crowds.jpgChina's massive and constantly changing consumer market is a subject close to EngagingChina's heart.

So I thought it worthwhile flagging the latest Eye on Asia study from Grey Group Asia Pacific, a global marketing communications company.

The study looks at Asians' attitudes toward life today and in the future, work, and finances amid a global recession.

It was conducted between December 2008 and January 2009, a time when the economic outlook seemed particularly bleak, and covered a total of 8,000 respondents, including 500 each from China and HK.

Perhaps the most interesting finding to come out of the study is that, unlike their western counterparts, Asian consumers are not that depressed by the economic turmoil that has the engulfed the planet.

Steve Yi, chief strategy officer for Grey Group's Korea office, said:

They may not be very happy currently, for a variety of reasons, but they are not that unhappy compared, say, to the west. Asians are very optimistic about the future.”

That came across clearest when respondents were asked the question “how do you see your own household finances changing in the next year?” Despite the economic uncertainty, a lot of respondents see their finances actually improving.

The study revealed five distinct segments of consumer in Asia, which Grey calls “brand tribes”.

First there are the “new brand enjoyers” who like to try new brands, then the “perceived value seekers” who want value-for-money above any other consideration. Next, we have the individualistic believers, who don't consider themselves consider slaves to latest trends.

Then there is the “function first” tribe which consists of pragmatists and finally, there are the status seekers, of which there are a considerable nummber in China, as a quick walk done an upmarket Shanghai shopping street will testify.

While there are big differences between consumers in the various Asian countries, there are also many similarities which is why Grey has adopted this brand tribes segmentation model. Every country will have representatives from each of the tribes, although their relative proportions will vary.

Filipinos for example have the largest number of perceived value seekers among Asians. New brand enjoyers are common in China and Vietnam, and individualist believers are more prevalent in mature consumer markets like Japan, Korea and Singapore.

More information on the Grey Group study including details of how to get a full presentation here.

In 2007, Accenture produced a similar study on China's consumer “tribes”. It identified six distinct consumer segments, including three that have a stronger preference for foreign brands — “aspirationals”, “Young Royals” and “Established Money”. More details on Accenture's website.

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