Why brands need to take Chinese overseas students more seriously

Brands target Chinese students

For many UK brands targeting Chinese inbound consumers, the main conversation tends to centre around the travel and tourism market, which isn’t surprising considering the booming growth in Chinese overseas travel. Chinese visits to the UK alone doubled from 2016 to 2017, with each tourist spending over £2,000 on average.

However, the benefits of travel audiences are relatively short-term and highly seasonal, which may explain why currently a large proportion of brands focus on promotion-based campaigns at key peak travel times rather than generating a consistent conversation with Chinese consumers year-round. This approach, while effective for targeting travel consumers, completely ignores the many advantages and unique characteristics of Chinese students in the UK. Chinese students are increasingly an influential market segment in many Western countries. In Australia and the U.S., there are already a number of companies and non-profit organisations dedicated to helping brands engage with Chinese student consumers. A market that up to now has been under-engaged in Europe.

Unlike travel consumers, Chinese students stay long enough to develop a deep connection with their host countries and explore lesser known brands and locations. In the UK for example, Chinese students spend an average of 2-4 years (with increasing numbers staying considerably longer) living in the UK, they are keen to explore new cultural experiences and there are several reasons your brand should start taking them seriously:

1. Chinese student numbers in the UK and HNW spending

In terms of numbers alone, over 95,000 Chinese students enrolled in Higher Education in the UK from 2016/2017. China is now the number one international student group in the UK making up 40% of the international student market. The actual number of inbound Chinese students could be higher still, as parents are sending their children to study abroad at younger ages.

This is particularly true of China’s high net worth parents, according to a recent Hurun Report, 83% of Chinese millionaires are planning to send their children overseas and the average age of HNW children starting overseas education is now just 16.

For China’s wealthy, increased competition and disillusion with the Chinese school system has made the option of overseas study for primary or secondary education wonderfully alluring.

For brands targeting young, wealthy consumers, the Chinese inbound student market has huge potential, if brands are willing to invest in engaging with them as a unique consumer segment instead of simply as an addition to the tourism market.

2. The inbound influence of Chinese overseas students

The impact of Chinese students in the UK extends past their own residency here.  VisitBritain believes that each Chinese student brings an average of 3.3 people to the UK, each year they study here. Therefore, each Chinese student in the UK has the potential to attract a further £27,000+ worth of revenue to the UK as friends and relatives visit to experience authentic British culture and products.

It is well known that Chinese consumers often plan their shopping in advance to make the most of limited vacation time, thus many brands are fighting for advertising space on search and social media channels, hoping to make it onto tourists shopping lists pre-departure. Yet, at Emerging Communications, our extensive work with Chinese inbound markets has shown that where UK based students are involved, the final decision of what to buy and where usually lies with them. Acting as host and guide, they are expected to finalise the itinerary and recommend shopping and dining hotspots.

For brands, destinations and universities hoping to get onto tourists’ wish lists, the most effective first step may be to get into Chinese students’ good graces.

3. Chinese students as advocates and sellers for brands back home

It is not only the inbound market which is influenced by Chinese students overseas, thanks to the advancement of digital in China, Chinese students the world over are introducing audiences back home to local products, brands and destinations, often both generating demand and providing supply among friends, family and wider audiences in China.

In fact, there are an increasing number of KOLs based in the UK, talking about UK culture, news, daily experiences, fashion & lifestyle. In the last few years, we have seen a unique diversification within this singular industry. There are now Chinese KOLs in the UK that specialise in beauty, fashion, F&B, education, real estate, and HNW lifestyle & investment. Smaller KOLs have active audiences in the tens of thousands, major KOLs have audiences of over 10 million.

In Australia, the student KOL market has developed entire businesses around their ability to influence and supply domestic consumers, in the U.S. major retailers such as Bloomingdales are sponsoring events directly targeting the inbound Chinese student market, if UK brands want to compete nationally and globally, now is the perfect time to start building brand advocates among key student groups.

The power to instantly connect to consumers in China gives Chinese students in the UK the ability to have a huge impact on brands, both positive and negative. Thanks to apps such as Little Red Book, Jessica’s Secret, WeChat, Weibo and Zhihu, Chinese shoppers in the UK can show off their favourite purchases or discuss their brand experiences in real time, creating buzz even for brands that aren’t readily available in China.

Chinese students’ changing expectations and how to engage them

Chinese students in the UK are a growing number of wealthy and sophisticated consumers, as customers and as advocates they have huge potential to help UK brands grow. They are, however, arguably much harder to please than tourism consumers. For this Chinese consumer group based in the UK, promotional activities can only provide so much pull.

We’ve interviewed a selection of UK based KOLs and found they all had the same complaint about UK brands’ Chinese outreach. UK brands have a tendency to shout about brands and wave promotions and discounts, yet very few are actually interested in starting conversations with Chinese students in the UK. This international consumer group wants more than discounts, they want the benefit of a longer lasting connection, a deeper understanding and engagement with UK brands. In some cases, Chinese students even describe themselves as a ‘cash cow’ for international institutions and brands, based on the fact that UK business often fail to continue the conversation with them past the point of sale.

Chinese students have increasingly high expectations in terms of brand communication, brand services and brand identity. They are looking for brands that can seem more tailored to fit their unique personalities and that reflect the personal branding they work hard to curate on and offline.  They expect brands to consider not just the value of the products they offer but the overall customer experience, offering convenience through mobile payments and social CRM as well as offline experiences and added value services. Whilst in the UK they want to discover new experiences and products, but they expect to be courted and entertained by brands, just as they would be at home.

Currently, only a select number of brands tick all the boxes for Chinese student satisfaction, so there is plenty of opportunity to stand out from the crowd, but any attempt to win over the Chinese student market must start with in-depth insight into their motivations, demands and digital touchpoints.

To learn more about how to succeed in this challenging and extremely rewarding consumer segment, come to our Inbound Chinese Consumer Masterclass on the 23rd May for in-depth analysis and research into Chinese Student motivations and touchpoints.

Book your tickets to our masterclass here.

By Marie Tulloch, Inbound Marketing Manager at Emerging Communications.

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