Ideas and insights to take your marketing to the highest level

October 3, 2014
Ashok Sethi

The Brand Divorce

In 2013, 3.5 million Chinese couples filed for a divorce—an increase of 12.3% over the previous year. Chinese marriage is in crisis: More and more Chinese are choosing to part ways with their spouses or not to cast their lot with anyone in the first place.

Similar statistics are hard to come by for the number of Chinese consumers who divorce the brands that they have been using, often after years in a brand relationship. However, it is clear that the consumers’ predilections within their personal lives are also reflected in their purchase behaviors and brand choice. Chinese purchase behavior is characterized by promiscuity and flirtatiousness, and often, there is a resistance to settling down in a faithful and long-lasting brand relationship. So what are the root causes of this Chinese detachment, and is there a commonality between what is causing the Chinese to shed their bonds with their partners and with their brands?

To start, we must learn why so many Chinese marriages end up in divorce, and whether similar reasons prompt them to cast aside the brands that they were once in love with. Research shows that there are four main reasons that prompt Chinese couples to part ways:

Erosion of trust: This could include a lack of trust in a spouse’s fidelity or financial conduct. The brand marriage is also rocked by a lack of trust. Chinese consumers are prompt in divorcing a brand that they feel cannot be trusted, whether it is in terms of safety, quality or honesty. Of special note here is the aspect of safety. Many consumers feel let down by brands that offer products that could harm the health of consumers and their families.

Financial differences: Who should pay the mortgage or the maintenance? Where and how should the savings be invested, and who should command the household finances? Brand marriage is also affected by financial differences. Chinese consumers decide to divorce a brand if they feel that they are being charged too much and aren’t getting a good value. Value assurance is a perpetual challenge for brands and they need to continuously monitor their perceived worth in consumers’ minds.

Diverging needs and interests: Brand marriages crumble when the consumer’s interests and needs change, and the brands are not able to adapt. Consumer needs are evolving and becoming more sophisticated. Brands need to sharpen and contemporize their proposition to keep up with these changes.

Lost love: Couples keep their relationships vibrant and fresh by tender touches, emotional gestures and meaningful communication. Brands in China also need to learn to sustain the romance and keep the marriage healthy and long-lasting.

Managing consumer-brand relationships becomes so much easier when we try to understand them with the metaphor of human relationships. Is your relationship with your consumers a healthy and stable marriage, or is it on the rocks?

Ashok Sethi is the managing director for China at GfK Consumer Experiences. Sethi is a member of the AMA’s China Advisory Council, which consists of 13 marketing leaders from multinational corporations, leading Chinese companies, and professors from top universities and business schools in China who provide strategic input to AMA China. Sethi presented at the 2013 Marketing Leaders’ Summit in Shanghai co-organized by the AMA and Fudan University’s School of Management. He may be reached at ashok.sethi@gfk.com.

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