In Search of Community: Today’s Chinese Millennials

One of the biggest questions on the minds of innovators today is how to approach millennials. As a segment, they do have a number of similarities: social media savvy; global consciousness; a need for the next big thing. In China, though, there’s a particularly unique aspect to the millennial psyche. A decades-old governmental policy and changing social structure both influence how China’s millennials view the world, where they spend their time, and what they buy. In short, they are looking for a community.

As a means of curbing the population, China implemented its well-known One-Child Policy back in the late 1970s. While this has recently been relaxed, its impact on everything from gender ratios to urbanisation is still easy to see. Overall, the policy imbued a sense of individualism in those children born during these years. It makes sense. Having no brothers or sisters, many children simply had to make do with just themselves. Interestingly, the Confucian social order is based around community. So, not only was the One-Child Policy a major shift in population but also in the structure of Chinese society.

Fast forward to today and you see this sense of individualism turning back on itself. Now, younger Chinese want a sense of community. There is growing nostalgia for bygone times where family and village units insulated and protected. No longer content with being lonely, millennials are seeking out modern ways to come together. The hope is for a steep change over the many years ahead of them.

Take, for example, social media in China. We all know about the massive numbers of users, Internet penetration even in rural villages, and online sales during marquee holidays like Single’s Day. Go a level deeper, though, and you’ll see a very different use for social media. New live streaming sites like Kuaishou give people in first-tier cities like Shanghai a glimpse into the lives of their rural counterparts. While some urban millennials may take a more tongue-in-cheek view of the platform, poking fun at their “country bumpkin” peers, more and more consumers are realising the connective power of the digital landscape. WeChat’s radar functions connect strangers together and Weibo’s Super Topic allows millions of users to form communities of opinion at one time. All of this together points to the desire to connect and build communities. In short, digital is the catalyst for a lot of the social changes millennials desire.

How, then, can business rethink this need for community among Chinese millennials? When it comes to the food and beverage industry, your first stop might very well be packaging. Consider how to build interactivity and connectedness into your pack so that it moves away from a single-use by a single user into an experience worthy of sharing. Oreo, for example, created a pack allowing users to make their own DJ booth. To add to a sense of community the product’s T-Mall page notes purchaser names, building belonging for this group. This can also shine through in your marketing, copy, and advertising. H5, one of the newest channels for product campaigns, blends interactivity, creativity, and fun into online marketing. Traditional rice pudding brand Wu Fangzhai used H5 to launch a successful storytelling campaign allowing users to direct the flow of the story through a series of prompts. These, and more, are all examples of innovation towards community-minded millennial consumers. What these platforms and brands tell us is that if you offer intention, you’re more likely to gain traction with this segment. A fancy product and great packaging have now become too static. This cohort puts connectedness and belonging at the front of the line.

Interested in staying up with all the latest millennial trends in China. Lucky for you, there are a number of great reference points, not to mention all of us here at TSI!

  • Vice News is a great resource for on-the-ground reporting of what’s happening in China from the perspective of younger demographics. Much like it’s global parent group, Vice is a no-holds-barred look at topics most are too afraid to cover.
  • Youthology is an agency with the sole purpose of studying, understanding, and deciphering Chinese youth culture.
  • To get a sense of what’s trending in the consumer campaign space, check out Digitaling. They hand pick the most interesting campaigns from around China’s digital world.

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