Oliver Rust, Managing Director of The Nielsen Company in China, took to the stage at Asia’s Top 1000 Brands China Forum to talk about what makes marketing different in this part of the world. While explaining exactly how Nielsen determined Asia’s Top 1000 Brands, Rust pointed to three distinct factors which have played an increasingly important role in changing how brands build relationships with consumers.
The first, he says, is the rise in intentional willingness of consumers to pay a price premium on products. The second is the growth of brands that forge an emotional connection with consumers, which has a considerable differential impact on how they are perceived. And the third is an emergence of certain categories which are dominated entirely by either multinationals, such as financial services, or by local brands, like the service sector.
Rust also went into detail on three broader cultural trends which have proven undeniably influential in shaping both consumer behaviour and brand strategies in the Asia-Pacific region:
- Population Growth.
“The world population today is about 7 billion,” says Rust, “and will be 9.5 billion by 2020.” This growth can be attributed largely to two emerging markets; Africa (expected to double by 2050) and India (which has a predicted growth of 400 million). Meanwhile, there is no real population growth expected in China. This just goes to show the huge diversity across Asia-Pacific, says Rust, with consumer characteristics defined by surrounding contexts ranging from small rural environments to mega-cities like Shanghai.
“You are a product of your environment,” says Rust, quoting W. Clement Stone. Not only does a consumer’s environment affect where they work and what they buy, but it also determines the way in which brands communicate with them. Nielsen has found that the divergences between wealth, education levels and tech usage are all widening in Asia, making scaled engagement more difficult. “The days of mass marketing are gone,” says Rust. “Hyper-precision marketing is the future.”
- The Rise Of The Middle Class.
By 2020, it is estimated that Asia will have contributed 2 billion consumers to the new middle class. “The rise of the middle class is the story of Asia-Pacific,” says Rust, citing Indonesia, China, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines as examples of countries where consumer confidence is being transformed by a willingness to spend, improved personal finances, and better employment prospects. According to Nielsen, Asia-Pacific is the most confident region in the world, boasting seven of the top ten most confident markets.
Decision-making in the new middle class is also evolving, says Rust; women now oversee household finances and decide which products to buy on behalf of their partners, from male skincare products to new cars. The purchasing power of female consumers in Asia-Pacific alone will exceed the GDP growth of Indonesia and China combined in the next five years. In order to benefit from this consumption-based economy, Rust believes that brands will need to focus on growing consumer wellbeing and encouraging that willingness to spend.
- Media Fragmentation.
China is at the forefront of early technology adoption, and is evolving at a rapid pace. This is self-evident in the Chinese smartphone market, where penetration is approximately 75%. Time spent on mobile devices in China is seven times more than the rest of the world, and the average Chinese consumer touches their smartphone 170 times a day; this encompasses all kinds of activity, from WeChat conversations to video consumption.
Unlike other countries, where consumers will split their time across TV, laptop, tablet and mobile screens, in China, the smartphone is seen by many as a replacement device. Around 33% of global smartphone users engage in some kind of eCommerce on their smartphones. In Asia-Pacific and particularly China, this number leaps to between 60 and 70%.
So how do we communicate with consumers with any kind of consistency when their circumstances and habits are so diverse? Rust’s advice is threefold. Brands must acknowledge the shift from a “We” culture to an “I” culture, leverage big data to target people in a focused, effective way, and most importantly, remember to make an emotional connection.