Why the 'Millennial' Concept Fails in China

    China's millennials can be divided into "post-80s" and "post-90s" generations, and the groups have different attitudes and spending habits.
    Photo: Tom Wang / Shutterstock
    Yiling PanAuthor
      Published   in Consumer

    By now we're all pretty familiar with many of the stated habits of the so-called "millennials." They do most of their buying on their smartphones, they have a global mindset, they're more likely to engage with posts by their friends than they are posts by brands, and they're not influenced by advertising.

    While that may help us to better understand young people in the West, when brands are trying to appeal to millennials in China, according to a report recently released by the marketing consulting firm Kantar Media, they need to take a more specific approach.

    The rapidly-changing nature of this demographic makes the "millennial" concept fall short of fully describing the generation born between 1981 and 2000. Kantar's study shows that despite being born within this twenty-year period, people of that generation can have wildly different spending habits and attitudes.

    The report first examines the validity of the concept of the millennial, which is a term that is widely accepted in the developed nations and broadly used by luxury brands when trying to understand the same age group (and its spending habits) in China.

    However, in China, there's a different vocabulary to describe different segments of this age group. People born after 1980 and before 1990, are referred to as the "post-80s generation." Likewise, people born in the next decade, after 1990, are referred to as the "post-90s generation." Comparatively speaking, the term "millennial generation," is much less well-known or used among the Chinese.

    The findings on the search index for WeChat, the country's top social media platform, further confirm Kantar's findings. From the week starting July 27, there were only 5,588 searches for the term "millennial generation." In contrast, the terms "post-80s generation" and "post-90s generation" were searched 2,822,944 times and 6,306, 251 times, respectively.

    "Millennial generation" is still a valid term in China, according to Kantar Media, as the "post-80s" and "post-90s" generations share many of the attitudes, cultural norms and values of that group. But their consumption behaviors vary in a number of ways that require brands to treat them differently.

    Even though both the "post-80s" and "post-90s" generations were born after China opened up the economic reform in 1978 and grew up in a social and economic environment that is more prosperous and brand conscious than that of previous generations, the"post-90s" has a much lower level of brand loyalty than the "post-80s," according to Kantar.

    In addition, the report also indicates that the "post-80s" generation is more willing to pay for original brands for the reason that originality can fulfill the need of self-expression. The "post-90s," on the other hand, show less appreciation for original labels and how they can inspire self-expression.

    Based on their different financial status, the level of sensitivity to discounts is also quite different. The "post-80s" group, which are, in general, more financially advanced and stable than the "post-90s," care more about the quality and images of the brands, than the discounts they offer.

    These two groups also demonstrate differing needs when it comes to their shopping environment. The "post-80s" consumers spend most of their time shopping online since they're busy with work and family. But the "post-90s" consumers tend to like going to physical stores which offer them an in-store shopping experience that they can't get through e-commerce.

    Discover more
    Daily BriefAnalysis, news, and insights delivered to your inbox.