Are China’s Millennials the next Australian Baby Boomers?

Are China’s Millennials the next Australian Baby Boomers?

It’s no surprises wine exporters into China, like many other Australian exporters, are trying their best to understand the Chinese consumer. The opportunity in the market is huge as the middle class grows, rapid urbanisation occurs and the people who live there change their lifestyle preferences.

If you’re planning on going into business in China you will have already heard a lot of fanfare over the Chinese ‘Millennial’ as the next big consumer. Australian brands are going mad with the prospect of this large population and doing their best to put together their collective minds to somehow capitalise on the younger generations burgeoning income.

So there are no surprises a lot the commentary from Australia is around getting your product into the hands of the Chinese Millennial buyer. Why will they buy your product, what do they want, and how will they find it and buy it?

While we were in China for three weeks a lot of conversation was had around the stark difference between the Australian under 30 and the Chinese under 30 in their attitudes, outlook and behaviours. While there are some similarities which pertain to same stage of life, on the whole we are dealing with a completely different mindset.

As we travelled from South to North the similarities of the Chinese Millennial to the Australian Baby boomer became increasingly obvious. This planted the seed, if we can track back to the cycle of the Baby Boomer and their behaviours we can probably better sell to this new Chinese Millennial consumer also. Helping us plan out what message we should be using in this market (which will probably look quite different to the Australian market).

Let’s launch into the fundamentals of how we have drawn this link.

Have you heard of the Strauss-Howe theory?

If you work in the marketing space it is worth a read, best explained in the 1997 book The Fourth Turning. It is a generational theory which has observed Westernised cultures for centuries to pattern behaviour, suggesting human behaviour is cyclical and repetitive.

The theory identifies each country cycles through four stages which last 20 – 25 years and then repeats. These four stages are known as The High, The Awakening, The Unravelling and The Crisis.

Depending when a person is born during the countries cycle will broadly shape individual attitudes and behaviours over the course of their lifetime.

No theory is perfect but it is a good place to start to form some generalisations about how a generation might act now and into the future.

Those born during the ‘High’ are known as ‘Prophets’, born during ‘Awakening’ are ‘Nomads’, born during ‘Unravelling’ are ‘Heroes’ and those born during ‘Crisis’ are the ‘Artists’. Each generation with their own style which plays out during the course of their lifetime as they then experience each era, but also like the four stages, the generations stylistically repeat every 80-100 years.

First we will observe the Australian Baby Boomers who were born in the mid-1940s through to 1960/1964. Born during ‘The High’ period in Australia following the Crisis of the World Wars – a boom time defined by the euphoria of soldiers returning from war. The birth rate doubled and immigration boomed the population reaching its peak in the mid-1950s but powering on until the pill almost a decade later.

The doubling of population meant a doubling of service and facility requirements so Baby Boomers were taught to compete for resources and success from a young age. As a result the characteristics you would find in a youthful boomer through to adulthood are:

“Baby boomers are extremely hardworking and motivated by position, perks and prestige. They pride themselves on long hours, being career focused and professionally successful, striving to win.

They are confident, independent and self-reliant, questioning authority and not afraid of confrontation to challenge accepted practices.

They believe in hierarchical structure, rankism and face time as being important.  

The booming economy made it relatively easy to advance up the ranks from a young age; avoiding student loans and other debt due to the expansion of a public education and a booming economy. Also, for the Baby Boomer era, the opportunities for women during this period became more broadly acceptable.”

In the 1960s in Australia the wine and food scene was not nearly as diverse and exciting as it is today. There were no culinary icons, meat and three veg still ruled the table and you were most likely to consume fortified wine. By the late 1980s the Australian wine and food industry was starting to form with the establishment of the International Slow Food movement, Taste Festivals and the introduction of new licencing laws allowing for a glass of wine or coffee to be served at cafes. The opening of Melbourne’s first bar occurred, fast food eateries started to pop up as well as community gardens.

The 1980s were the years of buying dangerously. It was the era of ‘shop til-you-drop’, high tech gadgets hit the scene, arriving on our TV screens was MTV and USA today, as well as gourmet babies where parents started spending a lot of money on boutique strollers and clothing. Consumerism and indulgence flourished. The 1980s saw the mass expansion of credit cards across society.

In the late 1990s two big shifts occurred culturally which saw celebrity endorsement boom. The first was the rise of websites and magazines which chronicle mundane daily activities of stars on a 24/7 basis appealing to a consumer who was eager to mimic celebrities habits to boost their ‘rankism’.

The second was the rise of celebrities wanting to use their personal brand to endorse products and services. The celebrity switching ‘endorsements’ as something you did at the end of your career to something you do during your career. This is a trend which, as social media has flourished, has opened up opportunities for plain old “blow jo” to start out as an endorser and then use this leverage to lead into their career.

Other successful trends back then which mainly centered on information only being available to the seller has shifted. No longer in the information age will this selling strategy work, particularly in fast paced China. So the rest of our modern day selling techniques such as the power of brand, utilising e-commerce and social media platforms are as relevant to China as it is everywhere else in the world.

So what does this mean for the Chinese Millennial and how we sell to them?

Well. First let’s make sure we are comfortable they fit the bill for being similar to the Baby Boomer.

They were born during the High period in China post the Crisis period of the Cultural Revolution of 1966 – 1976 amongst other major disasters in China. Hence they are ‘Prophets’ like their Baby Boomer counterparts. This means, as per the Strauss-Howe Theory, they most likely will share similar age-location, attitudes and values shaped by similar life experiences.

Post 1980 China also experienced a population growth of 45%, classified as a baby boom we would say. Twenty years on and they are a privileged generation growing up in childhood during a period of economic reforms and the opening up of the country.

The similarities in their attitudes and behaviours to the baby boomers while in China were stark. There is a sense of economic optimism and the Millennials have emerged as confident spenders who are less price sensitive enjoying luxury and high-quality goods.

Much like the baby boomers at the same age Chinese Millennials are more likely to spend money on entertaining, experiences online and offline and increasingly look to shopping as a source of social entertainment.

They are eating out more and more, they buy cars which will make them seem more successful or are eye-catching, they like to travel and they want to appear sophisticated in their buying habits. And like their baby boomer counter parts as they head into their mid-life they are being promised the American Dream and they aspire to get it. They aspire for the perfect wholesome family, mum at home, picture perfect and dad works hard to provide.

By middle age they most likely will be quite conservative and seek an established family life, a house and a built career.

Most importantly what does this mean for us as sellers to this market or those who are looking to better capture the imagination of these buyers.

We can only say the trend in Australia over the same period was a growth in food and wine culture; a period when celebrity endorsement was critical and the family man was king. Lets revisit what worked for the Boomers and apply it here. 

If you remember anything from this article remember this, both generations, although born decades apart, are motivated by ‘position, perks and prestige’. We’re not talking to the Australian Millennial here who believe that culture is more important then money and value flexibility above all else – are socially responsible minded, team orientated and environmentally focused. This would be the fundamental key insight we took away from the trip.

So now, how can you better sell to this market? We’ve got a few ideas.

7 Comments

  1. Allister. The process you illustrate is true but there are many more variables than displayed.I suggest you look at the car industry as an example and how the GMH ,FORD and Toyota are tackling the same problem. This recognises the fact that the top end, Merc. Audi and BMW had a short start on the others and captured the high ground. Should talk on this aspect. Bruce C

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