When I raised the topic of how Millennials are perceived among some fellow Little Emperors during a party in Beijing, they shrugged the question off and continued to toy with their smartphones.
"Stop talking nonsense and please check the badge I just got for this restaurant," said Kevin Tang, a young professional who spends most of his time in social media sites like Sina Weibo, check-in sites like Jiepang and Chinese Groupon sites. It is because of Kevin and his smartphone we found the restaurant we were dining in, and secured a 30% discount for the meal. "Hey! Help me! What do you guys think of the food here? I am drafting my review of the restaurant on Sina Weibo."
Kevin's question was more popular than mine as the tweet he posted generated an ongoing conversation online about the eatery's unique dishes, but their food obsession hasn't stopped me from thinking about this topic. I believe it is time for our "elders" to drop the perception of Millennials as a homogenous youth group and start to explore our diversity and purchasing power.
Why? Millennials are considered to be the "largest, most diverse, educated and influential shoppers on the planet," according to Gen Buy. With an estimated 1.7 billion of us worldwide and 300 million in China, marketers would be crazy not to recognize us.
Social media advocates
We're vocal, passionate, and big spenders...we're basically a marketer's dream, if we like you. Furthermore, we are active in social media and would be happy to advocate for your brand if you approach us in the right way.
Sometimes Millennials have our own nicknames online. BlackBerry fans are referred to as "BBers" and iPhone addicts are called "Crazy Lovers" (from the literal pronunciation of iPhone in Chinese). Chinese Millennials have an incredibly close relationship with brands and, in fact, brand preference is the number one identifier that we're willing to share online, according to Edelman's recent 8095 study, which explores brands' relationships and purchasing decisions among consumers born between 1980 and 1995.
If a brand shares the same values with us, we are likely to become a fan and follow it in Sina Weibo, Kaixin001 or QQ Zone, and we don't hesitate to ask friends to join the brand's online community or organize interest groups in these sites to pronounce our love of the brand.
Edelman's 8095 study also reveals that 95% of Millennials in China are willing to share deeper personal information with brands in exchange for more content and information from brands we like. One hundred percent of Chinese Millennial teens say this! So trade access for information--we don't mind being entered into that database so long as we can be in-the-know with our favorite brands.
There are more than 800 branded accounts in Sina Weibo but most of them fail to become our friends, because they are dry and offer nothing more than updates about the company. We blacklist brands which don't effectively engage with us online.
We expect brands to play an important role in our lives, to help us learn about new trends and achieve our personal goals, so we'll likely switch brands if a new one helps us in other areas of our lives.
Millennials want brands to make a positive impact
When Millennials were asked what would convince them to switch brands, about 30% said, "Give me the tools and resources to help me in other areas of my life." More than half (52%) also rely on brands to learn about new trends, which outranks celebrities, peers their own age and people in other generations as a source. This quest is not limited to our personal needs. Chinese Millennials are the most likely to say they depend on business leaders and brands to make a positive impact on the world compared to Millennials in other countries.
Millennials' brand purchasing decisions are not made in silos. Even when considering some of the most basic buys, over 50% use four or more sources of information to help make a decision and a third use seven or more sources.
In the ever important digital world, the use of technology is a way of life for us as the internet and mobile internet provide endless sources to help us make choices. When my friend Belly Su was planning to purchase a car, she first went to Sina.com's auto channel to learn about its various features. Then she reviewed the conversations on Xcar.com, which provides a forum for car owners to review their vehicles, followed by logging onto Sina Weibo and asking her close friends to help her make the final decision. With our voracious appetite for information and engagement, brands should be sure to find us on various platforms.
While technology makes this constant connection possible, we build our own filters to sort out what's important to us. It is essential for brands to remember that digital media is only one part of the way in which we learn about, respond to, and ultimately engage with brands.
When Millennials were asked what they have done on behalf of a brand they trust and respect, 84% in China said they have recommended the products to their family and friends. They often friend or follow that brand on their social network (73%) or volunteer to test new products (55%).
Raised in a seamless digital culture
From joining brand-sponsored online communities to viewing and recommending videos to commenting on a customer service issue, action has become a part of the fabric of social interaction. We have been raised in this seamless digital culture, so brands which can effectively monitor these habits and find ways to activate us will win.
Although Facebook and Twitter are not easily accessed in China, the mushrooming of Chinese social media platforms Sina Weibo, Kaixin001 and Renren.com has enabled Chinese consumers to share, contribute and engage with their friends as well as brands.
This is what we call "the reverberation effect"--the impact Millennials can have on brands through communication with their extended peer groups in real time. This reverberation is taking place online, offline and increasingly on mobile devices as smartphones and other gadgets rise in popularity among Chinese Millennials.
We are more willing to take positive rather than negative action on behalf of brands online, however we are the most likely to share our negative experiences online compared to other Millennials around the world. 8095 global data suggests that 60% of Chinese Millennials write about positive brand experiences while 53% write about negative brand experiences. Word certainly gets around!
With our strong voices, powerful influence and widening wallets, Millennials should matter to every brand marketer in China. Helping Millennials is helping yourself--we may be Little Emperors but we can also show you the money!
Vincent Lee is a digital manager at Edelman, Beijing.
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