What Marketers Need to Know About China's Super-Rich

The Wealthiest Chinese Are Traveling, Collecting and Sending Their Kids Abroad For School

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The richest of the rich in China are growing in confidence and clout, with a global outlook that underscores the opportunities for marketing to this elite group, the author of a recent report says.

There were 251 dollar billionaires ranked on the Hurun Rich List 2012, a tally of the 1,000 wealthiest individuals in China. Additionally, the country has 2.7 million dollar millionaires, with wealth coming from industries such as manufacturing, property and finance.

Beijing is home to the most number of individuals on this year's Rich List (123), followed by Shanghai (80) and the southern boomtown of Shenzhen (74).

Rupert Hoogewerf, chairman and chief researcher of the Hurun Report -- which puts out the Rich List each year -- believes that for every billionaire he identified, there was likely one that was missed.

"You can say there's 500-plus self-made dollar billionaires in China, which is probably the largest group of self-made super-rich anywhere in the world -- perhaps even including the U.S.," he said.

For marketers, it's important to keep in mind: "They're traveling, they're shopping, they're beginning to collect."

Although nearly half of those on the Rich List saw their wealth shrink this past year largely due to a soft market, "the entrepreneurs are on average 10 times richer than they were 10 years ago," Mr. Hoogewerf said.

"These entrepreneurs are now being met by presidents and prime ministers when they go overseas," he said. "Going forward, I'm expecting to see their clout -- their economic, social, political, international clout -- and stock continue to rise. They are the most dynamic group in China. This is watching raw capitalism at its rawest."

Gifting is an important part of Chinese culture, not only for holidays but business occasions as well. Hurun research showed that Chinese millionaires typically buy gifts costing between $800 and $3,200. Louis Vuitton is the top brand for gifting, followed by Cartier, Hermes and Chanel. Chinese liquor brand Moutai, with a base price of about $250 per bottle, was ranked fifth. Apple was sixth.

Seventy percent of the super-rich claim to be collectors, Mr. Hoogewerf said. Watches are the most popular collectible, led by Patek Philippe, Cartier and Vacheron Constantin. Chinese classical art, fine wines and luxury homes are also popular collectors' items.

And when it comes to children: "Ninety percent of the super-rich are looking to send their children overseas (for education), almost like finishing school. The U.S. and U.K. are market leaders," Mr. Hoogewerf said. Marketers have an opportunity to influence wealthy Chinese through their children, especially as the families are increasingly buying properties and investing overseas.

Topping this year's Rich List was Zong Qinghou, founder and chairman of the Wahaha beverage group, worth $12.6 billion. He was followed by property tycoon Wang Jianlin, worth $10.3 billion, whose Dalian Wanda Group acquired the U.S. cinema chain AMC Entertainment this year.

Robin Li, co-founder and CEO of Chinese search engine Baidu, was third on the list with $8 billion in personal wealth. Also in the Top 10 was Pony Ma, founder and CEO of Internet giant Tencent, worth $6.5 billion.

Some of the richest Chinese also have significant social media followings. They are led by "China's Oprah," Yang Lan, who has more than 24 million people following her microblog accounts.

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