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How to target the female Chinese consumer

by Alexandra Kimmons
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Female consumers

What are the key characteristics of China’s huge and diverse female consumers base, asks Alexandra Kimmons

When it comes to China’s female consumers there is, of course, no one female demographic, explains CBBC‘s retail and e-commerce business advisor Pearl Zhu. “Women’s spending habits differ based on a wide variety of factors – marital status, location, degree of financial independence, social media engagement, working schedule…” she explains. These different factors result in very different and very specific consumption trends. For example high-end kitchenware, seasonal wardrobes, fitness and wellness spending, and luxuries. Whilst many would assume that female spending power is concentrated in China’s major cities, Zhu encouraged brands not to ignore lower-tier cities, which actually drive demand for some product categories, such as beauty devices.

Zhu also offers broader insight into how brands can connect with female consumers, highlighting the importance of understanding who your audiences are and, crucially, figuring out what message you can deliver that speaks to their needs.  “Modern femininity in China is a combination of modern and traditional traits,” she says. Understanding how specific social issues and challenges impact women’s lives is of utmost importance. Whilst women in China share many concerns with their counterparts around the world – balancing family and career, independence and connection – different social pressures apply in different countries and, in a country the size of China, even in different towns and cities. Zhu encouraged brands to “bravely step into social and real-life issues and always stay on-trend.”

Zhu encouraged brands not to ignore lower-tier cities, which actually drive demand for some product categories

International brands should carefully narrow down their target audience. One way to achieve this, suggests Adam Knight, cofounder of TONG Digital, is through a brands platform strategy. Women in China are more digitally engaged than men, and niche platforms have evolved to cater to every consumer group. Noting the trend of female-focused digital platforms, Knight says that “every brand that wants to get its content strategy right needs to understand the affordances of different platforms in China.” One example of an international brand leveraging female-focused social media in China is Louis Vuitton’s first live-streaming event, which attracted more than 152,000 page views on RED.

Knight also says that other trends relating to China’s female consumers include self-empowerment and body positivity messaging in advertising, “although these messages remain relatively niche,” he adds. He goes on to explain that there is a clear trend in the rise of clean and ethical consumerism, with 30 percent of Chinese women having bought products making anti-pollution claims. On this point, Lexie Morris, the general manager of Whittard of Chelsea in China, observes that while the momentum of sustainable consumerism in the UK has been largely consumer-led, this switch appears to be being led by brands in China. “Both brands and consumers in China are showing a lot of interest in sourcing and ingredients,” says Morris.

Chinese brands have become dominant in several female-targeted industries in recent years. Perfect Diary, founded in 2016, is a prime example. Having mastered the art of sales through storytelling and seeded content, the Chinese beauty company was able to achieve RMB 100 million in sales in only 13 minutes during its Singles Day promotions last year. This success was partially achieved, Knight argues, through its hyper-personalised and localised marketing strategy which involves the cultivation of private groups on WeChat containing a few hundred potential consumers. These groups are led by automated virtual influencers who answer questions about the brand and its products, providing an intimate, personalised experience akin to getting recommendations from a friend.

Success was partially achieved through hyper-personalised and localised marketing strategy involving the cultivation of private groups on WeChat containing a few hundred potential consumers

As Chinese brands move towards such personalised marketing strategies, a one-size-fits-all approach from international brands will no longer cut it. Noticing Chinese companies’ skill in generating followers, and the dominance of domestic brands in China, some international brands have begun collaborating with Chinese companies on crossover campaigns which have been well-received by consumers. For example, Fenty Beauty collaborated with Hey Tea, a bubble tea brand, to market a limited-edition makeup bag accompanied by a voucher for tea, and MAC Cosmetics partnered with online game Honor of Kings to release a new line of lipsticks. Given the dominance of Chinese brands, a carefully selected collaboration can be incredibly important for an international company.

International brands have also started to make forays into the world of live-streaming, KOLs, and influencer marketing. This industry is a huge driver behind consumption in China, with the best KOLs – such as Austin Li – expected to shift 10-20,000 units of a product within 10 minutes, regardless of the price point. But this industry can seem confusing to UK brands. Cecilia Yan, a Key Opinion Leader, says that although the industry started with image- and text-heavy blog promotions, it is now driven by video. “Understanding the different kinds of influencers that are out there is key,” she says.  “There are different KOLs for different industries, and different influencers provide different content and skills.”

Given the dominance of Chinese brands, a carefully selected collaboration can be incredibly important for an international company

Yan highlighted the importance of having a specific campaign objective before approaching influencers, be it branding, sales, or engagement. “If you know your objective, then you can choose the right KOL in the right industry,” she says. Morris explains that for an international brand such as Whittard of Chelsea, it’s important to “separate our KOLs into live-streaming KOLs, branding KOLs, and sales KOLs…we’re then very clear on what we’re expecting them to deliver.”

KOLs are not amateur reviewers – some of the most popular influencers use their professional skills and experience as make-up artists, fitness coaches or journalists to offer trustworthy and informed recommendations to their followers. As Yan notes, a good KOL must embody both authority and inspiration.

Brands looking to appeal to China’s female consumers must be very intentional when designing their strategy, selecting their target group, and approaching KOLs. By targeting specific platforms, personalising advertising campaigns, bravely and sensitively approaching social issues, considering collaborations with Chinese companies, and strategically engaging expert KOLs, brands can position themselves to be as effective as possible in approaching one of the world’s most confident consumer groups.

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