Inside the Chinese Millennial's mind

Social media reveals insights into the "little emperors" of China's emerging Millennial market

BEIJING — Millennials in China create a massive online record of their preferences, lifestyle and attitudes every single day on social platforms. So why do brands still have a hard time figuring them out?

The life of a Millennial consumer, according to image results on Chinese search engine Baidu for the Chinese term for "post-'90s," is supposedly filled with selfies (some NSFW), social-media slang, punk rock hairstyles, pre-ripped jeans, and even random acts like lighting up a cigarette with a burning 100 yuan note.

From this, brands could make educated guesses at Millennial lifestyles and mindsets in China. A unique sense of self? A rebel without a cause? Or a less-than-conventional approach to life? Or a disregard for the symbolism of money?

With such a free, uncurated and telling online resource for market research, and plenty of attention focused on China's "little emperors," why do marketers still have a hard time understanding China's youngsters?

According to speakers at last week's youth-marketing conference hosted by Renren in Beijing, technological progress leading to an "information explosion" has altered the values of the younger generation. However, some brands, as a consequence of routine, continue to push traditional life pursuits and media habits that propelled the older generation.

When it comes to media habits, AdMaster's research found that young people in China are more active in a number of niche, interest-oriented social networks such as QZone, Douban, Momo, Meilishuo and Mojujie. What is more important than recording feelings on general social networks is discussing topics of common interest with a like-minded crowd, said AdMaster's business director, An Young.

Tencent’s recent survey of social media usage among 16,213 respondents in China’s generation born after 1995 also showed these younger users spend less time on Chinese messaging platform WeChat compared with people born before 1995 (20.4% vs 39.4%).

Specifically, even when they use WeChat, the tendency is to be onlookers of their "circle of friends" (that is, newsfeed content posted by their friends), rather than taking the initiative to publish something original.

Is this then contrary to the current perception of China's Millennials wanting a certain amount of individualistic self-expression and being more outpsoken than others? 

Maybe Beng Jiu Jie, a social-polling app that enables users to streamline their decision-making processes by using yes/no or multiple-choice polls to come to collective and immediate decisions, can help. The app, initially intended for consumer use, is making its way into the B2B space, so perhaps both consumers and marketers can eliminate this state of "decision paralysis."

According to the app's creator, Eric Loh, people may be confusing the individualistic self-expression associated with Millennials with their sense of self-awareness and self-consciousness.

Consumers born between 1995 and 1999 are mostly students who have not yet entered society. But even if they are not yet mature, most of them are active in broadly seeking knowledge. As a result, they have a pronounced level of self-awareness and self-consciousness, Loh said.

Take for example a classic, tangled question asked of a man: If his girlfriend and his mother both fall into the water, who should he save first? For the post-'95 generation, this question is not as perplexing as another question: If the souls of his girlfriend and mother swap, will he still sleep with his girlfriend's body (whose soul is now his mother's)?

The answer, according to Beng Jiu Jie poll data: The younger the male respondent is, the more he is able to accept sleeping with the mother's body (with his girlfriend's soul).

Even on a more serious topic like the legalization of homosexuality, on Loh's platform Chinese Millennials do not really care if it becomes legal or not. "They are quietly thinking to themselves whether they are gay, but have not realized it?" These are ubiquitous manifestations of their self-awareness, added Loh.

The newer proposition for brands, pointed out Renren CMO Cao Miao, is to not make unilateral marketing decisions that are limited by dated ways of thinking.

It is possible to commercialize ideas lurking inside Millennial minds, Cao said. For example, Elephant's founder created a "condom experience officer" role tasked with listening to critics around his age.

This article first appeared on

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