How brands derive value from consumer immersions in China

The Silk Initiative - food and beverage brand strategists for China market entry

How brands derive value from consumer immersions in China

Written by Andrew Kuiler, Managing Director @TheSilkInitiative

The Silk Initiative uses consumer immersions to bring brands as close to the hearts and homes of Chinese consumers as possible.

Meet “Mrs. Zhang”, a Chinese consumer 

Avid readers will be aware of the health and food scares that often trouble China.  Recently in Guangdong, in Southern China, a shipment of meat (chicken and beef) that was confiscated by authorities as it was immersed in highly toxic bleach to alter color, size and ‘juiciness’. In the wake of this disturbing news, we thought we’d take the opportunity to introduce you to “Mrs Zhang”, whom we met during our recent consumer immersions work for an American poultry product client, and at the same time, we shall share how we derive value from these activities to help build brands in China.

We got to know “Mrs Zhang” through consumer immersions

Our client wanted to tap into the minds of busy urban Chinese consumers in order to really understand how they seek, purchase, and enjoy better and safer on-the-go food options in a country plagued by toxic food scandals and pollution.

We thought the best way to introduce “Mrs Zhang” to our client was by conducting consumer immersions. To build a complete picture of “Mrs Zhang”, we met both male and female consumers from cities all over China. We got to know them through in depth interviews and market safaris where we accompanied them to supermarkets and convenience stores in their local neighborhoods.

The Silk Initiative conducting consumer immersions in China

Consumer immersions helped us discover purchase motivations

Great brands take root in the hearts and minds of consumers, and we believe the best way to learn how to make this happen is to uncover juicy insights from the thick of the action.

When it comes to purchase motivations, we know there are a wide range of inputs, such as job demands, family needs, social life, and even personal fulfillment. These all factor into decisions about brand choice when sizing up options on the shelf.

By conducting consumer immersions with “Mrs Zhang” and others like her, we saw how the above considerations cooperate and influence each other. We found that in addition to family and personal issues, consumers will also look to certain channels, such as specialty online shopping sites, to consume certain categories of food – valuable knowledge for any client looking to dominate a particular category. These are the kind of complexities that simply do not manifest inside a focus group room and why consumer immersions in the field are so valuable.

Valuable insights can be gained from consumer immersions

“More lamb should be taken in during winter to increase inner heat, while bitter melon should be consumed more often during summer to quell it!” – Mrs Zhang, Beijing


During the in depth interviews, consumers really open up, giving us insight into what makes them tick.

For example, we uncovered fascinating insight into what “Me Time” can mean in a Chinese cultural context. Surprisingly, “Me Time” means spending time with friends, and leaving family at home! Compared to the West, “Me Time” for some Chinese consumers is far more social, which indicates that brands that encourage sharing in a more sociable context may be better suited to meet these consumers’ needs.

Overall, consumer immersions provide a way to hear much richer stories, about families, life, and times gone by. One such important insight that our recent work revealed that is applicable for all food brands is just how strong the role of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) still plays today, with habits and practices that are passed down generation to generation.

In traditional Chinese medicine, different foods affect the amount of "inner heat" in the body in different ways

For example, particularly in Guangzhou, in the South of China, the concept that different foods affect the level of “inner heat” in the body in different ways is a markedly larger factor in peoples’ dietary choices. As a result of this insight, our client learned how and when to position themselves in a way that complements TCM.

So what is the best approach for foreign brands new to China?

Our previous work has always taught us that it’s best to fit into existing occasions, habits and practices, rather than introducing foreign concepts and brands into a culture that doesn’t understand it.

When it comes to your China strategy, what does your brand really need to know about “Mrs Zhang”? The Silk Initiative would be happy to help you find out.

Free eBook:
Want to get a copy of our free eBook in which we share more incredible insights from the hearts and homes of Chinese consumers? All you have to do is email us with your biggest unanswered question about how to get your food or beverage brand ready for China market entry.