The invisible Market: why local brands should be reaching the Chinese Kiwi community

In a 2017 column in Vice, Sophie Gray bemoaned the “cloak of invisibility that often rests on the shoulders of Chinese New Zealanders”. While this 30-year-old theatre director was writing about the lack of stories from, and about, the Chinese Kiwi community, she may well have been reflecting the invisibility of this growing market to many advertisers and marketers in New Zealand.

The 2013 census showed Asians comprised almost 12 percent of the New Zealand population and in 2017, according to Stats NZ, New Zealand saw its largest group of net migrants arriving from China, with 9,300 arriving in the country.

The surge in Chinese immigration took shape in 2010, when, for the first time, Mainland China became New Zealand’s top source country for family immigration through the Family Sponsored Stream and the Partnership policy. At that time, large numbers of Chinese nationals chose to study in New Zealand and gain the recognised qualifications to obtain skilled employment in New Zealand.

Currently there are between 130,000 and 170,000 Chinese in New Zealand with permanent residency, but with the many students studying in this country, as well as those on short-term visas, the potential market is probably around 300,000. The influx has continued and the 2018 census figures, to be released soon, are likely to show a higher than expected rise in Chinese immigrants.

Chinese-speaking tourists are an additional consideration and by 2023, China is expected to be the largest tourist market in terms of arrivals and spend, according to the Ministry of Business, Education and Employment.

Despite these numbers, the potential of this important consumer group has, to a large extent, been ignored by New Zealand marketers and advertisers. This is because of the language barrier and the depth of cultural understanding needed to unlock this dividend for New Zealand companies.

Simplified Chinese is the predominant source of language read, with Mandarin spoken by 81 percent of Chinese in New Zealand, making this the primary communication language for those wishing to access this market.

In research conducted by The Agency 88, new migrants are shown to be intensely proud of their heritage and consider themselves first and foremost Chinese. They don’t see themselves as Kiwi until the second generation, which is when the children of immigrants become fully integrated as Chinese New Zealanders.

This distinction comes from the sentiment that “Kiwiness” is associated with birthright, a different perception to other immigrant groups who consider themselves Kiwis after citizenship or permanent resident visas have been granted.

With these attitudes there is a strong desire for “news from home” and a desire to consume their own media. Two media have emerged to dominate this space, the Chinese Herald with its multi-platform approach, and SkyKiwi.com, which is New Zealand’s largest Chinese-language website.

The Chinese Herald, which is available at hotels, restaurants, banks, airports and supermarkets, is published four times a week, with 10,000 copies per issue and 120+ delivery spots. The Chinese language newspaper is offered free to the community. 

According to general manager Christina Yu “once a paper is collected, it will likely be read by at least three or four people in a family or a business, and readership is estimated to be around 150,000 per week”.

The associated website cnzherald.com is a joint venture with media giant NZME and this now has over 120,000 users weekly and more than 350,000 weekly page views with 70 percent of these coming from New Zealand. The additional 30 percent of users come from overseas, many of whom are potential visitors to these shores.

SkyKiwi chief executive Ally Zhang explains SkyKiwi started in 2001, when a group of Chinese students living in New Zealand set it up as an online discussion forum and digital hub to learn more about their new home. Users could visit the site to talk to others, and read news taken from mainstream media such as RNZ, Stuff and the New Zealand Herald, that had been translated and edited for SkyKiwi’s Chinese- speaking audience.

While SkyKiwi has a large student and young audience, the Chinese Herald is more mainstream in the local Chinese immigrant community.

Lili Wang, Christina Yu, Chinese Herald

Getting social

While print is the traditional choice of Chinese speakers, in the past five years there has been a significant shift towards digital and social media. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Skype are currently blocked in China and so WeChat has become the number one social network choice for Chinese nationals, with Weibo a second choice.

Ninety percent of Chinese New Zealanders who have a smartphone have a WeChat account. But as Nick Siu, director at The Agency 88, explains: “It is wrong to think of WeChat as just a social media platform – rather it has swallowed up the Chinese customer’s wallet – ID Cards; driver’s licences, credit and debit cards, loyalty cards, cash, receipts and business cards. Tack onto that the equivalents of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Dropbox, Outlook, Uber, UberEats and you get an idea as to why the average New Zealand Chinese user spends over 3.5 hours a day on this one ‘super app’.”

WeChat has over 963 million active users, with 80 percent of them following official accounts like that belonging to the Chinese Herald, whose verified official WeChat account has more than 40,000 subscribers.

Eighty percent of all Chinese high net worth individuals use WeChat and 25 percent of users check WeChat over 30 times a day. Fifty-five percent of users check in over 10 times a day. In New Zealand alone, there are 398,000 WeChat accounts with 1,327,000 New Zealand search queries every 60 seconds. Research by The Agency 88 found 41 percent of purchase decisions
are based on Chinese payment availability and 88 percent of users are on the Android platform.

SmartPay is the largest independently owned and operated EFTPOS provider in New Zealand and Peter Thomas, Smartpay’s head of marketing, director sales and customer service, recognises the advantages that Alipay and WeChat Pay bring for New Zealand businesses. “In April this year SmartPay became the first payments provider to offer Alipay and WeChat Pay on the same terminal merchants use for card payments,” he says. “We are very excited about the opportunities these payment methods bring Kiwi businesses.”

