Connecting Chinese Under the Kiwi Sky

Take a look around New Zealand and you’ll notice it’s changing. In the year ending January 2018, New Zealand’s population grew by 70,100 people from countries beyond our borders, 9,300 of whom were from China.

In the 2013 census, migration rates saw 171,411 people living in New Zealand identify themselves as being part of the Chinese community. Of those, 26.6 percent were born in New Zealand and 73.4 percent were born overseas. The most common region this group lived was Auckland.

Capturing more than 90 percent of the Chinese market in New Zealand is SkyKiwi, with over 100,000 daily active users and 310,000 registered Chinese expats, students and ‘Chiwis’.

An evolving audience

It all started in 2001, when a group of Chinese students living in New Zealand set up SkyKiwi 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.

Summing up its role to the community is its name, which Zhang says represents “Chinese living under the Kiwi sky”.

“If you look at year 2000, a big spike of international students arrived in New Zealand to study here,” says Zhang. “When they arrived they have no idea about this place so they are asking: where should I buy my books etc.”

Ally Zhang

Zhang was one of those students, a migrant from Beijing who invested in the website along with a successful businessman from China.

Fast forward to today, and the SkyKiwi forum has expanded. No longer only monetised through advertisers, it’s diversified its operations into event and function management and turned its attention to overseas markets.

Clients are in China, Australia, Singapore and Canada, and all want to connect with SkyKiwi’s userbase.

The team is now around 70 people, and includes journalists producing original content alongside that translated from mainstream media.

It’s also spread across the country with offices in Wellington, Southland and Christchurch.

Why speak New Zealand

Since SkyKiwi’s early days as a forum, its founding audience has grown up, graduated university, taken up jobs, bought houses and started families. Their lives are now fully immersed in New Zealand.

So why is it they need a Chinese website to visit to read news and connect with other Chinese living in New Zealand.

Zhang explains SkyKiwi’s audience isn’t exclusive, and sees the website as complementary to New Zealand’s mainstream media.

She says after a day speaking English, they come home and want something easy to take in. It’s also used by families wanting their children to grow up speaking both languages. In 2013, census data showed 78.8 percent of Chinese spoke English.

On top of their bilingual ability, Chinese who speak Chinese at home consume a lot of digital media and SkyKiwi can satisfy this.

Not surprisingly, Chinese have the greatest access to the internet when compared to the Asian ethnic group and the New Zealand population.

According to Stats NZ, in 2013, 90.7 percent of Chinese had access to the Internet, compared to 90.2 percent of Asians and 82 percent of the New Zealand population.

Beyond New Zealand skies

Beyond those living under the New Zealand sky, SkyKiwi also services Chinese living in China, so much so, 20 percent of its daily active users are based there.

While the digital nature of the platform makes it easy for SkyKiwi to reach Chinese in all countries, in China it’s working with the country’s major domestic airlines to inject video into their inflight entertainment as well as domestic bus companies that also have passenger screens.

Through this, Zhang explains it’s connecting Chinese people with New Zealand and New Zealand products.

“If I’m thinking of going to New Zealand for travel or whatever reason, where am I going to go? SkyKiwi.” 

Understanding a powerful audience

SkyKiwi’s head of strategy Chao Xu talks attracting the Chinese dollar and New Zealand exports reaching its shores. 

With New Zealand’s increasingly diverse society, there’s an opportunity to be had in those new audiences. One of those is the Chinese community, and according to Xu, their purchase power is an opportunity not to be missed.

To explain, Xu refers to the immigration policy, which in 2000 had international students paying five times the tuition of local students.

With the high fees, financial support from parents is a necessity for students in order to attend, but that doesn’t just cover their education.

Xu says that financial support allowed the students to live the same standard of life as their parents, saying “if their parents drive a BMW, they won’t drive a Honda”.

“They are prepared to pay a premium for better quality.”

This is backed up by Stats New Zealand data comparing vehicle ownership in the Chinese, Asian and New Zealand ethnic groups. For access to two, or ‘three or more’ vehicles it’s the Chinese that come out on top, while when looking at access to just one motor vehicle, Chinese came out on the bottom.

And when buying a car they don’t need to go to the bank and get a loan, they just buy it, Xu adds.

It’s because of this purchase power, he says, that marketers shouldn’t question the increase in spend to add the Chinese audience to the targeted audience.

Similar to Zhang’s consideration of SkyKiwi being complementary to mainstream media to satisfy the audiences’ bilingual ability, Chao sees it being complementary to a campaign’s media mix.

“In advertising we are talking about reach and frequency. If they see the ad on TVNZ 1, TVNZ 2 and then they see it in SkyKiwi, the additional frequency is beneficial for advertisers.” 

One commonality holding them back is the lack of Chinese speaking staff in agencies, something Xu has seen for himself working in media and taking briefs from the agencies:

“They don’t have Chinese speaking staff within their team, particularly in media strategy.”

A lack of Chinese speaking staff means a lack of understanding of the audience but even then, he warns speaking Chinese does not guarantee an in-depth understanding of the Chinese market.

It’s here SkyKiwi can step in as an advisor, with an agency function for those seeking out the Chinese community.

“Content creation, content delivery, company management and social programmes – all of that kind of stuff can be covered by a single point of contact: SkyKiwi.

“We are also more than happy to work with agencies, we are more than happy working with external parties.”

Giving an example of the advisory role SkyKiwi is able to play, Xu says SkyKiwi can advise on what to use and what not to use in an ad because it knows the Chinese people and what matters to them.

For New Zealand companies wanting to get their products into the Chinese market, this knowledge is also important and again, support can be found in SkyKiwi.

Nowhere is its expertise better seen than in its export subsidiary, wellcome.co.nz, through which it exports New Zealand health products to China.

“Is SkyKiwi media?,” Xu asks. “Yes it is, but it is more than media, we are building up the environment of digital space around the Chinese speaking audience both in New Zealand and off shore.” 

  • Chao Xu is SkyKiwi’s head of strategy: chao.xu@skykiwi.com ​

This story is part of a content partnership with SkyKiwi.

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