12th Webinar - Chinese Brand Natives: Brands & Millennials' Relationship Over the Past Few Decades

Updated: Apr 26

Report by Prisca Mirchandani


For our twelfth webinar we had the pleasure of listening to Marie Duval, a French national who has spent the majority of her career working in China for various multinational corporations, assisting brands in connecting them with the rapidly changing domestic market and fast-evolving consumer mindsets and motivations. Marie holds unique insight on Chinese consumer behavior over the past decades. She eventually created her own qualitative market research and brand development consulting agency SemoPass. This webinar was moderated by Annabelle Duval, Deputy Editor in Chief of European Guanxi.


Marie Duval began by arguing that China has entered a well-off society era. Emergence of a consumer’s market in China was first allowed by Deng Xiaoping’s set of reforms launched in 1976. Since then, the Chinese domestic market has grown, evolved, and is eventually reaching its maturation. New generations of Chinese entrepreneurs have shaped the economy, such as Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, or through innovations such as the cellphone company Xiaomi, or Hu Wei Wei’s Mobike bicycle sharing system, and the list goes on.


In terms of social media, online communication, and e-commerce, China offers a unique experience as it created an online environment independent and separate from that of the rest of the world, developing in parallel to the world wide web. Chinese lifestyles have also evolved incredibly since the end of the 20th century, and these changes have materialised as a rising middle class, skyscrapers mushrooming across the territory as the country urbanises, desire for brands and material comfort, plus constant upgrading of lifestyle, opening up to new experiences. Marie set the scene, portraying the new Chinese landscape and societal framework of mega trends impacting Chinese society, that allowed for new ways of consumption.


The main concept presented in the webinar was that of Brand Natives, referring to people born after the 1980s. In the Chinese context, these are the children of the one-child policy. This social conditioning can help explain consumer behavior trends in many ways. Generation Z, or “GenZ”, is ‘Me’ centered. A visible example is the sharp contrast between young millenials focusing on academic achievements and prestige while today’s young professionals continue to integrate traditional values such as the importance of settling down and forming a family.


With Brand Natives, China experienced a rise in the sentiment of individuality. In terms of consumption this transpires into choices that would reflect a unique personality: how to impact society or one's peer group, or finding one's individual force/contribution. Yet it seems the collective “we” in some ways continues to prime over the individual “me”: boundaries between work and home are blurred, colleagues may share more together through social activities such as meals and karaoke activities. While young Chinese explore individual interests, contributing to society continues to be relevant.


The modern generation of shopping malls, hubs to millions of Chinese people in newly built residential areas and suburbs, are temples of consumption of both material and immaterial goods (culture, karaoke, gyms, restaurants, bars, art exhibitions..), they embody the place where one can develop their own personality. Brands step in and accompany consumers as Badge Values of knowledge, always ahead of the latest trend. This echoes with a Confucian principle: knowledge is power. In this socio-cultural context, brands must double their efforts to create meaningful and connected campaigns to attract this new clientele. Moreover, brands must constantly reinvent their offer, as more than anywhere, Chinese market trends evolve at breakneck speeds. Chinese consumers are both demanding and very mature consumers.


The final part of the webinar was the Question & Answers segment. Questions from the audience addressed topics such as the importance of environmental issues in consumer behavior, the relationship between freedom and consumption, etc. The Speaker emphasized that brand reputation can be killed in a second in China such as the problematic 2018 Dolce and Gabbana campaign. Chinese consumers hold the future of consumerism in their hands, rather than the opposite. Foreign brands must therefore be careful when it comes to cultural values to stay attractive and relevant: either respect or ignore them and endure the consequences.


Marie Duval offered a spectacular masterclass on Brand Natives and their relationship with Brands very often perceived as “Life Buddies”, Market trends in modern China, as well as keys to understand deeply rooted cultural values for brands to successfully enter the Chinese market. To explore the challenges and complexities of China’s evolving market scene, you can find the full webinar on European Guanxi’s Youtube Channel, as well as all other webinars hosted by us.