5 lessons learned from brands marketing to inbound Chinese consumers over Chinese New Year

Chinese consumers Chinese New Year

This year many western brands vied for the hearts of the 6.5 million (est.) Chinese who travelled up to 68 countries for Chinese New Year and UK brands are no exception. Thankfully for brands actively marketing to Chinese consumers, the UK has continued to rank favourably as a holiday destination and for some brands, the influx of Chinese tourism spending has been a fantastic boost to yearly sales, for example, last Chinese New Year Chinese consumers spent £11 million in London alone (Worldpay, 2017).

However, western brands’ approach to Chinese New Year marketing, whether digital or offline hasn’t been particularly well-received by Chinese consumers. When marketing to inbound Chinese consumers, there are a few key points to keep in mind:

1. Chinese New Year shopping is both a marathon and a sprint

Surveys show that some Chinese consumers start buying for Chinese New Year as early as 11.11, with just under 30% buying their CNY goods during December and January sales. But for inbound Chinese consumers’, shopping tends to start in the two-week run-up to Spring festival and continues throughout their trip. However, this does not mean that inbound consumers arrive in a quandary, many will have planned their UK shopping lists 30+ days in advance, with help from UK based friends and family as well as shopping KOLs and social-commerce platforms. This means there is a much higher barrier to cross when trying to tempt them towards UK based brands and products. Chinese consumers Chinese New Year

2. Inbound Chinese consumers are most likely to be travelling as a family or visiting family overseas

Chinese students on average bring 3.3 visitors to the UK each year, and Chinese New Year, a festival centred around family reunion, is a key time for parents and relatives to visit the 88,000+ Chinese students studying in the UK. This information is extremely important for brands; why? Because it has a direct effect on the inbound consumer journey. For those travelling to the UK with family, online guides, travel forums such as Mafengwo or Tripadvisor or private tour guides will be a deciding factor on where consumers go shopping and which brands they try.

For those visiting family and friends in the UK, the UK based consumer is more often than not the key decision maker, even if the brand or product has been decided in advance, the final veto of shopping lists and destinations is made by the ‘local’ student or relative.

Family visits are also important because it means that the trip is about family time, even when shopping! As such in-store experiences or activities that coincide with Chinese traditions or interests are a much better way to drive foot traffic than simply having Chinese New Year collateral or themed products.

3. Different Chinese demographics will shop very differently: Make sure you know who your target audience is

What products consumers purchase as gifts or for personal use will vary depending on regionality, international experience and age. For example, older generations will tend to adhere to traditional gifting categories, premium alcohol, tobacco products and accessories or local delicacies and jewellery. Younger consumers tend to be more international and broader in their tastes but there is still a big difference between generations. According to data published by Alibaba, Chinese born in the 80s are much more likely to buy home or family products, especially food, mother and baby products, or health and nutrition products for older family members, whereas Chinese born in the 90s are more likely to buy clothes, cosmetics, accessories and skincare products. Millennials also have much more appetite for smart devices, organic products and fragrances than their parents.

For niche and heritage brands, return visitors are a key target market as they look for more unique trophies and products to take back to friends and relatives, whereas big named brands can expect first time consumers to grasp at the opportunity to enjoy UK prices and products not readily available in China.

4. Chinese inbound consumers are looking at far more than your packaging

When brands first started marketing to Chinese audiences one winning strategy emerged- the limited edition! Even today many brands rely on limited edition packaging to fuel their Chinese New Year campaigns, but for how much longer can brands reap the rewards? Netease Kaola (a leading cross-border commerce platform) published a survey of Chinese New Year shoppers in 2017 in which 80% of respondents said their number one consideration when choosing new year products was quality and efficacy, 62% of consumers said they choose their purchases according to product reputation and user feedback and 61% said they make their choices based on product brand and only 27% said they would choose a purchase based on the look or packaging.

Chinese consumers Chinese New Year

With packaging and branding losing out to product quality and customer feedback, brands should look closely at how they communicate with inbound consumers and how they can build a positive reputation among Chinese audiences well in advance of their landing in the UK.

5. As far as Chinese consumers are concerned, marketing campaigns which show an emotional or cultural understanding of Chinese New Year will always win out over campaigns centred on aesthetics or gimmicks.

Chinese New Year is an emotional time of the year, for many inbound consumers it may be the only time in the year that they can spend quality time as a family and for the many UK based Chinese it may be one of the years they have to spend away from home. As such Chinese New Year is a time full of nostalgia for Chinese consumers as they contemplate the trials and successes of the year just gone and the hopes and challenges of the year to come.

Therefore, it is no surprise that brands that invest in insightful branding campaigns are often well rewarded. Just a glance at Apple’s Chinese New Year video and the waves it has created on Chinese media can further attest to the success of emotion-based branding campaigns.

As Chinese consumers become increasingly affluent and sophisticated, their expectations of how foreign brands interact with them have also increased. In order to establish successful relations with inbound consumers UK brands increase their cultural awareness and consider the consumer experience as a whole rather than just the opportunity for sales.

Emerging Communications’ top tips for Chinese New Year success:

  1. Engage your audience early and establish your reputation, collecting and promoting positive consumer feedback.
  2. For the best return on your marketing spend, segment your audience and define their customer journey, define which channels and people influence their purchase decisions and make sure you have a presence where it counts.
  3. Focus on consumer pain points and needs, what experiences can you offer in store? What social or personal needs can your product or service address?
  4. Give inbound consumers a say, with increased options for personalisation or co-creation of gifting products.
  5. Let the experts mark your homework, does the campaign or product selection you want to promote really resonate with inbound consumers? Does it accurately reflect your brand?

If you would like more information on our digital marketing services and how we could help your brand, please feel free to call us on 020 3011 0088 or leave us a message here.

Want to learn how your brand can better connect with Chinese millennials? Come to our masterclass this May 23rd!

By Marie Tulloch, Account Manager at Emerging Communications.


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