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Youthology's innovative approach to China's youth market

  • Liu Ying-feng and Staff Reporter
  • 2011-05-11
  • 08:51 (GMT+8)
The consumer behaviours of Chinese born in the 80's and 90's is changing. Picture: Young Chinese girls like shopping at the weekend. (File Photo/China News Agency)

The consumer behaviours of Chinese born in the 80's and 90's is changing. Picture: Young Chinese girls like shopping at the weekend. (File Photo/China News Agency)

Zhang Anding is Chinese youth opinion leader. (File Photo/Want Daily)

China Youthology is only a three-year-old market research consultancy, yet its atypical methods of doing research have quickly distinguished it from others in this highly competitive service in China. Already it has won the patronage of many multinational companies including Pepsi, Nestle, Nokia, Nike, Wrigley, Lining, General Motors and McCann Ericson.

Youthology mainly targets China's youth--those born during and after the 1980s. This means that when Youthology carries out market research, it must focus on understanding those younger generations if it wants to provide its clients with accurate and insightful information.

How does the consultancy do it? Youthology's co-founder and chief strategy officer Zafka Zhang replied "We must not just investigate what products the young people intend to buy, or simply treat them as consumers. The Chinese youth must be approached holistically as people, rather than merely consumers."

Judging from the long list of its big brand-name clients, the atypical way Youthology adopts to do market research has proved quite effective. Zafka Zhang himself, the co-founder and chief strategy officer, was selected in 2010 by the US magazine Forbes as one of the 9 top Chinese entrepreneurs most worthy of note.

Despite his success in market-research, Zhang is constantly faced with a difficult task: recruiting talented people for his company. "Since we are investigating youth markets in an untraditional way, we must hire people who not only love and are willing to understand the culture of the younger generation, but must also be trained in sociology and anthropology. Equally important, they have to work and be efficient in a commercial culture. People who can meet the above three qualification requirements are not many," said Zhang.

Zhang, 32, has over the years undergone a role change from a youth sub-culture enthusiast to a market observer and investigator. One of the consultancy's clients recently used these remarks to describe the Youthology in his mind: "It was just because that the employees of Youthology have been fully assimilated into youth culture, the company has been able to come up with a set of study methods differing from the traditional approach of generational cultural studies, enabling it to clearly grasp the culture of the younger generation."

Emst & Young, one of the world's four largest accounting firms, issued a report not so long ago with the title "The Rise of Female Consumerism in China." In that report, the accounting firm said the one-child generation born during and after the 1980s would become the main force of consumption in China."

Zhang and his wife, Lisa Li, who is also a youth sub-culture lover, said they have been doing market research from the perspective of the younger generation and using non-traditional investigating methods.

When Youthology was first founded, it had a staff of only five including Zhang and his wife, also a co-founder. Yet despite such humble beginnings, Youthology began to make a profit within just five months of its founding.

As Zhang recounted the various atypical investigating methods that have contributed to his quick success in the market research industry, he pointed in particular to his "community-mindset" concept. "In the past, corporate authorities have often used a brainstorming session that would include a few senior staff members working out approaches, but this method actually runs counter to the experience of our growth."

"In the era of the Internet," Zhang further pointed out, "it would be more effective for us to use the characteristic of the Internet's openness to identify problems and find answers rather than the traditional brainstorming session. So I often use the community-mindset approach to help me conduct market research."

References:

China Youthology 青年志

Zafka Zhang 張安定

Lisa Li 李頤

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