MEC China Explores Home-Oriented Consumer Segment
And how best to communicate with them via weibo
Shanghai - MEC, www.mecglobal.com, a leading media agency, and WebInsight (www.webinsight.cn) today jointly released “Zhai @ Weibo”. Zhai (the Chinese term for cocoon (v), cocooner (n), and cocooning (adj)), is a huge emerging consumer segment in China. MEC first reported on the growth of this consumer segment in its “Consumption Trends China 2012”, a trend-watching report on China’s changing consumption behaviour. The size of the zhai segment is further validated by data from a large scale tracking study on consumption and media habits, showing that 49% of Chinese consumers living in cities prefer to stay at home during non-working hours. At the same time, similar studies also showed an increase over time of people who prefer to zhai at home.
The Chinese Concept of Zhai
The Chinese concept of Zhai has slight hints of the Otaku and Cocooner in it. However, Zhais are not as extreme as their counterparts in Japan and the US. Unlike the Otakus, the majority of Zhais are not addicted to ACG (animation, comic, game) cultures. Nor are they like the Cocooners, who stay at home to shelter themselves from the pressures brought on by economic crises. However, there are a portion of Zhais who are similar to Cocooners in that they are trying to hide from harsh external conditions.
The Chinese concept of Zhai is more encompassing and mass. Most Zhais do not reject going out. It is just that, given a choice, they prefer to stay home. They have hobbies and interests which they actively pursue from the comfort of their own homes. Through online shopping, social networking and surfing on the internet, they can fulfil most of their needs. While many Cocooners stay home to save money, the Zhais of China are often in active spending mode, as they purchase products to make their home a more comfortable place to stay in. Their consumption leads to an entire Zhai economy, such as online shopping, home delivery service and an increased need for entertainment and communication products among others.
Christian Giunot, President, MEC China, said, “Attitude affects behaviour. If close to half of Chinese consumers self-proclaim that they are Zhais and subsequently adopt zhai behaviour, moving consumption that usually takes place out-of-home inside the home, this will affect the structure of the market and brands in a big way. From spending more money to decorate the home, to not dining out but ordering home delivery, to shopping online instead of visiting brick ‘n mortar stores – all bets are off. The emergence of Zhai as a consumer segment offers both opportunities and challenges to marketers. The publication of our “Zhai @ Weibo” report provides much needed consumer insights for marketers to develop new business models, products, services and communication for this segment of the market.”
Reasons to Zhai
There is a multitude of reasons for the rise of Zhais:
Firstly, home is a comfortable haven to be in. With the accelerated pace of life, the crowded environment and the huge pressures at work, Zhais like to retreat to the comforts of their own homes. Once there, they can be themselves, relax and enjoy life with friends and family (either physically or virtually).
Secondly, internet broadband penetration in tier 1 to tier 4 cities of China is at a high of 90+%, allowing for a vibrant digital and virtual life for Zhais. They can access lots of information, acquire new knowledge and skills, make friends and be entertained (online shopping, online video, online games etc.) They are not losing out to their peers who are out and about most of the time.
Thirdly, some Zhais stay home because of harsh external conditions (such as food safety issues, bad weather et cetera). When Zhais compare the harsh environment with the comfort of home, the contrast is so big that staying home is an easy decision to make.
Fourthly, 29% of Zhais stay home simply because they are too lazy to go out.
Fifthly, close to one-fifth of Zhais have a strong sense of environmental protection and practise environmental friendliness by the way they live. They see staying at home as a low carbon emission, less energy consumption, and hence environmentally friendly, way of life.
Taking a look at Zhai behaviour on microblogs
Robin Chen, Research Director of WebInsight, said, “Zhais spend most of their time on the internet and fulfil their needs via social media. Therefore, we use social listening to learn about their lifestyles and internet behaviour. From 29,518 Sina Weibo (microblog in Chinese) accounts with Zhai as a tag, we see that Zhais behave differently than the average Sina microbloggers. Understanding their needs and finding appropriate ways to fulfil those needs are keys to unlocking the spending power of this half of the Chinese population.”
They are also eager to experience and participate. 43% of Zhais opened a Sina Weibo account in 2009 & 2010, which represented a much higher microblog adoption rate than the average Sina microbloggers for the same time period.
Zhais function in a different time schedule. Many of them are most active at night, from 7:00pm to 2:00am.
They listen to grassroots rather than authoritative figures or celebrities. Zhais find a sense of belonging in grassroots KOLs (key opinion leader). In the microblog accounts that Zhais follow, 42% are grassroots. The average Sina microbloggers are relatively more into stars and celebrities.
Zhais have more needs for cultural and intellectual content. 41% of Zhais has “music”, 30% has “travel” and 29% has “movie” in their tags, compared with 21%, 19% and 15% respectively in the tags of average Sina microbloggers. Zhais want to be able to relax and enjoy a sense of freedom in their travels. They also want to find entertainment and alternative life experiences in music and movies.
