Brands participate by helping
consumers fulfill their dreams
President & CEO
Ogilvy Public Relations, Asia Pacific
Shortly after taking power in 2012, President Xi Jinping began talking about the Chinese Dream. The concept has since been discussed at length by government officials, scholars, and journalists all over the world. Defined predominantly as the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” the Chinese Dream is a more collective, national concept than its individual-focused counterparts in the US or UK. Though less emphasized in official speeches and editorials, the Chinese Dream also carries with it the personal aspirations of 1.3 billion individuals, people striving for material well-being, self-improvement, and purpose.
In his opening address at the historic 19th Party Congress in October, President Xi mentioned the Chinese Dream thirteen times. Among other crucial tasks articulated as the theme of the Congress, Xi noted the mission of “working tirelessly to realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.” Though the concept can be vague (“the Chinese dream is about history, the present, and the future”), careful analysis of Xi’s speech reveals that utterances of the Chinese Dream were almost always accompanied by declarations about making the country proud and powerful in foreign affairs, or improving lives and growing prosperity in economic affairs.
Brands that move the Chinese nation, families, and individuals closer to realizing the Chinese Dream will be viewed favorably by policymakers and consumers alike. As China enters the “New Era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” it is vital to understand what the Chinese Dream means for those brands and how they can realize their own Chinese Dream.
Pride and Power: The foreign affairs dream
According to Xi, the future “will be an era that sees China moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.” He went on to say that the dream of the Chinese people “is closely connected with the dreams of the peoples of other countries,” making it clear that the Chinese Dream is intended to have a positive impact beyond China’s borders. Though on the one hand China is becoming assertive in global politics and rapidly modernizing its military, China also envisions playing an influential role combating climate change, advancing peace-keeping efforts, and becoming an innovative leader in the technologies of the future. All of this reflects the already pervasive sense across Chinese society that China has arrived on the world stage, and is only going to continue its growth.
Brands must consider how they help China become more proud and powerful, how they can contribute to Chinese soft power and strengthen perceptions of China overseas. China is transitioning from the factory of the world to a center of innovation, but much of the world still views Chinese brands as copycats and Made in China as an unenviable label. To be successful in the new era and help realize the Chinese Dream, brands must help change this perception. To do so they should partner with and hire in-market locals as well as invest in market research. This will help them understand perceptions of China, their industry, and their brand in different markets and mold their communications strategy accordingly. They must understand the local landscape overseas by identifying key stakeholders and getting their buy-in, not just from government but from across civil society. They should build partnerships with local brands and organizations to nurture trust and collaboration. Above all, they should think long term about their brand’s mission, leverage their company’s expertise to create real social benefits, and communicate with the local market through effective storytelling. This will not happen overnight, but the momentum is there and if brands can earn the trust of overseas markets, they can gradually build influence and help change the perception of China. As they do, they will contribute to the pride and soft power associated with the Chinese Dream. Foreign brands that partner with Chinese brands, and facilitate the dialogue between Chinese brands and foreign markets will also see great benefits in the new era.
Prosperity and Better Lives: The economic dream
In the new era, Xi is focusing on quality of growth over quantity. To realize the Chinese Dream, Xi stated, China must “help people realize their aspirations for a better life.” He continued to de-emphasize hard quantitative growth targets in place of soft qualitative targets, emphasizing “quality development.” As brands think about how to define their value proposition in the new era, they would be well advised to consider how they improve people’s lives qualitatively. The traditional quality of life indicators like health, education, and the environment will remain paramount for years to come. Brands that can make health and education more affordable, accessible, and personalized will be highly valued in the new era.
While material wealth in the form of homes, cars, and other products are still essential to a better life, Chinese are increasingly finding wealth in other areas, such as spending more time with family and friends, travel and other unique experiences, and health, fitness, and well-being.
What precisely a better life means will vary tremendously based on where in life and where on the socioeconomic ladder consumers are. Brands should think about how they segment the market and the benefits they bring to different groups. To understand what a better life means to different segments, brand must stay close to the market with research and new insights. Chinese consumers’ needs and wants are constantly changing. They get bored quickly and are always looking for new and unknown products and experiences. Chinese consumers are demanding higher quality. They are young, active, and upwardly mobile. They expect convenience in everything from meal delivery to financial services. The brands that facilitate the discovery and delivery of a better-quality life will be well positioned to succeed in the new era.