In late 2016, Ifop launched ChinaInside, a new entity that supports companies in growing their business in China. Can you give us a brief overview of what it does? What makes ChinaInside innovative in the research market?
China is an exciting, constantly evolving country. It’s also an enormous country and has experienced dynamic growth over the past fifteen years, although the economy has slowed somewhat in the last three or four years. We can illustrate the strength of this growth with a few figures: the Chinese standard of living has increased 90-fold in 25 years; China’s middle class is the largest in the world and will double between 2015 and 2020; and China currently has more than 700 million active mobile phone users.
Today, the Chinese market is of great interest to all companies wanting to expand their business internationally. It’s an essential market in terms of the global economy.
China is also a complex country with a very different culture from that of Western countries. Many foreign companies have encountered difficulties when setting up operations or deploying resources there.
The reasons for these difficulties are many, but often related to a lack of knowledge of Chinese consumers, their belief systems, their culture, or factors specific to the country’s economy. An example is the omnipresence of WeChat. Chinese companies are often able to better exploit the gamut of possibilities offered by WeChat compared with Western companies.
Ifop has been established in China since 1996, and assists Western and local companies in a variety of business sectors: beauty, luxury, health, leisure and food. In terms of our French and European customers, some benefit from already well-established structures in China, others from lighter local structures managed from their head office, and some are at the stage of considering a future presence in the country.
Regardless of their stage of development, the majority of our clients feel the need for support: a need to understand or decode Chinese society, a need to identify trends and dynamic areas of growth, and increasingly a need to exploit local insights as part of a more global strategy. ChinaInside By Ifop helps its clients to decipher Chinese culture and Chinese consumers, in order to facilitate their appropriation and transformation at a global level.
What are the key growth areas in China today?
There are many different areas but I’ll focus on four:
– The “premiumization” of society as a whole.
– Younger generations whose values are changing the values of Chinese society. This is also happening in the rest of the world, but with features specific to China.
– The dynamic growth of medium-sized cities, often located in the interior of the country.
– And of course the absolutely fundamental phenomenon of m-commerce which in particular is revolutionizing retailing, the relationship with brands and the customer experience.
Ifop has two units dedicated to China, a subsidiary based in Shanghai (Ifop Asia) and a Paris-based entity (ChinaInside). How does collaboration between the Ifop teams in Shanghai and those in Paris work? What is the specific role of each one in supporting companies?
In concrete terms, we work hand-in-hand on a daily basis. The Shanghai-based teams are closer to the Chinese consumer, so they’re in the best position to collect information, identify growth areas, and understand developments and underlying trends.
The role of the Paris-based ChinaInside entity is complementary: it primarily acts as a facilitator for our clients based in Europe.
This facilitation takes place at 3 stages:
– Firstly, in the upstream phase we discuss and analyze the issues and questions of our clients: we help them define the best approach to meet these issues as effectively as possible, through provision of concrete solutions.
– We then support them throughout the project.
– Lastly, in the downstream phase we help our clients decode local insights, and understand and transform them for integration into their global strategies. And in fact it’s always easier to decode a culture if it’s not your own.
Can you give us some concrete examples of business acceleration?
Business acceleration can occur at different levels: through innovation (creation / optimization / deployment of a new product); through brand management; through inspiration, or in relation to marketing issues (the ‘go-to-market’ which requires consideration of local market conditions).
I’ll give you an example on the cosmetics market: we recently supported a Western company that wanted to launch a range of anti-aging products on the Chinese market. This is a highly competitive segment which includes Chinese brands, regional brands (Korean and Japanese in particular), and Western brands.
We devised a complete protocol to allow understanding of the needs of Chinese consumers (in Asia, and China in particular, the relationship with the skin is very different from that seen in the West), understanding of the relationship with aging, identification of priority targets for our client, and how to activate those targets.
Our work is largely confined to 5 business sectors: beauty, luxury, health, leisure and food.