Zhais are avid consumers and like to shop online. Their online purchases straddle all kinds of e-commerce platforms; yet they have a strong preference for social commerce sites. 15% and 12% of Zhais followed the official microblog account of Mogujie and Meilishuo, two of the hottest social commerce sites in China. They actively merge their social life into their purchase pathway. They share their knowledge and viewpoints, especially those pertaining to their purchase and post-consumption experiences, with their friends and followers in the virtual world.
In comparison to other Sina microbloggers, Zhais are less interested in societal elites and leaders who are into public affairs. An examination of the microblog accounts that Zhais follow shows that entrepreneurs, financial wizards are not top on the list for them. Complicated financial dealings and convoluted business theories are not things that interest them.
7 tips on how to market to and engage with Zhais
Theresa Loo, National Director of Strategic Planning, Analytics and Insight for MEC China, said, “This joint research effort by MEC and WebInsight provide marketers with rich insights into the mindsets and behaviour of Zhais. The sheer size of the zhai consumer segment brings with it an entire zhai economy with profound implications for marketers. We suggest 7 tips on how to market to and engage with Zhais in our Zhai @ Weibo report.”
# 1 Provide an in-home version of what is available out of home
Since home is the most important turf for Zhais, brands that help improve their living environment or provide guidance on how to make home life more comfortable and enjoyable are likely to be well received. Providing an in-home version of what is usually available only out of home offers huge opportunities. Successful examples are Nescafe’s Nespresso, which produces coffee that can rival any Starbucks coffee and Samsung 3D home movie theatres, which allow Zhais to have in-home entertainment experiences that are unparalleled.
#2 Keep Zhais connected, both domestically and globally
One of the main reasons that Zhais believe why it is fine to stay home is because with the internet, they are not losing out to those who go out a great deal. In terms of being up to date on things happening in China, they are on par with their peers. What brands can do is to position themselves as means to bring Zhais up to date alongside their global peers. Ideally, these brands should allow Zhais to pre-empt their peers, who prefer going out, in connecting with the international arena. Better yet, since Zhais are into cultural and intellectual pursuits, music, travelling and movies are sure ways to their hearts. Be the brand to introduce Zhais to what is happening in these areas in the global stage.
#3 Host events that entice Zhais to go out of home
Some Zhais stay home for lack of a good reason to go out. Brands can host events that entice Zhais to go out of home to celebrate and enjoy life. Tapping into Zhais’ love for music, travel and movies, one example is to host a Zhai Festival in a scenic, touristy spot, bringing together the best of music and travel. Those who participated can also be invited to join a micro-movies competition, in which they can document their journey to the festival, the festival itself or its aftermath.
#4 Bridge the virtual and physical worlds for Zhais
For the 29% who said that they zhai-ed at home simply because they were too lazy to go out, brands should be their friends in the digital world and help them lead a healthy and exciting zhai lifestyle. Brands should also assist Zhais to traverse the virtual and physical worlds seamlessly and to make sure that they do not lose out by staying at home.
#5 Addressing Zhais’ green concerns
Many Zhais are into environmental protection. However, simply staying at home does not necessarily mean leading an environmentally friendly life. Brands can be Zhais’ mentor on environmental issues. Brands can emphasize their green visions and missions, or they can provide a green platform for Zhais to engage with. It can be in the form of letting Zhais be armchair philanthropists, as in buy products and have part of the money donated to a green cause. Conversely, brands can be more active and participatory, in which Zhais are invited to participate in environmental efforts organized by brands.
#6 Actively deploy social commerce
Social commerce will have more potential than simply e-commerce when targeting Zhais. Offline and online retail should be integrated into Zhai’s purchase pathway. One example is while offline brick n’ mortar stores are rich in product and service experiences, online order placement and social sharing facilities & technologies should be built into the store environment to capture impulse purchase or allow immediate sharing.
#7 Use microblogs to your advantage
Make Zhais feel at home and give them a strong sense of belonging by talking to them in their language and in their preferred social medium, microblogs:
Host microblog-related events and activities, both online and offline. One example was the “Coca Cola Music” 24hr session with Maroon 5, a pop rock band. The band had to compose a song in 24 hours, with inspirations from fans across the world. The latter interacted with the band via digital technologies and lent their creative inspiration to lyrics, riffs, and rhythms. The @CocaCola twitter account were used to post updates and keep fans informed on what was happening.
With the understanding that Zhais have a strong need for intellectual and cultural fulfilment, and an orientation for ‘fun-first’ and hedonistic experiences, create posts, such as practical jokes or mind-blowing food for thought, to engage with them.
Monitor which microblog accounts Zhais are interested in. Find out who these grassroot KOLs are and cultivate them to be brand ambassadors.
Late night is the best time to reach and engage with Zhais. Figure out how to entwine the brand into the night and use that timeframe to maximize brand exposure. One example was Baidu Encyclopaedia during Mid-Autumn Festival. The site visitor’s IP address and server time were used to establish which city the visitor was in. When keywords related to “moon” and “Mid-Autumn festival” were typed in as search words, the web page showed a real time image of the moon as it appeared where the visitor was. In this way, even Zhais who were lounging about indoors and had no intention of going out were able to enjoy the beautiful mid-autumn moon. Zhais will look with greater favour on brands/products which let them enjoy the beauties of the outside world without having to physically go out.