come under scrutiny – Corporations must become responsible citizens
2) Small and continuous actions in daily life (Stop talking, Prove it) – NO MORE GREENWASHING
3) Get it Louder through Communities – Localize community efforts

Trend 2: From ‘Globalization’ to ‘Post-Globalized Chinese’: Growing Confidence in Identity
Closely aligned with the Nationalistic movement in China, this section deals with the fact that there is a movement (a feeling) away from the belief that Western is better.  That, for some of China’s youth, as Starbucks and McDonald’s expand their presence in Chia, they equate that to a lose of Chinese culture.  A feeling I have had expressed, and can empathize with, on multiple occasions through conversations with friends.

It is a movement that probably peaked with Anti-CNN, but going forward it carries some real impacts (Carrefour can testify to that):

1) Local brands have started to gain ‘Cool Mind Share’ – Local artists, musicians, and writers are tapping the vein of discontent at a much higher rate than anything “western”
2) True Connection through Resonance of Collective Memories – Perhaps Hello Kitty is better positioned than Barbie?
3) Localization with Context Awareness

Trend 3: From ‘Cool’ to ‘Geeky’: Deep-ization of Hobbies and Empowerment of Communities
Whether through an internet chat room, QQ, or another medium, China’s youth are finding new ways to come together, share experiences, and identify with others in the electronic rhelm.  It is a trend that we have seen in Japan and Korea before it, and as with China’s internet population being the largest in the world it should not come as a complete surprise that this trend exists:

1) Marketers need to understand 2 types of Geeks – Category Geeks and Cultural Geeks
2) ‘Great products’ Engross Category Geeks – Can you say iPhone?
3) Build Blood Connections by Engaging and Empowering Cultural Geeks

In short, this community in its broadest terms, is really no different than what you would find in other markets.  Geeks are geeks regardless of geography, and considering most geeks are trading cyber real estate before physical real estate, geography may not be the proper terms anyway.

Trend 4: From ‘Fun-Seeking’ to ‘Creativity- Seeking’: Remarkonomy
In short.  What they found was that there was no shortage of low hanging fruit or disposable eye candy in the market.  what they found was that in trying to attract the mass market, and in playing to the lowest common denominator, brands were missing the market. That consumes were looking for an experience that was memorable, and replicable.

It is a trend that the researchers found 14 nuances (Everyday  life trifles, Non-consumerism – organic, Kidult, Handmade, Inconvenience, Fragility, TEchy, Social conscience, Chinese Chic,Collective Memory, Hitting the Road, Sarcasm and Spoofing, Sensuality, and violence) for, but only 2 business implications:

1) ‘Designy’ everything – every element of the product (incl. packaing and display) are important to the sale.
2) Crowdsourcing to meet the long tail needs

Trend 5: From ‘Indulgence’ to ‘Sustainability’: Pains of Modernity and Risk Awareness

While the youth enjoy the ‘fruits’ of modern life, they’ve also started to feel the ‘pains of modernity’ at the same time: the polluted environment, the growing incidence of diseases in younger age, the severe issues of food safety, and now the economic crisis. They have realized and experienced the many risks in the society and in their life, and they aspire a life and world that is more sustainable.

Perhaps the trend that I am most active in, apart from #1, it has been amazing to see just how the issues of global warming’s primary inputs (population, water scarcity/ pollution, and air pollution) are beginning to really resonate with China’s population (not only its youth).  It is true that progress is much needed, however one of the last key steps before large gains are made is that China’s citizens will grow educated and empowered to address China’s environmental and socetal issues.

It will occur online through outing pollution firms and offline through voluntary service, but more importantly for businesses it will mean:

1) Knowledge marketing – Consumers are getting smarter, and firms need to understand and respect that
2) Sustainable Products – Firms need to begin “greening” their products

In the end, this was one of the more interesting reports as it focused on some of the good that exists in China’s consumers.  So often, the brands are playing to the “consumer” in every citizen, but where this report is different is that it fundamentally recognizes that China is not a land of conusmers on a credit card high.   That firms need to make adjustments.

To download the report, and read for yourself, you can click here.

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3 Responses to “China’s Youth Measured as Human Beings. Not Just Consumers”

  1. China’s Youth, Typical Tourists, Expat Blues, Education, & USA! | CNReviews says:

    May 22nd, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    […] about a month ago but I only ran across it through a recent review of the report by Rich at All Roads Lead to China. For those of you who complained about me linking to the electronic police state […]

  2. China Youth: profiled as humans, not consumers « Futures Group says:

    May 23rd, 2009 at 12:19 am

    […] from All Roads Lead to China did a quick summary here, which I’m reproducing in part […]