Brands Struggle To Connect With China’s “Post-90s” Generation

Next Generation Of Big Spenders In China Remain Elusive

Brands are finding that one generation's celebrities, references and buying habits don't directly translate to another's in China

Though China’s “post-90s” consumers — those born after 1990 — are the country’s future big spenders, brands are finding it difficult to connect with the nebulous new demographic, causing a rethink about long-term marketing strategies. For some, particularly domestic Chinese brands, that are strongly linked to the 1980s — among them the sportswear maker Li Ning — the emergence of the post-90s generation as a consumer class is causing headaches, with references and selling points often falling flat. From China Daily:

Marketing experts and advertising executives agree that they need to think outside the traditional mode to come up with ideas to court the post-1990s consumers who are not easily persuaded by the big-name stars used in the majority of ads for fashion, cosmetics, food and beverages. They are also exploring different ways to deliver their messages to post-1990s potential customers, resulting in a gradual shift in favor of online ads from the traditional channels. Xu Jin, chief executive officer of the advertising company Lowe and Partners Beijing, said the post-1990s are “hard to please.”

Nonetheless, pleasing them is essential because the stakes are high for vendors at a time when this generation is beginning to join the job market. They started graduating from universities this year. Generally, they are educated better than consumers from previous generations. They are also more exposed to consumerism and feel more confident about the future than their predecessors, helping to lessen any propensity to save.

“The post-1990s are a group of young people hard to comprehend or interpret. We cannot use a single word to define this generation. However, they will become the pillar of China in the next 10 or 15 years.

Therefore, companies, brand researchers and interactive research companies should try to figure out the current trend,” said Xu of Lowe and Partners.

Though their spending power is dwarfed by their older peers, clearly the post-90s generation — with its more global mindset, comfort with consumerism and relatively free-spending nature — is an opportunity for higher-end brands as well as mass-market labels. But, aside from the usual recommendations like a greater social media presence and tailored messages and references that connect with a younger Chinese audience, what should brands know? For one thing, according to Su Tong of Hylink Advertising, you won’t reach the post-90s group in a major way via television ads. Said Su, “Traditional media such as TV is now called ‘media for the aged.’ The Internet has become irreplaceable for people between the ages of 18 and 40, those with the biggest purchasing power in the future. In this sense, online advertising is exerting an incomparable influence on these people.”

Burberry's digital efforts have been extremely successful in China

This has become particularly true as top-tier markets like Beijing and Shanghai have become inundated with luxury flagships and malls, yet younger consumers have turned increasingly to online sources to learn more about brands, shop (via high-end e-commerce sites) and engage with brands via Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo, Foursquare-like network Jiepang, and Youtube-like video site Youku. In this way, the post-80s and post-90s generations in China are very similar, in that digital — rather than print or television — advertising exerts an outsize influence on their purchasing decisions. But whereas consumers born in the 1980s are more established and often self-sufficient, major purchases by the post-90s generation are regularly made with the help of parents and grandparents. According to one survey of post-90s consumption completed last year, nearly one-third of young Chinese consumers said they made decisions about major purchases, including houses and cars, with their parents, and 63.5 percent had credit cards.

This point has not been lost of luxury brands, which are now spending far more on digital marketing in the China market. As luxury industry analyst Michel Gutsatz told China Daily, “Luxury brands moved to online advertising almost two years ago…diversifying their communication channels because they know their customer base is growing and has different ways of receiving information including digital and TV and, now, mobile.”

Gutsatz’s last point is interesting because — unlike digital marketing via platforms like Weibo — the mobile space is still a fairly new one for higher-end brands in China to reach younger consumers. While we don’t expect to see major luxury brands move into this space in a significant way, keeping their efforts locked mostly into social media and (still) in print in China, once the post-90s generation fully “comes of age” as a buyer base, clearly brands will need to make adjustments to the message as well as the medium.


Marketing, Retail, Tech