My thoughts on the “FUTR” of Commerce – in China



Dear reader,

About a month ago, on the 13th and 14th of March, I had the pleasure to attend a renowned conference on the topic of the future of consumer-facing commerce, in the old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch, London. It used to be called “Millennial20-20” but now changed its name to FUTR, short for FUture TRends. And while talking about trends in Retail, Marketing, and Commerce sat at the heart of this event, the following three more general notions are my biggest take-aways – and they might be slightly influenced by my simultaneous reading “Thank you for being late” by Thomas L. Friedman (highly recommended read by the way)…

  1. The world is changing faster than we can think or put in words – and this does not only apply to the common marketing folks, but everybody out there: from CEO/CMO/CIO to marketing functions to data analytics and insights agencies
  2. Every single company is trying to find its own way to stay on top of the game (or even better: giving its best impression to pretend to be on top) – but the truth is we humans are all faking it, and we are all overwhelmed by the speed of change
  3. AI, Experience, and Authenticity are the biggest buzz words these days, but nobody really knows how to express the real meaning of these for this hyper connected world of modern commerce that we exchange goods and services in

My absolute favorite keynote during the two days was held by a speaker called Bo Ji. He shared insightful and humorous commentary about the differences between the Western (European-American) and the Eastern (Chinese) ways of living and dealing with situations, e.g. conflict, networking. Maybe it was because I had never actually been there but heard lots about the different ways of working in the Chinese market, maybe it was because market expansions into China are a hot topic at the moment, getting much attention in the media, either way I was curious and excited to know more. And my thirst for knowledge and different perspectives definitely got satisfied via this entertaining keynote.

Here are some interesting artifacts and slide excerpts from his presentation:









He explained that while Westerners have pretty linear ways to communicate their needs and wants or express their opinion (“Meinung” is the German word for opinion), Chinese people communicate in more winding and complicated ways, as the primary function of their communication strategy rests upon building and maintaining relationships.


This goes hand in hand with emphasizing and adhering to role and status differences, with the ultimate aim being to preserve harmony within the group. Unlike Western cultural norms, Chinese are geared to serve the group and family first, and leaders gaining the respect of many stand out greatly from the crowd.









This respect for leaders and elderly citizens and their urge for harmony is also why conflict must be avoided at all costs. Communication should serve to strengthen bonds, not challenge them. Thus, the ultimate goal is to create and preserve harmony among their communities and in front of their authoritarian leaders.


The power of community is also described through the image above, which shows the networking effects and different ways of networking in the West (left) and the East (right). In China, everybody wants to be connected and live in harmony with everybody. On the contrary, it seems like connections between humans, be it friendships or other types of relationships are more exclusive and private in the West.


And the time when this harmony and need for social bonds reaches a climax, is at restaurants (which close at 9pm). The noise and interaction level is through the roof then, especially when you compare it with the archetype restaurant in the West, where traffic might be high, but conversation volume is significantly lower.

Did you think any of these observations were surprising, or eye-opening? Well, I can say that these definitely made me realize how much a (global) company needs to localize its approach, including its marketing strategy and tactics, when it enters or does business in the Chinese market, as the needs and interaction models in that country are vastly different to the ones we might be used to. How can you even come up with a global strategy that does not only take these both cultures into account, but caters all of its messages to both of these contradicting sets of values and belief systems? It does not seem impossible – because impossible is nothing, as we know – but it definitely sounds more difficult to me than I assumed to be true before hearing him speak about this.

When we now think about the general implications of these mentioned cultural differences on the ways that businesses (need to) market products differently to Chinese consumers, the following can be said for a retailer:


In terms of brand storytelling, this is easier to do and more appreciated in brick and mortar at the moment, and easiest to control and leverage in your own retail store of course, as the competition on digital is just too intense, and it is very tough to cut through the clutter and the noise created by so many voices.


When you produce marketing content on a website, Chinese consumers are interested and want to see absolutely everything around the product before they make a decision – including a picture of your warehouse, multiple perspectives and usage ways of your manufactured good / service, technological features, and in-depth product / experience descriptions, and most importantly: plenty of online reviews by other consumers or brands in their circle of trust or relevance. Authenticity and trust needs to be conveyed in the right way – visibility is key, so pop up ads can indeed drive brand loyalty.


What’s important to note is when it comes to digital content creation, we are talking about mobile only, as online trumps offline any day. Also, the more transparent you can be in talking to your consumers, the more appreciated your marketing will be. Fill every space that you can fill, because this resonates with consumers’ need for an inclusive approach.


Social media plays a much bigger role and followership is much more powerful – because a lot more converts from conversations into transactions. Social commerce is huge, as Chinese consumers love to shop by the recommendations of their friends and celebrities they see, get to know, and trust through their digital social network connections.

I hope you enjoyed this little expedition into Chinese culture and marketing as much as I did when I listened to Bo Ji, and it inspired you to think differently about the world, or take action in one way or the other.

Feel free to leave your reply to any of the written above in the comment box below.


2 thoughts on “My thoughts on the “FUTR” of Commerce – in China

  1. Anu

    Thank you for wonderful reading! the conference must have been a fantastic experience! Surely it is a challenge for comanies to make global strategies for 2 reasons, 1: the cultural differences mean that the implementation of the strategy must be adjusted to local needs and culture. 2: the world is changing so quickly that the strategy is old and out of time even before it is fully implemented. I heard that instead of long term strategies of 5 or 10 years, companies now make strategies for 3-6 months, 12 months tops. It’s like chasing cars!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Anu, for your commentary. The conference was great – so many inputs and such a diverse set of speakers! I like your analogy of strategy being in a state of chasing cars. I guess we need more than our own legs to do just that! And localization is definitely key. When you look at retail experiences, catering to the needs of China is a challenge that international companies should work on by connecting very tightly with their local marketers, and empower them to make decisions and create their own content and innovative concepts at times, to satisfy the advanced needs of the local consumers tuned into digital like no other culture in the world.


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