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Influencers and Impulse: Marketing to China’s “Z-lennial” Generation

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Kestrel Lee
Kestrel Lee

Executive Creative Director, China

FreemanXP APAC

How brands can best connect with Generation Z in China

Swamped by articles on millennials, one would be forgiven for thinking that they’re the only young generation to consider.

In-the-know marketers see things differently. They are not only scrambling to connect with this enormous market segment. Marketers are also casting an eye on the millennials’ younger cousins: Generation Z. In China, Gen Z (also called “Z-lennials”) include young people born after 1980. This group is a large and incredibly powerful retail segment. It is estimated to make up 40 percent of all consumers by 2020. Brands in China and abroad need to completely overhaul their strategies if they hope to resonate with these consumers.

My Generation: Millennials and Z-Lennials Together

Admittedly, there is a broad age difference between millennials and Z-lennials. The oldest millennials are in their mid-thirties, while Z-lennials are still in their teens. Marketers, however, have noticed the two generations have several traits in common. There is therefore a tendency to treat the two generations as a single segment when developing marketing strategies.

What are these shared traits?

  • Both generations are tech-savvy, well educated, worldly, tightly connected, and discerning consumers.
  • They’re digital natives who spend significant time on social media, gaming apps, and ecommerce platforms.
  • They have high standards when it comes to service. They are used to instant gratification, fast downloads, and same-day shipping.

The good news? Members of both generations typically do not yet have strong brand loyalties. As a result, they tend to be open to new experiences and messaging. 

Z-Lennials as Consumers

The first thing to understand is that Z-lennials in China shop differently from their Western counterparts.

Both rely heavily on social media and other online sources when shopping, but the experience in China is more fluid and seamless.

For example, instead of flitting back and forth between Google, Instagram, style blogs, company websites, and Amazon, Z-lennials in China can often be found exploring, having discussions, researching, and purchasing solely via Taobao, the massive online shopping website (which has a higher transaction volume than all US retailers and e-commerce sites combined). With Z-lennials, the more easily and organically answers and products come to them, the better.

For Z-lennials in China, it’s not just about making a purchase: it’s about the experience.

They share images and feedback on their purchase via social media. They also buy compulsively in a desire to chase a positive experience or capture some of the allure of their favorite influencer. Because this generation is hyper-connected, they’re eager to focus on the “now.” They seek shareable, unique experiences that will make their carefully curated social feeds as envy-worthy as possible, establishing them as influencers in their own right. 

Taking the Lead: Marketing to Z-Lennials

For Western brands who are still focusing on Western millennials, marketing to Z-lennials in China will require a major shift. Many brands are well behind the curve.

Notably, brands will need to devote more resources to digital marketing.

Merely functional digital marketing simply will not cut it with tech-savvy Z-lennials. Instead, brands should plan on allocating a substantial portion of their budget to keeping up to date on the latest digital and social media trends.

Another area that requires attention? Mobile experience.

More than 89 percent of Chinese consumers access the internet via smartphones. Mobile e-commerce made up over 80 percent of total Chinese online shopping transactions in 2017.

Understanding the trends and the tech is important. However, it would be a mistake to think that tech is the end goal. This assumption has led many marketers on a fruitless chase, constantly pursuing the newest trendy channel or cutting-edge technology, instead of building true connections with their market. 

An Example of a Brand That Got it Right

Life-Space, a probiotics company, turned its brand focus on its head by appealing to always-on-the-go young people instead of traditional mom-and-baby marketing. Its focus on probiotics as part of a healthy lifestyle and beauty regime spoke clearly to young female Z-lennials who eagerly devour social media for beauty tutorials and tips.

Ultimately, the key when marketing to Z-lennials is to look at them not as a generation, but as individuals. Identify exactly who you want to reach. Then, find out where they are and what you can offer that’s valuable to this group.

Chinese Z-lennials want their marketing to be personal. They don’t follow brands; they follow people and authentic consumer experiences. By providing them with targeted and seamless interactions, your brand can become an integral part of Z-lennial consumer culture.

Want more ideas on making your marketing personal? Our teams can help you connect with consumers in meaningful ways across the world.

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