China's Prosumers - An Ogilvy Report

The Internet and digital media have largely transformed the ways in which Chinese people live, entertain, consume and do business. If millions of people in the Middle Kingdom are buying and selling new and used goods through the internet, choosing stocks and holiday destinations, or sharing video in the hope of stardom, what are the forces of influence that propel them along their path to purchase?

The Discovery team at Ogilvy & Mather China set out to identify a core group of China’s prosumers – that group of smart, active and tech-savvy consumers, who gain their information from digital media or online, and interpret and influence mass consumers in terms of lifestyle and brand choices. We studied prosumers in the spheres of gaming, music, entertainment, e-commerce, online discussion and blogging, in order to understand their motivations and values, and have attempted to explain the nature of their influence.

The first part of the study examines the technologies that are enabling the formation of online communities and giving the prosumers the ‘tools of influence’. The second part explores the impacts on society and individuals.

These include:

Identity renaissance – which shows the move towards truth and transparency in online identity, and the resurgence of a confident Chinese identity.
Pragmatic values – which explores phenomena which suggest prosumers are more inclined to spread positive word-of-mouth for even inexpensive products of excellent quality.
The rise of aesthetic culture – where prosumers are at the forefront, and implies that, for ordinary people, every aspect of life can be ‘fashionized’.
The game nature of online interactions – which finds that the proliferation of personas, and the diversity within online culture provide a richness in the form of social interactions in which prosumers can choose to take part in.

The clash between traditional and modern values – where we find that prosumers attempt to re-interpret the boundary of “relational self” and forge a new identity that’s independent of social and familial obligations. The study makes the assertion that the nature of online influence is unusual in that the prosumers aren’t so much leading trends as acting as mouthpieces for underlying social movements that are either already in progress or lying fallow waiting to be triggered.

It is our belief that successful marketing wouldn’t depend so much on finding influential people and seeding them with ideas, so much as doing the kind of research that exposes embryo trends, and then helping prosumers discover them.

The Discovery team recommends strategies for unleashing ‘prosumer power’: Becoming part of the conversation For a brand, there is a huge opportunity to benefit from the dialogue between prosumers and the influenced, within communities and between itself and its users / enthusiasts. Fundamental to engaging the prosumer is to make a shift from a monologue to a dialogue. We must view the prosumer as ‘friends of’ rather than just ‘consumers of’ a brand. Their role, like the brand’s role, would be to seed ideas within their respective networks.

Aligning the brand with its online archetype Prosumers, by and large, fit into a set of archetypes – as do brands. Aligning the two is critical to finding the right set of advocates for a brand. This suggests that just because someone’s views online are valued, s/he may not be necessarily the best prosumer for a brand to associate itself with.

The Brand as an Ideal.

Prosumers, as we have found, are an independent, free-thinking lot. In their social networks and through their blogs, they propagate their own ideals about society, family, culture and consumption behaviour. According to the concept of the Big Ideal, brands finally exist to improve human beings and human life, and not just deliver rational or emotional benefits and connect with their values. Every Big Ideal should give birth to a movement or a cause which the brand can start and champion. The online world is a great place to start such movements; and prosumers can be their most valuable champions.

For more information, please contact: Kunal Sinha Executive Director – Discovery Ogilvy & Mather Greater China +86 21 2405 1990

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