Tuesday, 27 November 2012

17 Chinese miners dug up Canadian xenophobia

There is no secret that Chinese want to live and work in Canada. In fact, nearly 30,000 Chinese migrated to Canada in 2011. However, while it is a tabooed racist topic to rule out visible minorities from immigration list, unions and some Canadians are more willing to jump into the topics “to protect Canada”, ruling out Chinese from doing business in Canada. In 2011, there are 39,825 foreign workers in primary industry, but unions decided that 300 Chinese miners are simply too many. In addition, several deals of Chinese acquisition of Canadian companies are either blocked or significantly delayed by the Canadian government due to political pressure. Opposition to those deals argues that Chinese purchase of Canadian companies will threaten Canadian security and intellectual properties. While few will openly criticize Chinese Canadians, many are jumped into the fray of China bashing: citing pollution, abuses of human rights, greedy, sly, senseless consumption, etc.
While China certainly has a lot of problems, we are talking about real money and real business here. Canadians should be rational and objective to maximize profits and mutual benefits for the good of Canadian public interest and economy. Yet, some Canadians view things very differently when the word “foreign” are replaced by “Chinese”. Somehow, it is a bad deal that Chinese companies buy tar sand mines, while Husky Energy was once owned by the richest man of Hong Kong (still partially owned by his son, Victor Li) and most of tar sand oil will eventually go to the USA, freeing up Gulf supply for East Asia buyers, aka China, at a much cheaper price (largely due to the price difference between Brent Crude Oil Futures (price benchmark of China) and West Texas Intermediate Crude Oil Futures (price benchmark of the USA)). Somehow, it is dangerous for Canadian companies to buy cables and internet equipments from a Chinese company, while most consumer electronics, daily products, toys, apple juice, etc come from China. No one complained when ATI, found by three Chinese Canadians in Markham, Lee Ka Lau, Benny Lau, and Kwok Yuen Ho, are sold to an American company in Sunnyvale, California, AMD, which almost ended Markham high-tech growth overnight. Now, no Canadians worry the lost of intellectual property to China when AMD graphic cards are quietly moved to made in China instead of Canada. Like all good stories, we love to have an antagonist, but crying wolves will just make us look stupid.

Drastic changes to make no change

After months of delay and numerous typhoons from political rumour mills, Xi Jinping, the latest Chinese top leader, has succeeded the presidency with new the military and executive wings. With over 70% turnover rate in both the Central Military Commission and the Executive Committee of the State Council, evidences suggest the internal differences were finally set aside and the settlement was set to make everyone happy (at least, all sides could find quiet compromises.) Aside from normal rhetoric, Xi assures continuity and respect to the previous leaders and emphasis on better the lives of ordinary Chinese. That meant no dramatic u-turn of the macroeconomic policies of suppressing inflation, increasing minimum wages& labour benefits, and achieving both goals through gradual Renminbi appreciation against the USD. With dramatic solutions to the political infighting, the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China paves the way to stronger conservatism and patriotism. A new team with new leaders may need more time to act on an economy that shows signs of slowing down. Wealthy Chinese Canadians tend to have over sea assets and businesses in China. The continuation of Renminbi appreciation and suppression of inflation could increase their purchasing power in Canada. Recently, Chinese companies and business owners show signs of increasing interest in investment and migration to Canada. While the leadership swap may be bad news for those who want to seek business opportunities in China, it can be positive news for Canadian market.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Multicultural Marketing: Call for Action in the Malls

Remember a joke that a friend used to make in the past is, “As long as there are people at a place, there are Chinese people.”  We used to laugh at it, but we all know that it is the truth.  During the past fifteen years, there has been continuous increase of Chinese immigrants all over the world.   In the meantime, more and more companies have realized the importance of the Chinese communities both because of their size and the high purchasing power of them.

No need to say, every nationality is different in terms of their habits, life style and preferences.  One thing I have realized about Chinese people is that, Chinese people like to go to the malls a lot.  Even though their visit might not be directly for the purpose of buying things, it is still a common place for hanging out during their leisure.  This phenomenal generally happens in two groups of visitors.  One group is the regular visitors, which consist of the elders and nannies that take their children and play in resting areas of the malls.  It also consists of teenagers and young adults who like to go for window shopping, and their purpose is usually social or fashion related.  The second group of visitors is the tourists.  Eaton center specifically, it has been included in many Chinese traveling guide for gift shopping.  It is also the most visited mall in Canada throughout the years.

Although Chinese people do have high purchasing power, they have a different value set and ways of buying compare to the others.  With these facts, we would expect the malls to have more marketing strategies that directly target at the Chinese customers.  However, either my retail working experience in the past or when I was walking in the malls tells me very little about multicultural marketing that has been done for this aspect.  One example about how the stores at Paris engage the Chinese customers is that, they try to minimize the language barriers for Chinese at all the tourist shopping areas.  Every national brand at these places has at least two to three sales associates that are able to connect to the Chinese customers and sell in Chinese.  On the other hand, a large number of the stores at Eaton center have not effectively adopted multicultural marketing as a way of increasing their sales.

Many businesses are now realizing the importance of the Chinese market, yet many stops at the realizing stage.  The high volume of Chinese customers should not be kept at the window shopping stage.  It is a good time to get customers into the store and convert into sales figures.  If these businesses could moving forward and involve multicultural marketing, it will create a bridge for effectively approaching and engaging the Chinese customers for future sales.

