Asian Millennials

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  1. 1. Marketing to Asian Millennials Why being second best may be the best long-term strategy
  2. 2. Asian Millennials Why being second best may be the best long-term strategy They have had enough of the pressure, the high expectations. They lost their childhoods to the incessant nagging of their parents and their teachers. They could not bear the constant comparisons with high performing classmates and super-achieving kids of their parents friends, proudly flaunted on social media. When they saw the sky-high remuneration packages offered to a select few of the graduating class, and matched it with against their own measly compensation package, they wondered if staying up all those late nights trying to master macroeconomic theory and data networks and protocols had really been worth it. Asias millennials have it tough. But they make up 30% of the entire population of India, and 28% of Chinas, and are held out as marketings Next Big Hope. Upbeat commentators proclaim their digital connectivity, global aspirations and desire for rich experiences as the golden lode, to be mined for the next twenty years. Brands invariably depict them as confident winners, exuding an aura of self-assurance, always getting the girl (or boy), more knowledgeable than their bosses, teachers and parents; and their parents exulting at their achievements. So wheres the disconnect, and how can companies recognize their potential? 1
  3. 3. For every gold medal winner, there are 10,000 who didnt make it The competition that Asian millennials face is not only huge, it has risen exponentially over their short lifetimes. In 1987, when one million students took Grade 12 exams, one of Indias top commerce and economics schools, Shriram College of Commerce (SRCC) in Delhi, had 800 seats. By 2011, 10.1 million students wrote Grade 12 exams, but SRCC had the same number of seats. In 2014, the number of students who scored over 90% marks in their Grade 12 exams was over 200,000, in Delhi alone and that was just in one of the school boards. In China, some 9.4 million students took the dreaded university entrance exam gaokao this year. To put things in perspective, 1.66 million students took their SAT and 1.8 million sat for their ACT for US college admission last year. The success rate amongst those appearing for the gaokao has climbed from one in thirty in the late 1970s to 75% last year, the result of Chinese universities investing in building much greater capacity. But the pressure is so great that around one million high school students gave up on taking thegaokao this year. Some 80% of these students chose to enter the job market right away, with the rest are planning to study overseas or taking the exam next year. The travesty of it all is that todays millennials are smarter, better connected and have so much more exposure than their parents and their teachers. But the bar has just kept rising higher. The millennials response to not emerging on top of the heap is one of so what? They are turning the loser tag into an alternative attitude, and responding by making the best of what they have. 2
  4. 4. During the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, pretty much every brand official sponsor or otherwise, egged on champions and gold medal prospects. Hurdler Liu Xiang who disappointed, and diver Guo Jingjing, who did not, endorsed at least twenty brands between them. The local Chinese youth fashion brand Semir eschewed celebrity sportstars and the gold medal mania, choosing instead to create a series of films that showed young men and women struggling to become great athletes, and failing miserably. But they had one thing smart colorful attire, which differentiated them from the athletes in uniform, and an attitude that said so what if Im not good at gymnastics / taekwondo, at least I look good. Chinese youth loved the brand. It reflected their inner feelings and deep understanding that the gold medal juggernaut was built on a system which they had no stake in. Semirs sales shot up by 30%; inquiries for setting up new franchises went up by 60%. Today, the brand retails through 8000 stores. What happened to the official sponsor adidas? They were left with masses of unsold inventory. Asian millennials are a generation of realists. They are willing to accept things as they are, and it is up to brands and companies to help them feel good with whatever their situation is. Give me the opportunity and a leg up, will you? For all the faith and hope that their parents put in them, millennials realize that they need help even to get halfway to their goals. Enter the enablers. Maotanchang Middle School and its sister school,Jin'an Middle School,are cram schools that specialize in preparing students for the gaokao. Classes are so large that teachers use loudspeakers to address students and students attend lectures and practice tests every day from 6 am in the morning until 11 in the night, with only two short 30 minute meal breaks and one hour of relaxation time. The hype around the success rates has only driven enrollment to the magic schools, which have become the economic heart of the town. The influx of 50,000 people every year (including 20,000 middle school students and 10,000 parents) has raised the town's fiscal revenue to nearly $2.45 million, four times the neighboring town of Dongehkou. The same story is repeated in my hometown Varanasi in India, and other cities like Kota where a flourishing coaching industry draws in high school students from villages and small towns. Their parents dream that their children will enter the top engineering and medical schools and spend as much as $1500 per term way beyond their means, to equip them to take the entrance examinations. Thosewhoqualifyforthetop schoolshavetheirpictures plasteredonbillboardsand 3
  5. 5. Australian or a Midwest American accent. This was the opportunity that the youngsters were waiting for. Sure, they were not going to get the high starting salaries that the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) graduates commanded, but it was enough for them to stop depending on their parents, buy the jeans, cosmetics and motorcycles they wanted, go out for movies with their friends on weekends. Today, Indian marketers have a term to describe this segment its the Multiplex Crowd. In China, over 500 million people and a vast majority of the youth identify themselves street kiosks around the city. The others realizing that their parents will do all they can to realize their own dream, often convince them to pay for an education at a private university, which charge hefty fees. Companies like NIIT and Aptech in India realized that there was an opportunity to train these youngsters about two decades ago in writing code. Their two- to-three year computer programming courses prepared masses of young people who could meet the demand of the IT companies, just as the BPO training courses taught the Indian youth how to fake an as being diaosi, a once slightly derogatory moniker meaning loser, but one that has now been turned around as a badge of honour to mean someone who has a take-it-as-comes kind of an attitude. Many diaosi are socially inept but technologically well connected, and it is not a surprise when TV shows like The Big Bang Theory have found a huge fan base amongst the diaosi community. But now they have their own show, Diors Man, while the hugely popular film Lost in Thailand tells the story of a loser who wins a beautiful womans hand. The second-best need a healthy dose of self-respect, greater opportunity and commendation for whatever theyre able to achieve. Enable them, and you will have earned their gratitude. 4
  6. 6. The means arent important, realizing the goal is The key thing to remember is that just because theyre not at the top of the pecking order, theyre given up. Its a far cry what they do is that they find a new goal, and more often than not, a new path to those goals. Its about doing a reality check about their abilities and their social resources. In India, theres a term for this strategy jugaad, an innovative solution or simple work-around to achieve a goal, involving the bending or challenging of rules. This is where social resources come in handy: seeking favours to get admission in a college, to land a job, to obtain a driving license, or to just move things faster through the bureaucracy. It is no different in China, where guanxi, or social capital, is the currency that can make things happen. It is that singular strategy that many young people often have to gain an advantage over the better (academically) qualified; and as the Global Monitor data shows, to Asian millennials, having a large network of friends is a sign of success. Take the recent Bollywood film Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya. Humpty is not good in his studies. He barely scrapes through his final examinations, but only by browbeating the examiner to give him the necessary marks. Then he falls in love with a feisty girl called Kavya who is about to be married out to a good looking, very intelligent doctor who works in the US the archetypal achiever who can do no wrong. The girls father throws Humpty a challenge if he is able to find even one fault in the prospective groom, he can marry Kavya. 5
  7. 7. Of course, Humpty can find nothing wrong. All his ploys, in which he supported by his father, aided by his friends, and sometimes even by Kavya, fail. Eventually, he is only able to get the girl because, he is able to prove that he truly loves her but also by reminding the girls father about his own love as a young man. If there is one resource that the Asian Millennials can rely on, it is their parents blind trust and constant support. Theyre never on their own, left to fend for themselves. It is common for many Chinese to borrow money from their parents even when theyve been working for three or four years, often to pay for their accommodation in