Marketing to lower tier youth in China: China Normal salon summary
lower tier Chinese youth
In 2010, China Youthology wanted to learn more about China’s
third and fourth tier youth.
We conducted extensive research, and started conversations with China’s community
of youth market researchers and practitioners.
This report presents our collective lower tier market insights and implications.
This report draws on the following sources:
China Normal foundation research by China Youthology
Youthology Salon panel discussion featuring:
Ellen Hou, Head of planning, TBWA Shanghai
Huan Zhang, CEO of Thindo
Scott Sun, Product manager, ANTA
Ellen Hou, Head of planning, TBWA Shanghai
Huan Zhang, CEO of Thindo
Cindy Hu, Head of Global Trend Research, Nokia
Stella Ji, Marketing manager, Pepsico (beverage)
Joanna Liu, Sales development & planning manager, Pepsico (food)
Bill Wang, Ex-marketing manager, Master Kang (Kang Shi Fu)
Hujing Wang, Research manager, Lining
All photos by Go Takayama
Youthology Salon is a gathering of youth market researchers and practitioners to share experiences and insights and encourage open
conversation within the community.
In the last Youthology Salon on China Normal, participants come from Anta, BBH, Google, JWT, Kraft, Leo Burnett, Metersbonwe,
Nike, OC&C, Ogilvy, P&G, Pepsico International, Pernod Ricard, Peugeot Citroen, Publicis, Sainsbury’s, Starcom, TBWA, Vans,
Unilever... We want to thank all the participants for their comments and questions.
What is a ‘lower tier city’ in our research?
•1st tier (4 cities): hypercities Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen
•2nd tier (20-30 cities): developed provincial capitals (eg. Chengdu, Wuhan,
Shenyang, Tianjin, Hangzhou) and a few comparably rich non-capital cities (eg.
Wuxi, Foshan, Dongguan, Dalian)
•3 tier (20-30 cities): less developed (in-land) provincial capitals (eg. Lanzhou,
Guiyang, Zhengzhou) and comparably developed non-capital cities (e. Xuzhou,
•4th tier (more than 200 cities): all other prefecture cities
•5th tier: county level and below
The big picture:
There is no single marketing strategy
that will work for top and lower tier
Lower tier youth and top tier youth
live in different worlds.
Lower tier youth obey normal to succeed.
They must be compliant and cultivate relationships,
or society will deny them permission to rise.
The pressure is low, but the future is not theirs to decide.
They let things be.
But they are still
Their challenge is:
How to be special,
without going too far?
Brands share this challenge with lower tier youth, and in order to thrive,
must figure out how to resolve it together.
1. Communication Content
What kind of messages will resonate with lower tier youth?
Lower tier youth are not listening to brand stories.
Brand stories attach distinct values and beliefs to products.
Lower tier youth do not want to advertise distinct values and beliefs.
What if other people do not approve?
But they are listening to product stories.
Lower tier youth are excited about new experiences enabled by consumption.
They want to try so many things, and know so little about what there is to try.
Tangible product experience
“I think lower tier consumers care more about functional benefits than emotional. For
example, when Anta introduced its new bounce technology, at the pitch for the campaign the
creative director just made these noises: ‘Thoom! Wham! Boom!’
“The sounds gave a really visceral message that the bounce tech is like an
explosion, and in the end we used this idea in our TVC.”
what does the product do?
“The slogan for Wanmei Eye Essence is “Flick flick flick, flick away the eye wrinkles” and it
works very well with lower tier women. Why? Our research showed lower tier women know
very little about skincare. We had to state the product function obviously, introduce them to what
it does. The eye essence costs RMB398 per bottle, more expensive than many international
products, but sales are still great, almost 200 million RMB after launch.
“Consumers lacking product knowledge rely a lot on clear and direct product
Zhang Huan communications. They want a logical story about what the product is for.”
Emotional benefits can work
But you have to be relevant
“The L’Oreal woman is very first tier: ‘I’m independent, confident, I live in the spotlight.’ The
NIVEA woman is less confident, more introverted. She’s very pampered, but she still has dreams.
Lower tier women ages 20-29 are this kind of ‘little princess,‘ single children that grew up
showered in love. One woman we met really influenced us: looking at a picture of her and her
husband holding their daughter, she said ‘I always want to be the little princess wrapped in
white.’ So we made NIVEA part of that, made consumers feel like they are at the center of love,
loved and cared for by loved ones.
Ellen Hou “People always care about your product story. You don’t have to give up emotional
Head of Planning relevance to communicate functional benefits.”
Summary: Tell clear product stories
Show lower tier youth what your products do.
Benefits can be emotional, but resonate with their lives.
But adapting communications is not enough.
We must adapt our products.
Products in the cultural context
“Adidas withdrew the entire Originals line from lower tier cities. Originals is very retro, and
that style meant very little to lower tier youth. They will launch a new sub-brand soon and it will
be designed to fit lower tier youth better in terms of product selection, design, and pricing.
“You cannot offer the same products but telling different stories across tiers.
Product localization is needed.”
Head of Planning
How to localize products for lower tier youth?
Lower tier youth want to feel special and cool.
Consumption gives lower tier youth rare freedom to express themselves,
and connects them to a more cosmopolitan first tier lifestyle.
They value that feeling,
and have the spending power to get it.
But never too special. Never too cool.
Consumption is also important for negotiating status and social norms.
Lower tier youth are not eager to innovate or diverge from established peer behavior.
