Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Oct 14, 2011

Rural consumers in China clock more online hours than thought

BEIJING - Starcom MediaVest Group has unveiled detailed research that sheds light on the importance of digital in the lives of Chinese consumers in lower-tier cities.

A typical tier-5 convenience store on the streets in Hebei
A typical tier-5 convenience store on the streets in Hebei

Insights from the Yangtze Study show that beyond the country’s urban centers, digital is surprisingly more important to rural Chinese consumers than first thought.

Consumers in tier-3 cities clock the most online contact hours per day - an average of 3.57 hours compared to their tier-1 and tier-2 counterparts at 3.08 and 3.07 hours respectively.

The study highlights the prevalence of online entertainment, especially video, as a favourite way for Chinese consumers to digest content. Respondents spent an average of 1.76 hours daily watching video clips on their computers, with tier-2 consumers leading the pack at 1.98 hours.

"What we are witnessing now is the biggest digital evolution on earth taking place right here in China. There is a growing population of netizens in lower tiers who do not even have a TV set at home and instead are choosing to watch most of their TV content online”, Jeffrey Tan, SMG China’s national research & insights director said. 

Likewise, some findings also upended traditional ways of thinking about Chinese consumers. Among them is the diminishing value of wealth for rural consumers.

Although 64 per cent of tier-1 consumers regard money as a measure of happiness and success, the percentage drops in tandem with the tier-level of the city, with only 42 per cent of tier-5 respondents agreeing with that statement. 

The one constant that fuels most Chinese citizens is the social bond of kinship, with 81 per cent saying that family is more important than a career. The success of the young in the family is collectively celebrated by the entire family. This seems to suggest that their perspective of happiness is generally not defined by material gain.

Unlike their big-city peers, life in the lower tiers is more about “fitting in” and less about “standing out.” In rural areas, deviations from the norm are frowned upon. Particularly, youths in tier-4 and tier-5 markets see themselves as less rebellious and more conformist.

Spanning 510 locations across 27 provinces in China, the study interacted with 13,507 consumers aged 13-45 years. In the quantitative phase, respondents were interviewed face-to-face about their media preferences as well as lifestyle attitudes. In the qualitative phase, Starcom MediaVest employees embarked on a 12-day exploration of counties in the Guangdong, Hebei and Anhui provinces.

“China is focused on developing its more rural areas to catch up with the bustling big cities. In that context, it felt very natural for us to dive deeper into these less-understood regions where there is a current lack of credible and practical consumer data,” Bertilla Teo, CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group Greater China said.

87 per cent of the Chinese population reside in the less visible corners in the mainland. This kind of information has been largely unavailable to marketers interested in China and will prove to be helpful in allocating budgets more wisely across various target segments. Starcom MediaVest Group China’s clients include Procter & Gamble, Coca Cola, Mars Wrigley, China Telecom, Li Ning and Jahwa.

On the other hand, lower-tier consumers are often unaware of the brands they purchase because, understandably, their purchasing decisions are often governed by price. Only 41 per cent of consumers in tier-5 towns and villages believe buying a famous brand can improve their social status, compared to 62 per cent in tier-1 megacities.

However, although lower-tier consumers are not as brand-savvy as their higher-tier counterparts, they share the same desire for reliable, safe products.

The Yangtze study points out that opportunities are abound for brands to develop stronger connections to lower-tier consumers with information that helps them be smarter and more confident about what they are buying.

Another opportunity for marketers is to use celebrity endorsements to break through media clutter and draw attention to their brands. Celebrities are regarded almost as friends by rural consumers, with some saying that celebrity-supported brands are more trustworthy. 




Campaign China

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