With a cold winter forecast in China, Mark Bellamy from China Skinny looks at how brands can tweak their product lines and marketing communications in line with the weather to boost sales
Understanding the Chinese market can require a complex combination of experience, data, insights and industry contacts. But beyond analysis, there is a relatively banal subject that can greatly impact consumer behaviour and how they choose to spend their money – the weather.
The influence of the weather is something many China analysts track closely. For example, this year, many have noted that China’s National Climate Center has forecast extra frigid conditions for the country. The mercury will be lower than normal in the northern, northeastern and northwestern parts of the country (which already frequently see temperatures dip as low as -20 to -40°C), and even in southerly provinces like Guangdong.
Interest in the weather is not unique to China consumer analysts; in any country, colder weather can impact people’s moods and make them less likely to get out and spend. It can also change the way people do spend, providing a further boost to already surging e-commerce sales and other digital behaviours.
In many cases, components of a marketing plan can be tweaked to better accommodate frosty conditions. It can sway which products and formats we buy, from fashion to food and beverage, to the health and beauty products we seek. For example, consumers may seek out immune-boosting health supplements to fend off cold and flu outbreaks driven by the colder weather.
Last winter’s snow sports boom (stimulated, of course, by the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing) is likely to gather further momentum, and there will be opportunities for brands that make winter sports clothing or equipment, as well as hospitality brands with venues in popular winter sports destinations such as Heilongjiang and Jilin Province. On the other hand, consumers will be less likely to partake in recently popular hobbies such as camping and cycling. Communications that empathise with consumers over the weather through a clever, funny or emotional lens can help strengthen their connection to and preference for your brand.
When determining hero products and communications, the vast differences in weather conditions between cities and provinces further reiterates the importance of localising and targeting regionally. Consumers won’t need the same degree of outerwear in Shanghai as Shenyang, for example, and will be swayed by different products, messaging and imagery. Beauty buyers looking to protect their face from skin-chappingly dry winters in Beijing are likely to be looking for thicker, more moisturising creams than those in more humid, warmer Guangzhou.
The frosty winter comes on the back of a Chinese summer which registered its hottest August since records began and one of its lowest levels of rainfall in 61 years. These severe swings between the intense summer and the winter ahead will only convince more Chinese consumers of the threat of climate change. China is among the most at-risk countries in the world, with 85% of the population exposed to climate-related hazards by mid-century according to the UN. Yet, Chinese consumers aren’t as concerned as you may expect according to an international study by Gallup. Just 20% of people in China saw climate change as a “very serious threat” in 2021, down from 23% in 2019. The figure was 48.7% globally.
Nevertheless, many Chinese consumers – especially urban Gen Z – are taking note of the need to live more sustainably to help mitigate climate change. Some predict that this could start to have an impact on shopping festivals like Singles’ Day this year, and brands should keep this in mind when planning marketing and promotional activities going forward. Any sustainability initiatives should be sincere and backed by concrete evidence/actions or consumers may accuse them of greenwashing.
The two key takeaways for this are to consider whether there could be areas of your marketing plan worth tweaking to factor in the anticipated colder winter than usual; and how environmental and sustainability messaging differs in China from other parts of the world.