This is a guest post by Jerry Clode were he talks about how the Chinese consumer is redefining what it means to be a consumer. Find out more about Jerry at the end of the article or click on the link to view his LinkedIn profile. This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.
The Chinese Consumer will Perfect the American Dream
In the last few weeks, I have had the pleasure of interviewing two different groups of Chinese consumers at their homes – Chinese families about toys, and Chinese VIPs about luxury.
What stood out for me is how both groups talked about their pasts, current life and future expectations primarily in the context of consumptive and branded experiences. For local Mums and Dads they projected this vicariously through their child’s lives as well.
What I believe I was hearing is a clear expression of a Chinese Consumer Culture, something in the making for a few decades, but it seems it has finally formed coherence.
But such a world shaping development does not occur in a vacuum. The Chinese government has consciously placed consumption at the forefront of a fundamental shift of the economy. In what President Xi terms “the new normal”, China will move from a nation that manufactures to one that consumes and innovates.
China’s shift mirrors the emergence of consumer culture in post-war America – a period where Americans quite literally learnt to “consume”, as individuals and as families.
The richness of post-war America’s consumerism is projected and immortalized by the popular culture of the period. However it feels this golden era may just have been beta-testing for the real consumer revolution that is now occurring in China.
If asked to design a perfect consumer, I believe the blueprint would closely approximate contemporary Chinese citizens.
The first positive characteristic is a widely held belief structure based on Confucianism that advocates an intense form of “keeping up with the Jones'”, creating the necessity to actualize through consumption. Fitting in is achieved by tapping into specific and acknowledged patterns of consumption.
This sets up a number of exemplary expectations that people feel they must live up to. Marriage, promotion, wealth, business connections, happiness are therefore increasingly built on your ability to consume the right items.
To make the perfect consumers more perfect, we would also ask for a technological environment that supports instantaneous purchase. In this context, the e-commerce and social media revolution in China are quite simply adding fuel to an already blazing fire.
However, the long held dream that Chinese consumers are becoming just like those in “the West”, is exactly that, a dream. This consumer revolution is very much 2.0, borrowing somewhat from the post-war American precedent, but largely taking on a unique Chinese form.
Just as the American dream was deeply American, so too will the Chinese dream be indelibly Chinese.
It can be argued that consumerism is becoming a defining attribute of Chinese expression and identity. For example, Chinese tourists abroad proudly identify with the stereotype that they are the most extravagant purchasers of luxury goods. At home, the rise of local technology brands such as Tencent and Alibaba are proudly celebrated, precisely because they embody a specifically Chinese form of consumption that demands smarter, faster, and more interactive solutions than elsewhere.
But the most critical factor to ensuring China will deliver the next wave of consumerist culture is precisely the fact that the Chinese state has established it as part of the “new normal” and more widely as integral to the “Chinese dream”. Put simply, national stability and prosperity, is based on Chinese citizen’s ability to consume consistently as part of an entrenched lifestyle.
This will certainly change the world but is it good for your brand? Only if you take Chinese consumerism as a distinct cultural phenomena will you be able to connect in a differentiated and meaningful way with local consumers. Let me explain more in this next post 😉
About the Author
Jerry Clode is a Market Researcher currently based in Shanghai. He has extensive knowledge on marketing in BIC countries (China, India, and Brazil). His market research has given him a unique insight into cultural aspects that allow him to create compelling marketing campaigns and strategies for MNCs looking to expand overseas. He is also fluent in Mandarin and Portuguese, along with his native language English.
FOOTNOTE – He is currently looking for his next position.
What can he offer?
1) World’s first BIC expert, yes, he knows China, India and Brazil, like no one else
2) Leading exponent of Cultural Insight
3) Qual Specialist who can moderate in Mandarin and Portuguese, and New Zealand English
4) Expert in immersive and filmographic (consumer film) techniques
5) Over 90% successful pitch record over career
6) He simply loves research, and believes it is should be inspirational
7) Team building, train a team naturally through day-to-day example
8) One man PR team, he loves to write!
9) Senior client facing talent
10) Determination to innovate the way research is done!