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From "me" to "we"

by Ashok Sethi , 22.07.2015

Is it time to increase your investment to win the hearts of the Chinese consumers or is it time to cut the mushy stuff and compete on hard core product and price advantage?  Research indicates that it is time to put love in the air. It is time to woo and win, as the consumers are demanding and selective, and if you do not win their hearts, you have no place in their wallets. Hence it is time for marketers to increase their investments in brand building and try to forge a strong and long lasting bond with the consumers.

But the question is how do they do it? What kind of brands and brand values should marketers create? GfK studies 50 consumer values of Chinese consumers which can be classified as four different pulls or draws. Some of these values pull the consumers towards people, some towards tradition, and some towards power - which includes individual expression, status and wealth.

When we look at the historical trends, we see a shift which is a movement from people to power. China has been a collective society where conformity and uniformity was given a lot of importance. But it is now awash with individual expression, variety and heterogeneity. They want to be more individualistic and more in control of their lives and destinies. Hence the Chinese consumers are actually moving from a "we" world to a "me" world. The Chinese society which placed a lot in store on collectivism and conformity is now allowing the flourishing of individualism and heterogeneity .

But we need to look at another aspect of the consumer behavior - the extent to which the consumers are expressing themselves and making their voices heard in China. As they become more selective, they are quick to share their evaluations in terms of online ratings and reviews - a phenomenon which is more prevalent in China than in the rest of the world. The fact that for many the preferred way to connect is the mobile phone and not the PC, makes it easier and available practically all the time.

Therefore, consumers are expressing themselves and brands. Thus, the need to remain flexible to accommodate the growing voice and the growing heterogeneity of the consumers. While the consumers in China are moving from "we" to "me", the brands need to move from "me" to "we". This will make sure that the consumers can identify with the brands and see their reflection in the brands. That is the challenge for brands in China; how they can retain their core values, while still reflecting the views of the consumers, and letting them get a feeling of co-ownership.

We already see some brands that are able to do that. In a recent study, it was found that the top brands consumers remember and talk positively about include “Zhifubao” and Tianmao (both part of Alibaba). These brands are quintessentially "we" brands.

For more information, contact Ashok Sethi at ashok.sethi@gfk.com.

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