We asked five in-markets experts for their insights into Taiwan consumers.
- Maggie Tang, managing director, UM Taiwan
- David Yu, chief branding and strategy officer, Dentsu Aegis Network Taiwan
- Barbie Lin, managing director, ADK Taiwan
- Mahesh Neelakantan, managing director, Geometry Global Taiwan
- Winnie Lee, chief operating officer and co-founder, Appier
What distinguishes the Taiwanese consumer market from others? What are the most interesting trends in Taiwan that make its consumer market unique in Asia?
Tang: Taiwanese are very nationalistic people and unity runs strong among us. However, Taiwanese consumers do care a lot about what others think of them so they are constantly seeking approval and checking out what the rest are buying, which brands are popular, etc. They won’t mind queuing up for hours at a shop if that is where the everyone goes to, the most recent example being the opening of Ichiran Ramen store at Taipei this summer. Taiwanese consumer also love to check-in to a location on social media and post photos.
Yu: Taiwanese consumers care a lot about 'face' so social status is obviosly important to them; many of them aspire to own luxury brands. Celebrity culture is is also highly prominent and KOLs are considerably less influential especially in luxury brands compared to celebrity spokepersons.
Another important emerging trend is the growing seniors' market due to Taiwan’s ageing population. However, this is a tough market because it is completely new and we do not have much data on this segment of consumers…on their media consumption behaviour and we are still studying their consumption patterns. Senior consumers are also creatures of habit and they have very high brand loyalty, for example those who have consumed Brand’s chicken essence and Quaker oats throughout their working lives are likely to do the same into their retirement. But it is a market with huge potential for health products and I feel we should look to Japan which is advanced in serving its seniors' market.
Lin: Due to our colonial history, Taiwanese consumers are very open to Japanese culture and of course we have a lot of shared culture with China. In general, Taiwanese consumers are very open to overseas culture.
Taiwanese consumers are very susceptible to trends, they love to try out things that are popular on social media. People like to talk about how long they have queued for a certain item. Brands that offer limited editions of products can also expect a good sale as consumers enjoy the hype and they want to be the first to own the products. In recent years, we also see growing appreciation of artisanal goods among Taiwanese consumers.
Neelakantan: Taiwan is a highly developed retail market—from convenience to pharmacy to beauty stores, and of course hyper-markets. Convenience in particular is highly developed especially for categories such as beverages, tobacco, snacks/food and confectionery. There is literally a 7-11 or Family Mart almost every 100 metres—and they have also evolved from being a convenience outlet to a quasi-dine-in outlet where people sit down to grab a coffee and a hot dog or ready-to-eat noodles over lunch. Most households are dual income households—which heightens the need for convenience and ‘on-the-go’ consumption.
Lee: Taiwan has long been a leading technology hub in the region with key strengths in the computer hardware and semiconductor industries and many Taiwan-grown companies such as Acer, Asus, Foxconn, Garmin, HTC, TSMC and Pegatron are global players.
As such, the Taiwan market has long been very progressive and an avid adopter of the latest technologies. Taiwanese value quality and innovation above all. There is some preference for local products, especially those that match global standards but the emphasis is on good quality.
Based on Appier’s cross screen research, we also found that Taiwanese have by far the most varied level of engagement across the devices they own. With 70 percent of Taiwan consumers owning three or more devices, they have a very clear preference on the types and formats of ads and promotional material they receive on their devices. Besides, 58 percent of cross screen users in Taiwan tend to exhibit completely different behaviors when interacting with ads on different screens, at rates higher than the regional average (44 percent).
What are some of the issues that brands need to be aware of when marketing in Taiwan?
Tang: Politics must be avoided at all cost. Pan-green (pro-independence) and pan-blue (pro-unification) politics can be very divisive. However, the Taiwanese society is rather tolerant of religion and we have seen brands participating in religious events such as the annual Mazhu goddess processions.
Yu: Anything that involves politics is off-limits.
Lin: Pan-blue and pan-green politics can be very divisive and we do not even talk about it between friends. Having said that, consumers are not always sensitive about cross-straits relations, we look up to Chinese brands that have done well and want to learn from them.
Neelakantan: No specific rules—the basics of ‘understanding of cultural context and consumer tension’ coupled with through understanding of the consumer, shopper journey and media/retail landscape will probably hold you in good stead before embarking on any marketing campaign.
Lee: Taiwanese people have a growing sense of national identity. Even if the brands are not homegrown, it is critical for them to show relevancy with the Taiwanese by adopting an emotionally-engaged approach. Being local-friendly is always appreciated by the population in the light of their cultural uniqueness.
Is there anything advertisers need to avoid and what are the workaround solutions?
Tang: Brands are still rather cautious around LGBT even though the court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage recently. Taiwanese society is largely supportive of the LGBT cause but we still don’t discuss it openly because we feel that it is a matter of personal choice and privacy. Anyway, it is better for brands to play safe by not being controversial in their approach.
Yu: Brands still won’t touch on topics such as same-sex marriage. I admire McDonald’s for their courage in releasing the LGBT-themed ad for McCafe last year, it was a good effort. But they can afford to do it because they are McDonald’s, and they have enjoyed a good standing in the Taiwanese market for years. It is very risky for a new brand entering the Taiwanese market to attempt [such a] topic because it could backfire on them.
Neelakantan: Whilst Taiwan had a favourable ruling on same-sex marriage making it the first country in Asia to do so, not many brands have embarked on any specific campaign to take advantage of this or champion this. There have been the odd tactical initiatives on social media – but nothing that would be counted as a major initiative or a call to action.
Lee: Stay clear of political issues and expressing political views. Global brands can be very successful if they build a strong local identity and tie in with unique aspects of Taiwan’s culture such as music, food and sports.