The Inside Story of Marketing & Digital in Mainland China

The Inside Story of Marketing & Digital in China

With a branch seemingly on every street corner, the opening of a new Starbucks does not often generate headlines. However, when the Starbucks Reserve Roastery opened in Shanghai in December, people took notice.

While it is interesting to note that this immense store, the largest Starbucks in the world, is the only one of its kind outside of the company’s inaugural Seattle Roastery, of greater significance is that the launch of this upmarket coffee outlet, offering a ‘multi-sensory coffee experience’, signifies not only the coffee company’s continued investment in Mainland China, but also the changing attitudes that Chinese citizens are taking towards more sophisticated consumer products. At a time when less prestigious brands are pulling out of the country, Chinese consumers want more.

There can be no doubt that the past decade has seen the average Chinese rise in affluence unparalleled in the rest of the world, and this moderately prosperous society, is using this affluence to upgrade their lifestyles. As noted in the findings of a Credit Suisse Research Institute survey, Chinese consumers are more likely to buy premium or more expensive versions of products than mass-produced goods.

In the midst of this consumer shift towards more refined and rarefied goods, the marketing and digital sector is having to adjust the way it looks at targeting customers and how they exploit these more sophisticated needs. Key to this is the collection and utilisation of Big Data.

With Chinese citizens increasingly organising their lives through cell phone applications, spending more than five hours a day on their mobile phone, there is a lot of data to collect. While this is particularly true for the larger companies such as Tencent, with whom 55 per cent of a typical consumer’s mobile time will be spent, it is not restricted only to the big hitters. This means that the marketing side of the industry is currently seeing a high demand in consumer insight and market research roles. This is particularly prevalent for FMCG and retail companies trying to gauge the buying behaviours of consumers whose needs are becoming increasingly complicated and more sophisticated as more options open up in the market and consumer segmentation grows.

In the digital aspect of the industry, this lean towards Big Data has created a shift from the prevalent trend for the hiring of digital marketing and digital commerce individuals towards candidates who are skilled in more technologically driven roles surrounding data analysis and ecommerce Big Data.

As the average consumer spends so much of its time online, there is a perception that traditional offline retail is dying out. However, evidence of the past 12 months shows that this is not necessarily the case. With the likes of Alibaba investing heavily in bricks-and-mortar retailing, there are signs that retail is far from slipping towards its predicted irrelevance, only changing, and Mainland China’s retail trade increased 9.7 per cent year on year for January and February 2018. To reflect this alteration, there is a growing trend for marketing & digital departments for both online and offline sectors - so long considered to be separate entities - becoming merged together, as the usage of big data shapes and reflects on both areas.

Companies looking to enhance their marketing & digital teams are finding that there are plenty of candidates available to fill consumer insight roles, particularly from market research agencies, with positions often filled within a couple of months. As these candidates move in-house, these agencies seeking fresh talent are looking to develop and train fresh graduates and even undergrads, particularly for the consumer insight and branding roles.

However, in areas that require higher levels of expertise the hunt for candidates becomes more challenging as many of these agency candidates may have only partial or underdeveloped skillsets, meaning that they are unable to fully adapt to the in-house role. Due to this paucity of ready-to-go talent in the market place and the high costs involved in the acquisition of senior experts, companies are showing a great willingness to develop candidates with high potential with the aim of promotion in the near future, training staff in the newest consumer channels and technology, and in the digital areas financially assisting with degree or MBA sponsorship, or providing international training experience.

Though there are many candidates in the market, there is a plethora of options for them to choose from. The marketing & digital sector is booming, particularly in the months following the start of the new financial year, but also in 2018 as a whole, leading to candidates being more discriminating when it comes to prospective employers. It is perhaps unsurprising that individuals working in the marketing sector are extremely brand conscious, and this is illustrated in their choice of employer.

Candidates with the skills in most demand will be looking intently towards the type of company with whom they wish to work, preferring those that are doing well in the market or growing quickly. With Mainland China being such a consumer driven market, these candidates can expect to demand higher salaries and greater developmental scope. However, with marketing and digital becoming increasingly important in the coming 12 months, companies will be more discerning of the talent they hire and more demanding about the skills they require.

Whether it is organic shampoo over a basic brand, boutique fashion instead off the rack, or a cup of speciality coffee instead of a traditional cup of tea, there can be no doubt that Mainland China’s affluent consumers’ tastes have changed, become more compartmentalised and are increasingly sophisticated. Both on and offline, this development is moving fast, and companies must utilise their marketing and digital departments to not only follow but predict what their consumers want. That is, if they want to be the ones making the headlines.

If you would like to discuss this report in more depth or you wish to discuss your job search or recruitment needs, please email Fred Zhu, Senior Manager at Hays Shanghai at