As China changes from a production-led economy to one stimulated by consumer spending, the nation's middle (spending) class grows accordingly. Statistics vary as to the size of this group, but it is undeniable that it represents a new, to-be-entrenched form of lifestyle that will define Chinese consumption in the future.
For brands, it is essential to understand the psychology of China's middle class at a more intimate level, to facilitate a more relevant and persuasive conversation with them.
China's new feminine consumption class
Perhaps surprisingly, a fundamental trait of the new Chinese middle class is that it is predominately feminine in orientation.
Previously, class groupings in China followed a socialist or chauvinist definition. In the revolutionary years, model Communist heroes and exemplars were predominately male. Similarly, in the earlier years of China's economic miracle, a new class stereotype emerged of an overnight rags-to-riches, womanising male entrepreneur.
However male-centric definitions are now being challenged and replaced.
Several shifts in Chinese society have created female leadership of the middle class. The one-child policy also levelled the playing field for Chinese women.
First, women were raised as 'prodigal sons' with access to the same education and resources as their male classmates. Second, the advent of the two-income family meant women were encouraged and rewarded for continuing their careers.
In this context, women have more power within the household, and therefore the right to spend money on themselves and others. Irrespective of whether it is the supermarket, travel agent, movie theatre or flagship luxury boutique, Chinese women have control of the purse strings. According to Mintel, 58 per cent of Chinese moms say they are solely responsible for managing household finances.
Adding to feminine influence on the Chinese middle class is technology. While mobile payments and e-commerce have been taken up with enthusiasm by many demographics, Chinese women have embedded new technologies into their identities and personalities. This was evident during Single's Day, when feminine categories such as beauty, cosmetics and baby products reached dizzying sales volumes.
What does a feminine Chinese middle class mean for brands?
Brands that have acknowledged this fundamental transformation include sports-apparel brands Nike and Adidas, which have placed urban women at the heart of their communications (see related links, below). Their focus is on empowerment; free from any sense of male limitation.
More widely on Chinese social media, specific networks have formed to explicitly engage feminine concerns. Linglong Salon is a local app providing a platform for local women to share interests and experiences, while another app, Yummy, allows sharing of more intimate subjects among the e-sisterhood.
One noticeable difference is a far more expressive, personable, personalised and passionate tone of voice on these platforms when compared to the majority of branded content (both off- and on-line).
Feminine leadership of the Chinese middle class has rendered top-down communication irrelevant at best and chauvinistic at worst. This serves as a wake-up call for brands wanting to create more genuine conversations with local consumers—whether male or female. Irrespective of the gender composition of a brand's target audience in China, the psychological impact of women on the middle class identity must be considered in how messaging is conveyed.
|Jerry Clode is head of digital and social insight at Resonance China.|