The highest population growth rate in the world is pushing Western brands to turn to China. However, even though China remains the big dream for Western brands, there are still some challenges.  Regulatory differences are apparent, but consumption habits are different as well. For example, perfume usage is not the same in China and France. Skincare doesn’t have the same significance in China and the United States. Furthermore, brand perception depends heavily on cultural context. Global brands often fail to ask if they will be perceived in China in the same way as in the West. Although increasing globalisation means that we can find our favourite brands and products in every corner of the world, it can also hide an important factor creating challenges for global brands – cultural differences. Many experts agree that there is a significant impact of culture on Chinese consumption habits. That’s why there is a need to listen to the Chinese consumer and better understand what would woo him.

Using co-creation to engage with and better understand Chinese consumers
How can global brands achieve a more local approach in China? How can we bridge the knowledge gap between Western brands and Chinese consumers? The answer is to collaborate with consumers.  According to Piller and Ihl (Von Kundenorientierung zu Customer Co-Creation im Innovationprozess 2010), “co-creation is an active, creative and social process based on collaboration between producers and consumers.” More and more, market research and innovation managers should think of the consumer as an active and creative person who is willing to share his needs and opinions in order to have brands and products that really fit his needs. By giving the consumer a creative task (to invent a new product category, to share an experience using the existing product in a creative way) he feels empowered and is eager to collaborate, immediately rendering him more valuable than just a figure in survey metric data.

Of course, not every consumer is willing to collaborate with brands and not all of them have the creative capability to deliver innovative breakthroughs. But those who do—so-called “creative consumers”—can “help brands gather innovative insights, develop and modify products, as well as define entire new business opportunities” (Forrester, 2011)

Co-creation benefits for global brands collaborating with local consumers
By using an online co-creation approach—giving creative consumers a task to share their experience in a creative way or imagine new brands or products—global companies can gain results more rapidly than by using traditional surveys, which can take months in a such big country as China.

Co-creation enables brands to better understand local consumers, their needs and desires and minimise risks related to new brand or product launches in the Chinese market. Why not ask creative consumers how they perceive brand advertising or what the packaging means to them before launching in the Chinese market?

In addition, the co-creation approach can inspire brand or product innovation. Since online co-creation is about engaging creative consumers (not just traditional end-users), the results provide more innovative insights that can lead to the invention of new product categories.

Finally, collaborating with consumers in a creative manner enables brands to create a long-lasting relationships with consumers who often buy and recommend the brand and its products.

Why does co-creation with Chinese consumers work?
The Chinese are among the biggest users of the Internet in the world. According to BCG, the usage rate (approximately 400 million people) is the highest among all the BRICI countries. That means Western brands wanting to be closer to Chinese consumers must find new ways to communicate and collaborate with them in online space. Co-creation is the perfect example.

Recently eYeka—tapping into its community of 160,000 creative consumers worldwide—made a survey of the creative consumer community asking what drives their motivation to participate in online co-creation projects. Interestingly, most of the Chinese respondents indicated that representing their own perception of a product or showing personal ways of using products are the main reasons they are engaging in co-creation operations.

There is an important thing to add – creativity. Not only do creative tasks empower a consumer and let him expressing himself, but also it is the perfect way to unlock unmet needs and desires. The online co-creation approach enables consumers to visually express their creative ideas via videos, photos, and illustrations. According to the case study, Chinese are more willing to share their needs and experiences through illustrations and visuals than “face to face”. That’s why using projective techniques—asking contributors to use a lot of imagination—works very well with Chinese creative consumers. It unleashes Chinese creative potential without losing “Face” (mianzi). Plus, online co-creation means that creativity is not framed by space: consumers are not in the room with the researcher, but are free to create where they want. This can lead to more authentic, context-based information.

Co-creation case study: “Share your Chinese beauty secrets”

We decided to ask members from China to share their self-care habits. In order to unlock deeper insights, the brief asked them to share their secret beauty experiences with a fictional American tourist, Kate, travelling in China and wanting to learn more about Chinese beauty care. More than 50 creative contributions were received in two weeks. Interestingly, among the participants there were more men than women. They related their sisters’, mothers’ and girlfriends’ beauty habits. It shows that the creative consumers are not necessarily end-users, but are able to project themselves into the end-user’s experience (women, in this case).

The full white paper is available to download on eYeka website.

Indre Liepuoniute is Marketing & Evangelisation Manager at eYeka.

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