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Consumers listen to their peers

The erosion of consumer trust in both Chinese and foreign brands has stabilized. But it has not rebounded. Yet trust will continue to be an important component of brand equity. The Chinese people and government have little tolerance for fraud and corruption in both the public and private sectors. And the rise of China’s middle-class in an era of rapid and ubiquitous digital communication makes rebuilding and sustaining trust critical for brand health. 

Annie Hsiao

Maxus, China 


Maxus is a global media agency with services including communications strategy, media planning and buying, digital marketing, social media strategy, SEO, SEM, direct response media, data analytics, and marketing ROI evaluation. www.maxusglobal.com 

China’s rising middle-class, estimated at around 230 million people, or 17 percent of China’s population, enjoys an average annual household income several times greater than most Chinese. From our GroupM Project Deep Dive survey, it is clear that these consumers, more westernized in taste and lifestyle, pay attention not just to a brand’s quality and price, also to its emotional appeal.

They’re making their own judgments about brands they prefer, and not just blindly following the trends and promotions. These consumers are pushing advertisers away from one- way, price and product communication, toward more sophisticated and interactive conversations with consumers, at multiple contact points in social networks and mobile media.

Middle-class consumers are more information savvy. Therefore they consume more print media and engage on the Internet, while watching less TV, in contrast to most Chinese consumers. They consider the Internet almost equivalent to TV as a reliable source of information. But advertising doesn’t influence them as much as their peer group and word of mouth. It’s important and challenging to gain their trust.


And to gain trust today, what a brand does is more important than what a brand says. People find information literally at their fingertips. That makes brands transparent. If a brand does something wrong, consumers know instantly, and lying only makes it worse.

Earned media is more effective than paid and owned media. With the help of technology, such as smartphones and digital media, user-generated-content (UGC) is part of our daily lives. The beauty of UGC is that consumers trust it more than traditional advertising,

and UGC may go viral. But wide dissemination is a double-edged sword, because both good and bad reviews travel across the Internet at the same speed.

It is clear that in the digital era brands primarily exist not on advertiser official websites, TV commercials, or out-of-home billboards, but rather in the minds of consumers. And active consumers, opinion leaders, can shape a brand, in a positive or negative way, through their extensive social networks.

When one of our clients recently had a product quality issue, the client created opportunities for people to personally evaluate product quality. Because consumers considered these evaluations reliable, the client was able to quickly regain consumer confidence and trust.

Trust is fundamental. Consider this Chinese proverb: ‘A man cannot stand if not trusted’. Neither can a brand.