Navigating ‘she economy’ marketing in China

    Women contribute over $30 trillion in global consumer spending. How can brands win them over in China?
    Photo: Neiwai
    Queena ZhangContributor
      Published   in Consumer

    This story was translated from a Chinese article published on Jing Daily’s WeChat channel

    Women currently contribute over $30 trillion in global consumer spending, according to a survey by global consumer data company Rwazi. This figure is expected to rise to $40 trillion by 2030, underscoring the impact of women’s purchasing power on companies’ bottom lines.

    Given this growing influence, brands in China have altered their International Women’s Day marketing strategies over the last two years. Rather than solely using labels like “Queen’s Day (女王节)” or “Goddess Day (女神节),” brands are now addressing gender equality to challenge stereotypes about women and garner broader recognition from female consumers.

    However, Chinese women are not a monolith. In addition to being highly discerning consumers, they have varied demands and preferences, which makes brand marketing increasingly challenging. Brands that aim to establish a genuine connection with this audience will need to honor this diversity.

    Storytelling from a womans POV#

    From skincare to daily essentials, clothing to lingerie, more players are employing “she economy” marketing in China. Amid increasing competition, how can brands stand out with their women-centric campaigns?

    During this year’s International Women’s Day, American fashion brand Brooks Brothers collaborated with Wonderland magazine to initiate a dialogue themed “WoMen, Right Time.” The brand invited 13th-generation inheritor of Chen’s taichi tradition Liu Xingqi, Chinese stunt flying instructor Wang Zhaohuacheng, and former Chinese women’s soccer team captain Pu Wei to serve as examples of confident, highly accomplished women in a new era.

    Brooks Brothers releases its “WoMen, Right Time” campaign on WeChat. Photo: Brooks Brothers
    Brooks Brothers releases its “WoMen, Right Time” campaign on WeChat. Photo: Brooks Brothers

    By spotlighting three different fields, the campaign demonstrates the brand’s respect for the varied identities and career paths of women. Moreover, Brooks Brothers’ approach conveys to female consumers a brand attitude that transcends age and gender constraints, capturing the current zeitgeist.

    Another brand in the mix is the global e-commerce fashion platform Net-A-Porter. The company’s art charity project “Incredible Female Artist Award” provides support and exposure for female artists. This year, the platform partnered with culture magazine T China and invited actress Shu Qi to jointly launch the annual chapter titled “Women, Incredible,” inspiring women not to be denied or defined.

    Chinese lifestyle brand Neiwai also recently launched its “In Her Place” program, a platform dedicated to empowering female creators to break through the constraints of society, family, and self in order to forge new narratives and possibilities. In its inaugural chapter, Neiwai collaborated with Chinese artist Ma Lingli on “Refracted Chorus,” an art installation that reimagines static portrayals of the female form using silk as a canvas.

    Neiwai hosts an art installation in Shanghai with Ma Lingli for International Women’s Day. Photo: Neiwai
    Neiwai hosts an art installation in Shanghai with Ma Lingli for International Women’s Day. Photo: Neiwai

    Each of these marketing campaigns stands out as they magnify women’s strengths and offer support through different avenues of empowerment.

    Challenges of ‘she’ marketing#

    Due to the complexity of changing gender issues and societal perceptions, female-centric marketing can have its challenges. In today’s public discourse, gender topics can trigger heightened sensitivity, while the complex nature of the subject matter can also make messaging tricky.

    In this regard, global high-end skincare brand SK-II sets a good example. The brand has long maintained its focus on women’s issues, and its series of women-centered short films have quickly gained traction on social media platforms.

    Last year, SK-II produced the industry’s first interactive movie Life, My Choice, presenting 16 scenarios that lead to four different life outcomes, empowering viewers to bravely face life and forge their own paths.

    This year, the brand continues in the same vein, releasing its latest film Why Women No Longer Conceal Themselves - telling the story of five women as they learn to embrace their bare skin as they age. It’s evident that the brand insists on showcasing ordinary women’s stories, exploring their inner struggles and sensitivities, and guiding them on a journey of self-awakening and acceptance.

    SK-II shares the story of five women embracing their true selves. Photo: SK-II
    SK-II shares the story of five women embracing their true selves. Photo: SK-II

    Evolving consumer preferences#

    Behind the rise of the “she economy" is the gradually improving social status of women in China.

    According to the “2022 Gen-Z Women’s Insights Report” released by the MOB Research Institute, more than 50 percent of this consumer group has a disposable monthly income exceeding RMB 3,000 ($415), indicating a continuing growth trend.

    China’s Gen Z female consumers tend to prioritize their own needs and lifestyle choices and have a higher consumption potential. Furthermore, their preferences are shifting towards interactive shopping experiences and social consumption scenes, as outlined in the “Seeing ‘She’ Power: 2023 Trends in Chinese Women's Online Consumption” report released by Digital 100, Quantitative Calculation, and Huijun Consulting.

    At the same time, their consumption behavior is greatly influenced by the overall economic environment. According to an Insights Report on Female Consumption Power, female consumers are becoming more rational in their purchases and demanding more in terms of product quality. In other words, they are no longer easily swayed by brands.

    Faced with the changing demands, values, and preferences of women, businesses should respond flexibly. For example, in 2023, Aesop presented its inaugural Women’s Library at its signature store in Shanghai during Women’s Day. Simultaneously, the brand launched book-sharing sessions and podcasts, initiating offline discussions on female literature in the digital age. This quiet yet powerful marketing strategy enriches consumers’ offline experiences while earning Aesop widespread acclaim.

    As women play a pivotal role in driving the economy, they should be a central focus in brand innovation and marketing strategies. Their diverse needs and increasing purchasing power will continue to shape China’s development.

    For businesses, staying abreast of the times and gaining a deep understanding of female consumer preferences in China will be essential for the success of “she economy" marketing initiatives.

    Additional reporting by Janice Li

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