China firms share insights on engaging millennials

Construction workers wait to cross a road in the central business district of Beijing, on May 18, 2017.
Construction workers wait to cross a road in the central business district of Beijing, on May 18, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

The vast market of China's millennials calls for special attention.

For these young consumers, it is all about identity and self-expression as they spend big on entertainment, clothing and social media in entirely different ways from consumers of previous generations.

At a FutureChina Global Forum panel moderated in Mandarin by Singapore Press Holdings deputy chief executive Anthony Tan yesterday, some of China's most exciting, millennial-targeted companies shared business insights in the age of the fast-changing Chinese consumer.

Mr Sun Ying, chief executive and president of Hangzhou Jiuyan Technology, which created China's equivalent of Instagram called In, said that more than 75 per cent of In's users were born after 1995.

The app, which reportedly had 60 million users last year, is riding on the rise of "user-generated content" - the way young consumers express themselves, their aspirations and their lifestyles, he said.

Companies and brands must draw on user-generated content not just by using it as data for analysis, but also by engaging with consumers to spread awareness of their brands.

  • >75%

    Percentage of In's users born after 1995. In is China's equivalent of Instagram.


    Nasdaq-listed Chinese tech giant YY's stake in Singapore-based live-streaming firm Bigo, which has grown revenue to about US$300 million (S$412 million) in a year.

He cited the app's collaboration with American retailer Michael Kors last year, developing virtual stickers for the app which got consumers excited in order to generate content about the brand.

He noted that Chinese millennial consumers are no longer looking for the "cheapest" or "mass luxury" products. This has prompted niche European and American brands to enter China, as they now see the rise of sophisticated consumers who want to define themselves as having independent identities and tastes.

Mr He Xiaopeng, president of Alibaba Mobile Business Group, highlighted the explosive growth of live-streaming and videos.

"For millennials, their consumption of entertainment has shifted from books, words and print to videos," he said.

"When the iPhone was introduced 10 years ago, the volume of photos created really increased. We think the same phenomenon will emerge with users creating their own short videos," he said.

It is not just video that is gaining in popularity, but also live-streaming, where users broadcast their lives and earn income through gifts from followers. While it has drawn scrutiny from some South-east Asian governments over provocative content, it is evidently a growing business.

Nasdaq-listed Chinese tech giant YY has a stake of about 20 per cent in Singapore-based live- streaming firm Bigo, which has grown revenue to about US$300 million (S$412 million) in a year.

Mr David Li, chief executive and chairman of YY, told The Straits Times that the revenue was almost purely derived from the "gifting" function on the app.

He told the audience that YY had decided a decade ago that it could not rely on advertising revenue, and now derives a negligible percentage of revenue from advertising.

The company chose to have a Singapore base to grow its international business, but added he was surprised cashless payments were not more widely available here.

His comment prompted Mr Tan to note that in order to support the growth of Internet businesses such as those which generate revenue through user-generated content, Singapore must upgrade its payment eco-system.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2017, with the headline 'China firms share insights on engaging millennials'. Print Edition | Subscribe