Know and adapt to local norms
Aiyaya Chained Retail
“Aiyaya is a chained retail specialized in cosmetics and accessories for young females. Revenue
has achieved 1.2 billion the last few years. We found Chinese consumers in lower tier cities are
very different. They are more like followers. They will be upset if they feel isolated from other
people. So Aiyaya has changed the lower-tier strategy. The cosmetic shops of Aiyaya are not as
fashionable as those in top tier cities.
“Lower tier youth want to keep up with the trend, to fit in with others but avoid being
Less pressure means
more to spend on themselves
“We find often consumers in tier 3 or tier 4 cities will spend more per shopping trip even than consumers
in tier 1 cities. Spending power and how much money you have are different. Cost of living in lower tier
cities is much less than top tier cities, they have more freedom to spend on themselves.
They will even borrow money to buy stuff that their friends or family members already have to make sure
they are keeping up.
“They’re not like top tier youth fighting hard for a house or a car. Consumers in lower tier cities
have proportionally more spending power.”
Summary: Know the cultural context
Localization does not necessarily mean lower prices.
Give them products that feel special, but that will
not cause friction with peers.
3. Communication Channels
Which channels are best to reach lower tier youth?
Lower tier youth are increasingly engaged with
Mobile phones are the major source of status and entertainment for most lower tier youth.
But they use the Internet like mass media.
Lower tier youth stick to a narrow range of sites and online services. They rarely search for
new networks or influences. They want to be into the same things as their friends.
Mass media works
“We called CCTV5 Quanzhou channel because we saw a lot of brands from Quanzhou doing
advertising there. To me Anta did right to spend a big chunk of money in this single channel,
getting full brand exposure in the channel, because eventually every one of our target
consumers became aware of our brand.”
Choose targeted programming
“The audience of CBA and NBA is totally different. You may think CBA has no good to talk
about, however, when I watched CBA games in Guangdong in 2005 and 2006, the stadium
was amazing, it reeked of smoke and excitement…it was fully packed! Anta’s sponsorship for
CBA has definitely improved brand perception among lower tier consumers.”
Mobile Internet increasingly
“When we were in the field, we found the majority of net café visitors are big fans of
online gaming, but this is only a small group within the entire group of netizens.
“Mobile internet is much more popular among youth. Even if their own mobile phone has
no data plan, they will try to get online access any way they can around their school,
in order to share songs and novels. “
Internet usage is limited to
small number of key sites
“We talked about Internet usage with a group of girls in Guang’an. They spend tons of
time online everyday watching Hunan TV programs on PPlive, and playing QQ games,
etc. But when we told them they can find videos about Youthology on Youku, they asked us,
‘what is Youku,’ they had never heard of it.“
Summary: Go mass, develop mobile
TV still works for lower tier youth. Know what they are watching.
They might not be active explorers online, but lower tier youth
are engaged with mobile Internet. Work with their online habits.
Actually, there is another crucially important channel
for making strong connections with lower tier youth.
The retail communication channel
”When a brand like Adidas enters the lower tier market, they may start a sub-brand that fits
the market better. The entire store layout will be designed to fit local consumer’s taste and
enhance their shopping experience. In the end lower tier youth might not spend a lot of
money, but they will spend a lot of time in the store.
“If you want to spread your brand in lower tier cities, your primary channel is not
conventional TV or magazines. It’s your retail space.”
Head of Planning
What do lower tier youth want from a shopping experience?
Lower tier youth go shopping a lot.
Retail centers are the most modern, exciting, and dynamic places in their cities.
And there are so few hobbies, interests, and leisure options competing for their time.
Shopping is a major source of enjoyment and new experiences.
Lower tier youth are hungry to hang out, experiment, and engage.
Make the time they spend in your store count.
Make them feel special
“Statistics shows a small Wanmei Cosmetics counter in a small town in Henan province
brings in 30K in revenue a year. Lower tier consumers actually don’t care much about
brands, they care more about service. If your service is particularly good they’ll
remember, even better if you give them a promotion.
“It’s incredible, but if you treat them right, the spending power of lower tier
consumers can exceed your imagination.”
Be part of the center
”People in lower tier cities get excited about a big department store or a beautiful
fountain in front of the mall, because these can have great significance to their lives.
“These spaces can be the culture center of the city and important gathering
Head of Planning
TBWA ”Compared with top tier consumers, lower tier youth have much more limited places to
shop. When they gather to shop they usually go to major centers.
“So my suggestion to brands is opening as many stores as possible in big
cities, but opening big stores in major shopping venues in lower tier cities.”
Loyalty to retailers
stronger than brands
“In Xuzhou, a student brought us to his favorite clothing store. The street was crammed with shops
selling almost exactly the same selection, all knockoff brands. The store he liked sold the same
knockoffs, but they had branded the retail experience: they had cool design and product display,
almost like a first tier boutique. That’s why our friend kept going back.
“In lower tier cities retailers mean more than brand names. Good cosmetics come from the big
shopping centers and bad stuff comes from the street market. Real Nike comes from the Nike store and
fakes come from the street market right next door.
Jay Mark Caplan “Lower tier youth don’t care what’s on the label. They learn to trust the retailer.”
Summary: Build a retail experience
Lower tier youth want an engaging shopping experience.
The way you design your stores will have a big impact
on how they perceive your brand and products.
Clear product stories with practical and emotional benefits
Lower tier youth have money to spend on themselves,
give them ‘cool stuff’ that makes sense in their cultural context
Targeted mass media, but keep an eye on mobile Internet
Customer experience is your best connection, treat them well and give them a space to hang out
Hope to see you on the next Youthology Salon!
More about China Normal foundation research: www.chinanormal.com
Follow us on blog: www.chinayouthology.com/blog