Chinese millennials took center stage at the recent M20/20 Summit in London, via a live stream designed to offer luxury brands the chance to chat in real time to the world’s fastest-growing market. Qumin, the UK’s largest Chinese digital marketing agency, hosted the live stream, which was broadcast on big screens at the conference. With the tagline “One question could change your brand’s destiny”, the first of its kind event promised to deliver unprecedented access to a select focus group of young Chinese consumers. The live stream was the brainchild of Qumin Creative Director Lee Figueira.
As consumers born after 1980 already account for over 20 percent of luxury sales in China, international brands are desperate to get their piece of the pie. But brands are understandably cautious, with giants as big as Nike and Vivienne Westwood guilty of huge blunders in the past, and traditional Western marketing strategies seemingly bound to fail in China’s constantly evolving market. Jing Daily spoke to Qumin CEO Arnold Ma about how international brands can more effectively reach elusive Chinese millennials.
Why is now the right time for foreign brands to target Chinese millennials?
Last year we were the only people here talking about Chinese millennials and now there’s a whole conference track on Breaking China. Now is the right time to launch a live stream like this because everyone’s talking about Chinese millennials. But there’s a lot of misconceptions about them, where they live, what they do, what they like to buy. The live stream offers brands the opportunity to hear thoughts straight from the horse’s mouth.
We want to help by debunking some of the myths of the Chinese millennial, starting with the idea that they’re hard to reach and understand.
What are some of the other misconceptions foreign brands have about Chinese millennials?
The big one is that they’re all the same; they all have the same opinion and care about the same thing. Even branding to millennials so often comes across as patronising — a 15 year old could have the same views and buying habits as a 30 year old, and a 30 year old could act a lot more like a 15 year old. It’s important brands recognise the power this market has, and that they respect that.
We hear a lot about the speed of the Chinese market, and how for many international brands it’s hard to keep up. What’s your advice?
Firstly, we do hear a lot about how the generation is rapidly changing. We categorise these people into generations and then sub-generations and now we even have new names for Chinese millennials born every five years. It’s crazy. But what international companies have to consider is the idea that the industrial revolution — that in the West took over 100 years — took place in just 20 years in China. I think this has made people in China in general far more open to change, and less likely to stand by old ideas and values. People are often scared of this change, but Chinese millennials are not.
For example, Chinese attitudes to changing technology are so much more receptive; attitudes in general are a lot more receptive to change. It’s not the generation that’s constantly changing, but the technology and ideas around them. In China, they’ve completely skipped certain technologies — no millennials ever really liked using card payment; they skipped almost straight from cash to WeChat and Alipay. Similarly, television didn’t evolve in the same way; families went from not having a TV to streaming everything online. I think it’s this receptive attitude that businesses should be focusing on, rather than the idea that Chinese millennials are frantically changing.
With regards to luxury purchasing power, how do Chinese millennials differ from their peers in US, Europe and beyond?
What I think people don’t realize is that Chinese people are amazing at saving. My parent’s generation would save and save, so now China has a lot of liquidity that has been built up over the last 20 years by the parents of millennials. Now for those younger people, spending on that liquidity is growing and growing. They have a massive amount of purchasing power. This is the most important market in the world right now.
And why do these young consumers choose to spend their money on luxury items?
For me, I believe it’s all about the very Chinese idea of face. It’s about building up a persona and demonstrating status to others — you have something that no one else has. This exclusivity is super important for foreign brands to realise. Chinese millennials can demonstrate their status with the purchase of a luxury item, be it clothes or beauty, handbags or jewellery. In the West, young people are more likely to spend their money on travel, experiences — things that give them something instant. Chinese millennials will save up for a long time for a particular purchase. They’re resilient in what they want.