"Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.”
From being the epicentre of the pandemic, to now the keenly watched post COVID-19 recovery model, the eye of this storm is undoubtedly China.
It is balancing the negative and the positive forces, both from within and outside. Issues like health infrastructure strain, economic recession, global anti-Chinese sentiments, exclusion and state projected normalcy are contrasting with the rise national consumer confidence, a digital boom, greater focus on health amongst the average Chinese.
So, what will China’s coping mechanism be? We believe that China will see the rise of a ‘smart social movement’ 智慧赋能 (zhi hui fu neng) to recover and regain the lost ground. The guiding principles of this evolving smart social movement are:
- Smart consumers: People and human connections will be at the core of all consumer initiatives, including a safe and smart home based on solid digital infrastructure
- Smart economy: A smart economic, emotional and health currency
- Smart community: A smart, sustainable social structure resilient to pandemics and the reoccurrence of COVID-19
This culture of smart empowerment will be fuelled and supported by the unprecedented acceleration in digital adoption across the Chinese mainland, while four macro trends will shape this smart social movement.
1. China@home / home@China
The fear of the pandemic and a decrease in spending power is leading to a redefinition of what is ‘home’ and the Chinese consumers are more confident about the country than ever before.
China@home is manifested in how the home has transformed from a passive shelter or oasis (宅 zhai) to a place of creation (云 yun) - the creation of wealth (云办公), skills (云教育 ), health (云健身), relationships or entertainment.
Home@China is seen in the growing sentiment to ‘Buy Chinese’ to rebuild the economy. Local companies did more during the pandemic and there is sense of responsibility towards contributing towards local economic growth. This trend is particularly strong amongst the Millennial and Gen Z shoppers who have made Chinese brands ‘cool’ again.
2. Health: technology and style
Immunity and protection is even more important given that external means have failed Chinese consumers. They are now even more keen to make intelligent choices and brands need to deliver health in ‘smarter’ ways.
Health is everyone’s business now in China - while an obvious opportunity for hygiene and health brands/ categories (e.g. food, home care, personal hygiene), brands can operate in any one of three zones - Immunity (body internal; foundational), protection (body external) or restorative health (wellness, mental health).
The use of technology, style and design in health products will deliver superiority in benefit and enhance the user experience. For example, online medical services - digitalization of big health is not as simple as selling several medical check-up packages on the internet.
Another key trend here is health in beauty / active beauty: the beauty space evolving into the health space and ingredient story with health matters most, the need for stronger health labels.
Eventually we will also see the confluence of Chinese and non-Chinese health practices. Foreign solutions could be Yoga, online gyms etc to Tai Chi. From a medicinal perspective: Chinese solutions - largely TCM focused and foreign solutions - vitamins and nutrients, food supplements and the superfoods
The pandemic has also brought mental health in focus in China. Anxiety, depression, social exclusion are the key concerns post the covid-19 lockdown - arising from phobia or isolation both amongst the larger populace and health care workers.
3. Social consciousness
China will see a shift from ‘Me’ to ‘We’. Chinese citizens are inspired to contribute to a greater good and a sense of personal responsibility has been cultivated.
A smarter, more conscious lifestyle has become more relevant and urgent. China is seeing the rise of everyday heroes. Drawing inspiration from ordinary citizens like health-workers and volunteers. They are changing their focus from my benefit to a community benefit (“a responsible me”).
This trend is also seeing a shift from conspicuous to careful consumption.
And lastly, there is an overall system consciousness. This is reflected in the 360 focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility, from micro (individual, family, community level efforts) to macro (social, state level policies) levels. “Going Green" is the consumer aspiration that brands need to deliver on – urgently.
4. Livestreaming lifeline
Livestreaming is the new digital consumer lifeline and a brand lifeline - a marketplace and saliency and an unprecedented intensity of engagement with the audience. Interestingly, live streaming is category agnostic. It created a new form of connection during the lockdown.
Livestreaming equals amped up engagement. E-commerce meets entertainment and advertising meets reality TV for high emotional impact. Brands are going all out using KOL’s or celebrities to showcase brand benefits and features, interspersed with comedy and 2-way conversations etc.
It also provides status affirmation - a celebrity spoke to me! – and often, overnight wealth and social mobility. Celebrities taking note of the user’s/ viewer’s comments and acknowledging their presence.
So, how should organizations be reacting in the post-recovery phase? By future thinking and forward stepping. And this future thinking needs to be focusing on the smart within ‘Everything Health, Everything Contribution, Everything Live and Everything China’.
As China evolves to this new era of smart social movement, brands will find their niche locally and similar global trends will evolve.
Rakesh Kumar is CEO and Kalpana Nair is a consumer insights consultant at Human, a global marketing foresight consultancy.