Power of youth: Chinese young adults influence how China consumes media and brands

China’s young adults – more than 400 million strong – account for a third of China’s population and are equal to more than the whole working population of the US and Western Europe combined. Their spending power is a primary engine not just of China’s continued growth, but of global economic stability.

Arguably, this is the generation that is the most different from any generation before. It is already exerting significant influence in modern culture and attitudes towards family, relationships, and brands. Current estimates show that millennials in China will see their aggregate income grow by $3 trillion in the next 10 years.

This group is often categorized in two separate buckets: the post-80s (born 1980 to 1990) and the post-90s (born 1990 to 2000). However, they are both filled from a common well. Both grew up in single-child households because of the government’s policy, and both find community in a digitally connected world. This first generation of digital natives is comfortable not only with buying online, but also with mobile transactions of all sorts.

These young adults are reshaping their society and overturning assumptions about how media is consumed and how marketers interact with consumers. China’s millennials are already the most digitally active and aware group of consumers on the planet. Marketers’ brand strategies that worked in a double-digit growth era will not work in the coming years under the Chinese government’s “new normal” policy to recalibrate the economy and manage GDP growth at 6.5 percent. To maintain sales momentum, particularly for those seeing themselves already feature in list such as BrandZ's most valuable brands in China, brands need to rethink their approach to ensure their relevance in appealing to this critically important young audience.

Current brand challenges

We observe many businesses struggling to find a relevant role in people’s lives. This is often because brand perceptions of value do not match the viewpoint of those they are trying to influence, especially among today’s younger generation. The key to success lies in selecting a context that fits not just the strengths of the brand but also the target audience.

In search of brand values

Young people are spending more time than ever before out and about, living their lives. They enjoy significantly greater disposable income than earlier generations and are willing to spend on brands based on shared values rather than price or status. In fact, young people demonstrate surprising price insensitivity when purchasing products or brands that connect with them. So, brands must offer meaningful services, experiences, and even a clear commitment to social responsibility to provide young people with the permission to believe in the brand and product.

Matching omni-channel needs with budget realities

The traditional purchase funnel of Awareness/Interest/Desire/Action has evolved into a complex purchase journey with more touchpoints than ever before. Within finite budgets, brands must engage these young people, using non-linear, omni-channel communications, in a personalized way, at the specific locations and times that most influence their exploration, their decisions, and their behaviors, motivating them to act. These tangible experiences help to reinforce brand identity and values, whether online or in-store.

Online or off-line

China is the world’s greatest e-commerce success story. Now, when people are out and about, and are open to a brand interaction, they can scan with their mobile, read reviews about the product, purchase on the spot and have it delivered the next day. However, the much-used jargon of O2O (offline-to-online) is not about a shift to selling online but rather a seamless integration of shared services and experiences between digital and physical stores that enhance each other.

Meeting these challenges

Think mobility, not mobile: Mobility is a mindset and fulfillment of lifestyle expectations. Brands deliver value when they can relate to people wherever they are out and about living their lives.

Empower audiences on the move: Media consumption and shopping behaviors used to be tethered to specific times and places. Today, with the inevitable reality of the Internet of Things, everything can happen on the go, dissolving the boundaries between online and offline.

Rethink out-of-home as a space (not only media) for modern communications: OOH is not a media channel but, literally, when you are not at home. Brands must determine the most influential OOH touchpoints and design the optimal omni-channel brand experiences to consistently give consumers reason to believe that your brand values align with theirs.

Bridge communication with one-to-one engagement: Mass reach OOH communication can trigger more personal digital experiences. Be ready with relevant content that delivers a value exchange and content that can cross seamlessly between on-line and off-line touchpoints.

Give content relevance with context (time, location and emotion): Leverage people’s intention and mindsets and understand how these can change across time, weather, location, activity, and emotion to deliver value through context. There are thousands of opportunities daily, so relevant brand content must be ready when people are ready to access, 24/7.

Adam Hyslop is national planning director at Kinetic China.