Four decades. Four generations. Unparalleled diversity.  With China on the road to economic recovery the world’s third largest economy looks poised for growth and increased brand investment. However segmentation is always an issue with marketers entering and seeking to grow share on the continent. The size of the territory and its population makes it crude and simplistic to target everyone.

China is the world’s most populous nation with some 1.3bn people, 60% of whom are rural and very difficult to reach. The best way to approach the market is to identify the brand’s target through the use of segmentation which will help ensure marketers reach a predefined demographic with limited resources.

The market is so huge geographically that it cannot be taken on as one China. Brand managers need to build an understanding of what drives trends in order to understand underlying patterns that motivate consumer behavior. To create a sound understanding of a complex market, Oracle Added Value amalgamated expert opinion from a variety of sources into a segmentation paper called “The 4 G’s in China”.

The study found that one of the most useful ways of understanding the Chinese market is from a generational perspective. China has experienced intense political, social and economic change during the past four decades resulting in the development of four distinct generations in forty years. This is something hardly seen in other parts of the world, but China is such a fast changing market that it has created totally different generations or sets of consumers in this short space of time.

The four generations are the In Between generation (born in the sixties); the Open Door generation (born in the seventies); the Take Off generation (born in the eighties); and the Flying Star generation (born in the nineties).

The In Between generation are most affected by the old China because they experienced significant hardship during the Mao Zedong era and this experience is translated into a feeling that they have ‘missed out’ and has seen them become ‘strivers’. The Open Door generation was part of the transformation of China and the first middle class to be produced on the continent. The Take Off generation is the first to experience the effects of the one child policy designed to limit population growth, and they are often referred to as “the new strivers”. The Flying Star generation is much freer than their ancestors, take greater risks and largely believe that “I am who I am”.

In Betweeners lived through a slew of changes during the past thirty years, but have a distinctly nationalist outlook. Despite this they feel their country has let them down and aren’t nostalgic nor do they want to recall the past. This is a generation influenced by political beliefs and activities. These people have also experienced a dramatic gap between the haves and have-nots, which has translated into a sense of helplessness and regret for the majority, who feel they have missed out all opportunities currently on offer in China.

The Open Doors are the first generation to get lay their hands on money – the proverbial bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow. This generation deeply appreciates materialism and is a segment influenced by the opening up of China, the “Dragon awakened.”

For the Take Offs, the one-child policy plays the most critical role shaping in shaping consumer and psychological behavior. As the first “one child” generation, this generation faced unexpected opportunities as well as stress and challenge. The only child is the pivotal focus of the family, and they are afforded the very best of everything. Because of this, the infiltration of western culture, brands and globalization has been stronger and has cultivated a global view amongst this generation.

The biggest media phenomenon in China at this time is the internet. China remains a controlled society with regards to mass media. Thus if consumers want to see something global that falls outside of government favor, then they use the internet. Information is circulated very rapidly on the internet because practically and logistically there is only so much that the government can control.

A strong use of the internet is true of all generations, and digital media forms a very important part of Chinese life. Each generation has their own specific reasons for using the internet, but it is well utilized by all generations. This has created a popular saying that: “If you can’t find the answer to a question on the internet, then that question doesn’t exist.”

Because of this digital media has experienced growth and brands are making strong use of online and mobile media. This has driven good growth in digital media spend in China. The internet also carries significant credibility and people more readily believe in information found on the internet, than in television advertising.

- By Magdalena Wong, CEO of Oracle Added Value in China

For a copy of this report, email Roger Mu.

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