How to market to Chinese Millennials and Gen-Z consumers

When you’re a Western brand marketing in China, it’s important to understand the generational differences and the impact that this has on spending patterns, customer expectations and your own marketing campaigns. Chinese millennials (born between 1981 and 1995) and Gen-Z customers (born after 1996) are a hugely powerful and influential market in China, and these sophisticated customers are both affluent and keen to buy innovative, fun and high-quality items from Western brands.

Features of Chinese Millennials and Gen-Z consumers

China’s economy and society have completely reshaped within a generation, and as Generation Z comes of age, brands are competing to attract these affluent and… extremely disloyal young customers! Surveys show that when it comes to brands, marketing and shopping, Generation Z customers are not attached to particular brands and will readily switch to competitors. This has huge implications for Western brands that are used to using brand loyalty and retention marketing campaigns.

However, the fact is that this trend has been emerging in China (and in the West) for some time. Fickle customer traits are also seen in millennials, with a third saying that they are also less brand loyal than their parent’s generation. This trend has been driven by a rise in online shopping and the power of KOLs, which regularly promote brands to their loyal audiences. Customers also spend less time in retail stores and other brand-owned spaces, driven partly by Covid, and brands no longer control their own narrative.

Chinese customers have long been known for carrying out in-depth research into the products and services that they buy, and they have more information at their fingertips than ever before. This means that they can easily buy from one brand and then switch to a competitor at the click of a button, especially if there is a ‘new customer’ incentive, a fresh trend or a compelling KOL recommendation to pursue.

How can Western brands gain loyalty from young Chinese customers?

There is a temptation for brands to simply ‘do what they always did’ but with more vigour, focus and spending. But research suggests that measures such as price-cutting, bigger advertising or product innovation are no longer enough to guarantee brand loyalty in China. Instead, brands should look at the brand itself. Key points for success are:

– Create a brand that has a bigger purpose (social responsibility and sustainability)
– Show that customer loyalty matters – and is rewarded – with a personalised approach.

Let’s look at these in closer detail.

1. Brand purpose

Western brands should no longer innovate by developing quirky product features, being the first to market or even delivering better value. Instead, they should work on developing the purpose, meaning and value of their brand. This will help to build a more genuine and long-lasting connection with fickle and discerning younger Chinese customers. Millennial and Gen Z customers care about the environment, sustainability and social good. Your brand needs to care about these things too – and do something positive about them.

2. Loyalty

Secondly, Western brands should know that Chinese Millennial and Gen-Z customers do still respond to loyalty programmes and they are more likely to buy from brands that operate them. This should remain a focus of retention marketing, with high-quality rewards schemes and loyalty experiences that matter to these customers. For success, there needs to be a meaningful and substantive offer. This means genuine perks and a true community that offers value. For example, there could be an actively managed online community, regular rewards for members, special birthday messages from the brand and personalised offers.

Western brands should also define loyalty carefully. In China, this means more than just a repeat purchase. The notion of brand loyalty means having an emotional connection and a sense of positivity and dedication to the brand. Aim to be first in your target customer’s mind with an integrated digital strategy. For example, you might:

– Focus on putting the right online adverts in front of your Chinese Millennial and Gen Z audience
Use the KOLs that your young target audience value and listen to
Offer meaningful reward mechanisms such as your loyalty programme, and private online communities (for example, you could share added-value explainer, tip or ‘how to’ content with your private community, delivered by popular KOLs).
Integrate your social media marketing for social reinforcement – with an engaging, user-led community that shares positive feelings and experiences about your brand.
Keep your values and purpose at the heart of your brand. Share content that focuses on positive emotions, societal benefit, community gains and wellbeing. Public good and environmentalism are very important to these customers.
Offer added-value services to your network of customers. These could include gift registration services, consultation services or installation, birthday and anniversary perks, special gift-wrapping and delivery, referral offers and so forth. Be creative!
Make full use of your branded social media feeds with live streams, digital stickers, social shoutouts, personalised communications, contests and user testing.
Create a sense of anticipation with pre-order lists, sample giveaways, live stream launches, special events and customisation.

The end-to-end experience

Savvy young Chinese customers also expect to experience a brand in a holistic, consistent way that is wholly authentic. Many brands are using this knowledge to create added-value activities, such as pop-up events and campaigns. For example, Moleskine hosted a pop-up cafe in Beijing in 2018 to encourage its creative community, providing a flexible hub space for users to work or pursue creative pursuits. Other brands such as Lululemon are extending their retail spaces so that they also host yoga and fitness classes, workshops and socialising spaces. These brands are focusing on the value, the authenticity and the community aspect of their high-end offers, and making their brands go to’s for products and services that reinforce young customers’ lifestyles.

Social media at the heart

These brands are creating a new wave of’ fan-sumer’; a term that describes shoppers who engage with brands in an entirely new way, and one that is built around clout and culture as well as the product and services themselves. Social media has built the power of these customers like never before and young Chinese customers want to co-create their brand experiences. Western brands who want to become – and stay – relevant to their millennial and Gen Z customers must leverage their social platforms to the max. This means listening to customers as well as communicating with them, and delivering ‘ultra-engagement’ strategies via targeted, private and valuable communities that bring the brand to life in a more meaningful way than ever before.

It’s certainly a big challenge for Western marketers, but one that has the potential of huge reward. China’s Gen Z alone represents almost 150 million increasingly-affluent customers, so there really is everything to play for!

Find out more

Market Me China can help your Western brand successfully navigate the evolving world of Chinese marketing. Our digital marketing experts can help you to create powerful and integrated digital marketing strategies that will appeal to your Gen Z and Millennial customers. Please contact us in the first instance to find out more and to discuss your needs.