One in a Billion: China's Youth Yearn for Individuality
Almost from the moment Beijing won the rights to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, China has been in the global spotlight -- and the country's citizens have been bombarded with marketing campaigns focusing on the event and targeting a sense of national pride. The younger Chinese generations are of particular interest in these campaigns, one reason that Bergstrom Trends, a research firm looking to dispel misconceptions and educate marketers, recently conducted its first-ever study of that demographic's lifestyle.
"When we first came to China [about a year and a half ago], I saw the youth and the marketing that was directed towards them," founder Mary Bergstrom writes in the firm's report, entitled "The Birth of Individuality." The mission of her company, which is based in China, was to provide insight that would help marketers create better products and messages that might win favor among the country's younger consumers. The study surveyed and interviewed 100 Chinese between the ages of 15 and 25 -- an age range Bergstrom selected under the assumption that it comprises the period when Chinese start to exhibit (and have the spending power to act upon) brand preferences.
The report reveals that, unlike previous generations, today's Chinese youth are redefining what it means to be successful, cool, and beautiful. For decades, the Chinese population was raised to live according to the needs of the collective, and that way of thinking is apparent in older generations that grew up before and during the Cultural Revolution. Today's Chinese youth, however, are a different breed of consumer -- they're familiar with sophisticated marketing, exposed to a radically different level of foreign influence, and, most of all, have access (however limited) to the power of the Internet, according to the Bergstrom Trends report. (Along with the Internet comes a wave of technologies that empower youthful consumers, including Web 2.0 interactivity and the ability to engage in social networking.) These late-teens and early-twentysomethings are indulging in individualistic pursuits, Bergstrom says, and, as such, "they're naturally going to evolve some sort of pivotal position against their family -- against everything they've been brought up with." This trend is evident in the rapidly growing "Do-It-Yourself" trend that the research firm identifies in its report -- 69 percent of those surveyed say they have "DIY'ed," creating anything from unique mugs to one-of-a-kind clothing items.
What's unique about contemporary Chinese youth is that individualism does not imply rebellion to authority. In fact, Bergstrom says, it's what makes China a "very unique place to look at." Parental influence continues to play a critical role -- in fact, she adds, the individual and the parents engage in a symbiotic relationship where mutual education exists. "Young people try to keep their parents up-to-date about the latest fashion, entertainment, and celebrity news.... [T]ogether they develop common interests in everything from the stock market to books to the Internet," the report states.
The report emphasizes two main takeaways:
- Chinese youth are changing very quickly. Their tastes and preferences are constantly evolving and changing; and
- Chinese youth are not all the same. Many factors will affect individual perspectives -- gender, age, even whether a person is from a rural or urban background -- and these perspectives will directly impact purchasing decisions. In order to address the differences even within the 15-to-25 set, marketers need to be closely in touch with all facets of this generation on a constant basis and need to understand the interactions the youth have with friends, parents, school, etc.
In order to obtain this insight and profit from the Chinese market, Bergstrom suggests that marketers, both inside and outside the Chinese economy, work with third-party research firms, especially ones that actually operate there. "Sometimes when you go in as a marketer for your own company, you can be a bit myopic," she says. Not surprisingly, she says that research firms can be more objective.
"The Chinese young consumer is someone no one could have predicted 10 years ago," Bergstrom says. "Where they're going to be 10 years from now is going to be an exciting, interesting, and surprising place."
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