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The rise of the he-economy: China’s next big market

By Michaela Zhu, Marketing executive

Emerging Communications


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September 3, 2021 | 6 min read

If you think male Chinese consumers rank low on marketing priority lists, think again. The spending power of female Chinese consumers has often taken precedence, but all this is about to change.

Emerging Communications on the consumer needs of the He-economy and how it's a sector that's beginning to emerge in China.

Emerging Communications on the consumer needs of the He-economy and how it's a sector that's beginning to emerge in China.

A report published by Deloitte and SECOO revealed that Chinese male consumers had surpassed women in terms of online luxury purchases. The rapid expansion of China’s wealth has given rise to the ’mass affluent male class’ (MAC), with massive purchasing power.

With over 723 million male inhabitants, this is a trend brands can’t afford to ignore in their China marketing. Leading apps such as Xiaohongshu (or ’Little Red Book’) are already benefiting from this new wave of consumer behaviour.

Today, we take a look at this platform and its users, before exploring how brands can capitalise on the burgeoning He-economy.

What is Little Red Book?

Traditionally a female-dominated platform, Little Red Book is penetrating the Chinese male market with amazing success.

As China’s most trusted social shopping platform, Little Red Book is an essential app for content marketing in China. Known as Little Red Book (or simply “Red”), it’s based in Shanghai and boasts over 300 million users.

The platform offers a unique blend of highly visual user-generated content, influencer advertising and an exceptionally engaged online community. With over 70% of users born after the 1990s, Red is a crucial way to reach Chinese Gen Z consumers.

So why is Red important to the He-economy?

The male user group is growing fast. Men now account for at least 30% of Red users, with males sharing in certain categories (such as food) up by 254% year-on-year.

These users can be divided into three groups:

  1. Young men in first and second-tier cities. Long-term users of Red, many of them are bloggers in fashion, food and travel.

  2. Young men in sinking areas - discovered Red through social media.

  3. Mature men in first and second-tier cities who found Red searching online.

Male Chinese consumer behaviour is changing. The scale of China’s online men’s cosmetics and personal care market has been estimated at nearly 8.6bn yuan.

As of May this year, the proportion of male users on beauty apps reached 35.7%. And they’ve got spending power.

A blue ocean market for western brands?

Just like their female counterparts, men use Red to share all kinds of fashion, gaming and high-end beauty products.

As a relatively new trend in Chinese social media, several key opinion leaders (KOLs) have rapidly risen to prominence. For instance, Junping Big Devil is one of the most famous male beauty bloggers in China. His Red content (shared with over 2,255,0000 followers) focuses on reviewing and de-mystifying beauty products.

With relatively little competition and few barriers standing in the way of innovation, this is a true blue ocean market opportunity for western brands.

Campaigns playing with ’traditional’ masculinity have been particularly successful. As new creators such as Jia Zhang (who shares outfits, fragrance and grooming tips) increasingly take centre stage – there are massive opportunities for the right brands.

Harnessing the he-economy: male consumer psychology

To harness the power of the he-economy in your China marketing, a firm understanding of male Chinese consumer psychology is key.

So, what exactly do men want?

  • For male consumers, the definition of ’personal value’ is expanding – covering not just job stability and income, but spiritual growth and personal self-worth.

  • Young men are treating themselves more. Luxury clothing and skincare perceived as improving quality of life are highly prized – meaning that quality products are essential.

  • With the rise of social media, shopping is becoming a by-product of social life. This ’social consumption’ is expressive of overall aesthetics and attitudes – with male beauty products particularly benefiting.

  • Brands with high social cache are performing well, whilst items such as cigarettes, alcohol and cars are lessening in importance. The pursuit of a quality, healthy lifestyle is key for male Chinese consumers.

Overall, higher personal income (making the search for quality products possible) is a key driving force behind these male consumer trends.

Capitalising the opportunities now

The consumer needs of the he-economy are just starting to emerge – making this an incredibly exciting China market to watch. The pressure for fashionable, social presentation will continue, meaning that gaming and luxury brands (especially in beauty, sports and footwear) are expected to profit.

Ultimately, brands that can successfully cater to the new male consumer psychology will reap dividends. And Little Red Book should be a key component of any Chinese marketing strategy.

For statistics, buyer journeys and practical promotional advice, download our Little Red Book guide. With a firm understanding of the platform, you’ll connect with Chinese consumers and supercharge your campaigns.

Michaela Zhu, marketing trainee at Emerging Communications, with editorial input from head of planning Rocky Chi.

China Marketing Digital Marketing Media

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