Part of our partners’ showcase, we have interviewed Joey Dembs, senior research analyst at enovate, to discuss youth culture and trends in China.
1. What makes enovate a unique agency that provides insights on youth culture and trends?
enovate was created after identifying a gap in authentic, local knowledge of China’s massive youth market. Our team includes a diverse, international blend of anthropologists, journalists, marketers, consultants, musicians and strategists who are all passionate about discovering more about modern Chinese youth behavior. We go beyond typical market research or trend reporting to offer clients nuanced glimpses into the lives of today’s Chinese youth.
2. You have mentioned in your Youth Fashion Report 2010-2011 that Chinese’s youth follow London’s fashion trends. Is London the dominant source of fashion trends? And what about technology — what inspires youth to follow a specific trend?
London is not the dominant source of fashion inspiration for Chinese youth. However, it is a small fragment of fashion influence that finds its way into the closets of Chinese youth. Depending on the style of Chinese youth, many follow American / European, Hong Kong, or Korean / Japanese styles. For example, Chinese youth interested in streetwear may look to Japanese brands such as Neighborhood or American brands such as Nike. What’s interesting about the transfer of fashion trends into China is that they are subjected to interpretation and filtered through a lens of the commercial marketplace and technology. For example, many brands manufacture their product in Chinese factories. Thus, lower tier cities often see imitation or factory samples within the local marketplace, creating both surpluses of product and a diminished brand influence.
Technologies such as Weibo, fashion curation blogs, and street-shot websites, such as Voguemate.com, all offer youth a channel to spot trends for themselves – globally and locally. Popular magazines are often overrun by sponsored “fashion trends” or product placement, making the internet an authentic place to gather fashion inspiration.
3. We know that China has its own version of Facebook, Yahoo, Groupon, etc… The question lies here: Is China’s youth community open to using international services and websites or do they mostly use services provided by local players?
Chinese youth are willing to adopt international services and websites so long as the websites offer services that fit into the digital habits of Chinese youth. The reality of this is that many international web services do not have the necessary local knowledge of China’s internet marketplace to properly compete. Market barriers (government control, Chinese business knowledge) limit the actual amount of international website services to which youth have access. Whether it is an intentional economic government protectionist policy or not, local website services are often given a head start in reaching Chinese youth netizens.
Youth who are willing to access international website services are often driven by a correlating interest, such as design or web development. Youth in these fields turn to international websites that offer more diverse information and inspiration than that which Chinese market can offer. This, additionally, requires knowledge of English or other languages. Maybe, soon, everyone will have a Chinese option on their website.
4. How local trends are created in China?
Trends are traditionally defined as a social phenomena or mass adoption of behavior. To identify trends, one needs to observe patterns across society that are driven by similar mentalities. Trends are often subjective to the observer and the interpreter. In this case, we, enovate, are both the observer and the interpreter.
So, while “trends” do not happen organically, like-minded actions, behaviors, and patterns do. It’s our job to spot these actions, behaviors and patterns on a micro-level and connect them to the larger macro picture. This means that trends are being created everywhere, everyday. It could be something happening on a smartphone, in someone’s bedroom, or even in a coffee shop. Our framework of identifying a trend is rigorous, because it needs to be. Before we designate something as a trend, it must first have a series of connecting observations in a multi-level scale.
5. Define some typical young Chinese behavior as well as media or technology consumption? Male and Female?
One thing we often advise to brands or companies seeking to enter China is to move beyond the thought that Chinese youth are a homogenous blob of humans with similar actions. Although this makes it easier to create a marketing or communication strategy, it oversimplifies human and social dynamics into an ugly mess of stereotypes.
6. What is a favorite tourist destination for young Chinese in their country?
Different economic levels of youth have different expectations for travel within China. Upwardly mobile Chinese youth are looking for new types of travel experiences and destinations within China. This means going to eco-focused tourist spots such as Shanghai’s Chongming Island or Moganshan. Other youth enjoy using shopping as an excuse to travel, making destinations such as Hainan and Hong Kong extremely popular.
7. Is there a place to which young Chinese would like to permanently immigrate?
It’s difficult to suggest that Chinese youth would like to move permanently to another country. However, many youth view places such as the United States, Australia, and Europe as places in which to become educated or invest in a second-home for future generations to live.
8. What is a much-hyped trend among young Chinese in 2011?
We are currently debating this very question and feel that as an underlying social force, Sina Weibo, China’s premier micro-blogging service, is one of the largest drivers of sociological shifts that China has ever seen.