Comparing the Digital Lifestyles of Chinese and American Consumers

Comparing the Digital Lifestyles of Chinese and American Consumers

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Chinese consumers outscore their American counterparts on nearly every metric of digital engagement.

For years the MADJOR team has been working with brands on coordinating digital actions across geographical markets and technical eco-systems. This challenge is especially acute in China and many clients seek our help to better understand the place China should occupy in their global digital transformation strategies. 

Throughout our engagements with brands from different industries, we have found that differences between the Chinese and Western digital environments are mostly apprehended through the narrow lens of platforms (Facebook/Google/Amazon vs WeChat/Baidu/Tmall for instance). We believe however that this difference in channels hides more fundamental differences in behavior. Indeed, our experience shows that what sets Chinese netizens apart is not so much which channels they use as the extent to which they integrate different digital tools into every dimension of their lifestyle. 

Put shortly: China’s digital native population is leapfrogging the west when it comes to the sophistication of its digital behavior. This offers brands opportunities to move from a “localize for China” mindset to a “lead from China” mindset when it comes to their global digital transformation efforts.

Macro Insights

MADJOR, in conjunction with Labbrand’s market research team, ran a survey with people aged 20-35 (sample size 2000) in both China and the US to study the differences in digital behavior and attitudes. This survey was based on our unique “Digital Customer Profiles” methodology that measures digital intensity across four psychological drivers: pleasure, connection, actualization and discovery.

Labbrand and MADJOR’s Digital Customer Profiles measure consumers’ digital behaviors across four psychological drivers, inspired by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

The results of the quantitative research revealed a much high propensity for digital behavior among Chinese consumers than their American counterparts. Digital tools are simply much more central to Chinese consumers’ lifestyles for more than just socializing. 

1) Chinese consumers are more inclined to use digital tools to self-actualize.

Chinese consumers use digital tools as a means to explore themselves and the world around them, and to broaden their horizons: an avenue for self-expression. US consumers in contrast use digital tools as an accessory to their offline lives, and a means to satisfy their appetite for fun and excitement.

Data Points:

Chinese view digital more as an opportunity for self-actualization.

Implication for brands:

While Americans view digital first as a functional toolkit, Chinese consumers use digital for emotive purposes, with any functional benefits viewed as a useful added feature.

This means that while your brand’s positioning concept itself doesn’t need to explicitly appeal to the Chinese desire to self-actualize, the way the positioning is brought to life – via the customer experience, communications, and even through the employer experience – should allow your Chinese target to feel explorative.

The user must feel that engaging with your brand allows them to broaden their horizons and learn more about themselves. 

2) Chinese consumers utilize digital social channels more enthusiastically than US consumers.

Meeting new people on social media may seem like a new concept in the west, but in China it is a digitally ingrained phenomenon. Young Chinese consumers are twice as likely to broadcast their lives on digital platforms compared with Americans.

The contrast between these two highly-wired societies may be due to the cultural differences – Americans believe friendships should be established offline, and are generally more concerned about surveillance/privacy than the Chinese are.

Data Points:

Digital channels are hugely important to Chinese people’s social lives – distinctly more so than in the United States.

Implication for brands:

Be open to experimenting with revenue models driven by social commerce.  For example, “Daigou” [代购, Dàigòu] – where one person overseas buys goods to sell back in their home country, with WeChat acting as a medium between seller and customer – is a common Chinese digital behavior that represents a clear business opportunity which brands have not learned from and applied to their customer experiences yet.

This may not be digitally ingrained in western digital behaviors yet.

3) Digitally native e-commerce behaviors have been widely adopted by Chinese consumers, whereas US consumers lag behind:

While US consumers are open to adopting new types of social media, this experimentation has not translated into adoption of behaviors.

Online purchase of offline services and mobile payment for offline purchases are two top-of-mind examples. In comparison, digitally native e-commerce behaviors are widely adopted by Chinese consumers, with most expecting brands will accommodate these options.

Data Points:

Ordering food, paying for items, and arranging cleaning services are all digitally ingrained behaviors in China.

Implication for brands:

Young Chinese consumers have no qualms about adopting new offline and online experiences: creating seamlessness in this process is imperative for meeting Chinese consumers where they are. Moreover, enabling payment through Alipay or WeChat Pay is no longer optional – it is essential for ensuring consideration for your brand as well as a frictionless purchase experience. 

Be Bold in Digital Actions

As young Chinese are farther along the curve in adopting new technologically-enabled behaviors, China represents an ideal arena for experimenting with digital innovations. For brands that wish to use digital in China as a means of stepping into the digital playing field globally, the high propensity for exploration and the early adoption of new technologies brings a laboratory-like setting to digital in China. Moreover, lessons learned in China can serve as a baseline for a leading digital strategy in other markets.

Be bold in experimenting with your China digital strategy. China is an opportunity to create something that may not be possible in your home market, whether due to regulatory restrictions, pre-established resource allocation, or tough-to-crack organizational produces. Daring moves put brands on the map in China. Step forward and register digital engagement in the novel ways that Chinese consumers have come to expect.