This week Alibaba is holding its annual flagship Maker Festival in Guangzhou. This year, apart from the standard innovation exhibition, the Festival has chosen a special theme around 'The Future Land' and is supporting China’s young entrepreneurs with an innovation and entrepreneurship forum held for the first time in its seven years history.
Established by C2C online marketplace Taobao, the Festival provides a platform for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs but now has become one of Asia’s largest annual events to celebrate and champion youth creativity. Its future-focused programme, complete with avatars, virtual tours and sci-fi exhibits of futuristic camping resonates with the Maker Festival's core concept of innovation, featuring products inspired by smart technologies and sustainable living.
Not coincidentally, many of these themes appeal strongly to younger consumers. According to Alibaba, by the end of July 2022, entrepreneurs born in or after 1990 account for nearly half of all merchants on Taobao.
Wenfei Han, general manager of Taobao and Tmall marketing, seen in the video below, says the Festival is important for younger entrepreneurs and consumers alike, because it not only introduces them to appealing products, but allows youth to help shape consumer culture.
"The Maker Festival is an excellent window into the consumption trends of China's younger generation, from the perspectives of both consumers and entrepreneurs," Han says. "On the one hand, young consumers’ interests and preferences provide inspirations and business opportunities for young entrepreneurs. On the other hand, creative, experimental young designers and merchants are also shaping the current consumer generation’s perception and orientation."
From her 12 years of experience working for the e-commerce giant, Han has an uniquely informed view on Gen Z consumer trends noting how they're willing to spend for a better quality life, including improving their personal appearance or their wellness from the inside out. They also consume based on interests ranging from pet care and collectibles to outdoor gear. Digital savvy and sophisticated, Han says Gen Z's online consumers are also very good at locating bargains.
Maker Festival consumer trends
From this year's Festival, Han identified five consumer trends for this year, which to a large extent, mirror the consumption trends of Gen Z:
Ubiquitous technology Technology that's highly integrated into all aspects of life, with innovations mushrooming in all kinds of areas from self-pampering to pets to buying STEM robot kits for quality family time.
Wellness from the inside out Perhaps surprisingly to some, younger generation are paying more attention to wellness. This is reflected in the growing popularity of outdoor games in China, such as flying disc sports, and the switch to non-alcoholic beers and superfoods, which allow people to enjoy life without compromising their health.
The stay-home economy has given rise to exceptional home products, such as the see-through designed sofas and high-end house plants, which allow homeowners to express themselves.
Sustainability is the idea behind many of this year’s creations, such as the 100% biodegradable camping lights and the rPET tactical vest made from recycled plastic bottles, reflecting the rising sustainable consumption trend in China.
Gen Z designers have launched a range of items that combine traditional and modern elements, such as the Maker Festival's limited-edition cyberpunk motorcycle helmet, which combines traditional elements like a lion dancing into cool, modern product.、
Some of these trends have also been reflected in the recent research. Earlier this month, Jefferies released a report called the Gen Z: Global Purchasing Power and Influence report which identified certain Chinese characteristics. The report concluded that China's Generation Z (defined as those born after 1996) save less (only 75% of them save vs 85% globally) and spend more in comparison with global peers, and they are less price sensitive.
Aside from pointing out their obvious tech-savviness as internet natives, it noted how they were shaped by their unique social media ecosystem, prefering domestic travel and national fashions, with a proclivity towards cosmetics, beauty and eco-friendly products, as well as a love of pets.
Gen Z in the eyes of Gen Z creatives
For a closer look at these key trends, Campaign talked to Dentsu Z, a Gen Z team of marketing and creative professionals who are also Gen Z consumers, about Gen Z marketing in China.
Campaign: We're hearing Chinese Gen Z save less and spend more. Do you agree with this?
Dentsu Z: Actually, we don’t entirely agree with this statement. Gen Z does spend lots of money and will not hesitate to buy products they like. However, because of the pandemic, young people who live from paycheck to paycheck also care about financial management and even find a second job after working hours. To Gen Z, financial management and a second job are ways of saving.
How would you think Gen Z's purchasing power will affect marketing and innovation?
Gen Z, the main force of consumption, has a greater influence on the marketing and innovation of brands from three main aspects.
First of all, Gen Z are really concerned about social issues on ecology and nature (such as climate change, biodiversity and natural resources protection) and social issues for fairness and justice (such as caring for vulnerable groups, gender equality and education equity).
Second, Gen Z are willing to pay for native products with Chinese cultural characteristics. More and more domestic brands now incorporate Chinese traditional culture elements into product design and create a new national trend as Gen Z embrace "consumer patriotism".
Last but not least, Gen Z love to buy innovative technological products, such as VR, AR, naked eye 3D, intelligent interactive products, and so on.
Of course, there are many other aspects of Gen Z's purchasing power, such as virtual idols' live streaming, pet consumption, blind box, and so on.
As Gen Z and professional marketers, which are the top three product categories/consumer trends that your team care about?
They are pet consumption, national fashion and eco-friendly products.
We have many friends who have pets. Half of the staff in our office have cats. We will treat our pets as if they were our children and are willing to spend money. For future consumption trends, we may consider the social life of pets and the travel problems of pets.
With the rise of China's national products, we are willing to pay for those national brands with reasonable prices, good quality and social responsibility. Nowadays, many traditional dresses combine the new Chinese style, adding a modern sense of coolness and fashion into traditional elements to achieve integration and unity.
Regarding eco-friendly products, we believe that the good influence of individuals can save the future, and we are happy to pursue brands with a sense of social responsibility. Even if we forget to punch the clock at work every day, we must remember to water the Ant Forest, for which Dentsu Creative helped with a public welfare project popular among Gen Z called "This is Green".
How do brands benefit from Gen Z creatives and marketing professionals?
Gen Z has always been interpreted and studied. Many reports tell us what Gen Z is like, their behaviours, and consumption trends. Instead of referring to the reports, we would like to say: why not let the creative and marketing professionals of Gen Z create the content we like?
KFC Metaverse Fried Chicken Restaurant by Dentsu Creative, Isobar is a good Gen Z case designed by our team. It attracted 8.5 million visitors on the first opening day and reached 300 million impressions in the first week.
In collaboration with QQ, a national social platform, KFC launched the first national style KFC Metaverse Fried Chicken Restaurant “珍馐阁”. With limited edition of inter-dimensional burgers shopping sprees, metaverse pet “Fengwan”, virtual currency “chicken legs coins”, and users spontaneously sharing UGC, KFC provides an immersive experience that creates new emotional connection with the products.
How do Gen Z’s preferences drive up the influencer marketing trend? Any advice for brand strategies for Gen Z?
KOL marketing is becoming more diversified and funny because of the extraordinary needs of Gen Z. Instead of saying how Gen Z's preferences are leading KOL marketing trends, we like to say that Gen Z's weird needs create new KOL marketing trends.
For example, for Gen Z, who face the frequent collapse and fall of celebrities and KOLs, we turn to virtual IP endorsement and live-streaming.
Gen Z believe that 'the niche is the mass'. Youth subcultures are gradually becoming mainstream. According to Chinese netizens, there are at least 72 different youth subculture groups in 10 categories, such as comics, anime, games, Japanese voice acting, original works, adaptations, etc. We meet friends based on our common interests and hobbies.
Therefore, if brands want to seize the youth market, they may start from the interest circles of Gen Z, listen to the expressions of different circles, try to join in these hobbies and explore new creative inspiration.