Chinese tourists and new immigrants find this method the easier way to pay for their purchases. They are able to pay in the way they are used to paying back home, in their own language and currency. Alipay also offers a ‘buy now pay later’ option to its users meaning they have greater access to funds.

Chinese tourists often plan their trips using Chinese social media apps and will often only go to places that accept mobile payments.

“We leverage Alipay and WeChat Pay’s special offers and promotions,” Thomas says. “And Alipay and WeChat Pay both run major campaigns around key events in the Chinese calendar with offers to encourage their users to spend with merchants who accept these payment methods.”

Chinese intelligence

The Agency 88 is an example of a specialist agency working exclusively on creating and delivering commercial success between New Zealand and Asian markets. Others include Niche Media, a full service advertising agency providing specialist ethnic communication services and helping clients to get their messages and marketing communications into the “hard-to-reach” Asian, Māori and Pacific audiences. But mainstream agencies such as FCB have started to move in this direction.

FCB New Zealand recently confirmed the expansion of their integrated strategic offering with a new consultancy arm focusing ‘on the new New Zealander’ market. The new offering, named FCB Open, is led by Vera Dong, one of China’s leading brand and communication strategists, whose focus is on offering an authentic understanding of the Chinese market living in New Zealand.

“Based on our on-going studies, we found that cultural inclusion is a significant aspiration for the majority of our multi- racial population,” says Dong. “Cultural acceptance, appreciation, inclusion and integration are what such people want and what this beautiful country should aim at.”

FCB Open has been working with Audi and Vodafone to develop marketing strategies and insights.

“Cultural nuances not only lie in ideas, but also in their detailed expression,” says Dong. “We base this on our existing IP about the seven cultural codes of New Zealand and we’ve analysed the implications of these codes for Chinese New Zealanders who have recently arrived in the last five years or so.”

On Mother’s Day this May, FCB Open and Vodafone launched a WeChat video encouraging Chinese New Zealanders to say “I love you” to their mothers who may live in New Zealand or thousands of miles away. It was a way of overcoming the innate shyness that Chinese parents and children often feel about overt expressions of love.

“The key for Vodafone’s success in our local Chinese market is to have high CQ (cultural intelligence),” says Vodafone’s Olivia Shen. Shen is the telco’s market lead for new Kiwis, brand and insights, and was integral in the Vodafone launch of Red Connect and WeChat for the local Chinese community in 2017.

“It was a great success. Both propositions helped us earn brand love from the local Chinese community,” she says.

Meanwhile across at Spark, a new campaign to tap into the Chinese New Zealander market was launched last November. Featuring staff from its Auckland-based OneWorld call centre as well as its stores, the campaign shared a message about a familiar voice and family. It was part of an attempt to reach the community which has seen Spark run a dedicated Chinese service programme for more than 10 years.

UMS is a full-service independent digital agency, specialising in social media, that partners with leading companies to connect their brands with Chinese consumers in New Zealand, but also specialises in marketing to Chinese communities in mainland China.

Jordi Du, UMS general manager in New Zealand, believes that when it comes to engaging and connecting with Chinese consumers, merely translating existing messages and content may not be enough. He cites a Nike example where a translation failed, drawing a huge backlash from consumers. Using the Chinese symbols for ‘fa’ and ‘fu’, which translate to “be rich and prosperous” and to have “good luck”, the copywriters failed to understand that when these symbols appeared together it translated to a phrase meaning to ‘get fat’, which was hardly in keeping with the Nike brand values.

This is a perfect example of why understanding the nuances of the language is so important. Simply hiring a Chinese native speaker to manage the Chinese social media activity or hiring a translation firm to translate existing content into Chinese is potentially asking for trouble.

“Speaking to Chinese consumers in their native language is not only a sign of respect but it also demonstrates to the community that they are valued and important enough for the brand to make this effort,” says Du.

Multiculturalism is a highly contentious subject today and as important as it is for marketers to understand the new communities, so it is important for these new immigrants to embrace the culture of their adopted home.

In this regard, one of The Agency 88’s clients, the NZRU, had a strong interest in connecting the New Zealand Chinese community with rugby, as part of its wider strategy around engagement and grass roots representation to the community.

The overarching theme was that the more Chinese New Zealanders playing rugby and being connected to rugby, the more they will love it and be part of the game for life. There were, however, some issues that had to be overcome in order for the programme to be a success.

“To achieve short term Chinese participation in rugby we needed to connect the benefits of New Zealand’s national sport to the values of the Chinese culture,” says Siu. “We knew that a significant number of Chinese parents understand team sport culture but were worried about contact in rugby. Education and health benefits are the two most applicable values that rugby can positively benefit and so the solution was to design a programme through non-contact Ripper Rugby and communicate benefits that alleviated these issues to help foster integration.”

The Agency 88 used influencers such as New Zealand representative Sevens Rugby player Tyla Nathan Wong, businesspeople, and local Chinese parents who could empathise with the desire to give their children the experience of being a true New Zealander.

The success of the campaign is an encouraging sign of how the two very different cultures can be brought together.

About Author

Graham Medcalf is a freelance writer and owner of Red Advertising.

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