28
Jan
2013

Cashing in on the singular focus of Chinese culture

There are a number of cultural reasons and a great deal of history behind the Chinese focus on the individual, much of which revolves around the past 50 years, and some going back much longer. However, by understanding this culture, luxury brands can develop strategies that play towards, and not against it. By example, although not directly related to luxury, Chinese football (soccer), like many other team sports in China is hampered by individualism. Chinese players don’t think like a team, they care about themselves first and all want to be the star of the show. Clubs buy in very expensive foreign players who find that their teammates play as ten individuals, and as a result they are often very frustrated and ineffective, no matter how good they may be.

This individualism starts at a very early age, as parents plus two sets of grandparents pamper the baby, making it the centre of all their worlds; and so it goes on until they are old enough to take responsibility for their own parents, and the circle continues. Such a predictable cycle offers luxury brands a chance to sell to, and influence Chinese consumers from an age much earlier than they might elsewhere in the world, and to expand this influence across multiple generations all at the same time.

I was fortunate very recently to sit in on an event at a kindergarten, where piano manufacturer Beckstein held a 90-minute session, including the basics of piano construction, concert manners and etiquette and a short recital, to introduce the brand to prospective consumers, and their three and four year old children or grand children. Every Chinese parent wants their child to be a star of stage or screen, or a very successful business leader, so spending 300,000 RMB on a beautiful walnut upright piano not only demonstrates their commitment to the future of their offspring, but also establishes their status to others.

Many years ago, my two children started playing the piano amongst other instruments, and subsequently carried on until they went to university, but at the age of five, I couldn’t see that spending large sums of money on something that may be abandoned within twelve months, made sense. I knew that we were in for ten years or more of clubs and activities from football to guides, and choir to school trips abroad. Had my children become virtuoso pianists early on, I may have upgraded their piano, but putting money into a possible white elephant wasn’t logical to me.

The reality is that western thinking doesn’t apply to many things in China, but that the cultural focus on the individual is the emphasis that makes people buy luxury products for others and to make themselves look and feel better. Selling luxury to the young in China is not morally wrong, it’s adapting to cultural differences. The route to the Chinese consumer is often through their children no matter what their age.

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