Monday, 22 October 2012

China is the future? Hollywood hints it is....

Has anyone noticed that there is an increasing display of Asian aspirational elements in all things that are supposedly Western? Take the example of Hollywood blockbuster, "The Looper", which I had decided to watch based on my interest of time travel - but boy, did something else stand out to me. Yes, the appearance of Qing Xu as Bruce Willis' wife was a nice bonus but it was something else -  a particular line which developed "China as the future" as an important theme of the movie.

So for this who didn't watch the movie yet and plan to, please note there are some slight spoilers in the rest of the post to follow - don't say I didn't warn you! 

Young Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is a looper - which is the name for killers who lived 30 years into the past and killed their target, who are people of the future sent back to the past through time travel, to be killed.

One of the scenes mark Young Joe having a conversation with his manager,  Abe (Jeff Daniels), who is a man of the future sent back to the past to keep a watch over the Loopers. Abe tells Young Joe that he knows he has been storing his silver and learning French in preparation to escape the city. He then  probes to ask Young Joe "Why French?" and was responded with "... I'm going to France." (At this next moment, the critical line comes in which sets the context for the rest of the storyline.) Abe twitches his face and stares at Young Joe in the eye and says "Go to China. I'm from the future. Trust me, go to China."

It is quite evident that "China as the future" is an important theme for the entire movie as the later half of the movie does show Old Joe (Bruce Willis) in Shanghai, China where he meets his beloved wife, Summer (Qing Xu).  The death of his wife was also critical to the character development of Old Joe and establishes his motivations to go back into the past in hopes to save Summer.

It is also interesting to note that the movie Looper is actually an US/China cooperation and that two editions of the movie were released, one for the US market and one for the Chinese market. The Chinese version (still in English with Chinese subtitles) contained many more scenes shot in Shanghai and also shows Bruce Willis speaking a few lines in Mandarin. This was seemingly done to appeal to the Chinese audience as these scenes were cut from the US edition.

How does this all relate to multicultural marketing? As Sensu also always believes, it is the future. In short, products and brands who are able to appeal to more than one market audience will see better success than those who do not. Multicultural marketing is merely just a scaled form of global marketing in a local context. I am sure many of us Chinese in Canada (especially those immigrants who proudly come from Shanghai!) would have loved to see more of the exclusive scenes shots in Shanghai - why cut them out?!


Sunday, 7 October 2012

Celebrating China’s National Day Holiday in Canada

This past week is China’ s National Day Holiday, which allows for 7 days off and usually is called “Golden Week”. Chinese people go out for eating, travelling and shopping during these days.

When my media friend told me there would be a flag-raising ceremony at the Markham Civic Centre on the afternoon of October 1st, I didn’t realize she was talking about raising China flag until I was physically there with her.

It was amazing to see people with different ethnicity carry both China flag and Canada flag on a Chinese occasion at a Canadian government office. As this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival was one day before, there were moon cakes as sweet treat.

The ceremony was initiated by Federation of Chinese Canadian in Markham, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the provision of services to the Chinese community and the integration of Chinese Canadians into the mainstream of Canada since 1989, and supported by Frank Scarpitti, the mayor of the city of Markham. The mayor said during the ceremony: ”It’s a symbol of respect for those who come here from that part of the world.”

Later, I knew the same celebration ceremonies were held in Richmond Hill and Pickering as well. As the second largest ethnic group in GTA, Chinese has increasing strong influence almost everywhere. It is great to know the influence has gained attention and recognition from retailers, CPG and even government in Canada.   

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Why the Houston Rockets Made an
Excellent Acquisition
The Houston Rockets may have acquired one of the most valuable players in the NBA, and at an extremely low cost in comparison to the deal. Jeremy Lin will be playing for the Rockets for the next 3 years for a mere $25 million. 
The American born NBA player of Taiwanese decent, undrafted out of Harvard has managed to climb above most players in terms of salary within the NBA; and he has achieved this feat through playing less than one full season of games within the NBA.

Logically, scepticism surrounding the Rockets' offer to Lin has been justified. Many journalists, sports columnists and sports fanatics were stunned by the Rocket's offer and supported the New York Knicks decision of letting Lin walk away. However, critics have disregarded the crucial fact that like all other professional sports organizations, when it comes down to it, the Houston Rockets is just another business. Brand awareness, ticket sales, and market share are just some of the factors that fixate the attention of CEOs of major corporations and franchises. Every decision, every tactic must in some way, present a significant return on investment – and Lin can provide a ROI in many more ways than just through winning basketball games.
Lin captured the hearts of America with his story. He excels both academically, and athletically. He is faithful to his religious values and beliefs. He had to put in hard work for his results and stepped up to exceed every single person's expectations when he was given his opportunity starting February 4th 2012. In a matter of 14 days, the resale of Knicks ticket prices increased by 300% on the market and an 87% increase in television ratings on the MSG network. These are all assets that the Houston Rockets can be guaranteed. But there's more – much more.
Last June, Yao Ming announced his retirement from the NBA. Although this did not come as a surprise to the dedicated fans of the Chinese NBA superstar, there was a big space to fill and Lin is the man for the job. Yao's legacy has proved far more than the fact that Chinese people can play basketball; it set the tone for the NBA's outreach across Asia. Jeremy Lin is now the biggest face in the NBA for the Asian basketball community. He was not born in China but it does not matter. He has the values and work ethics that are admired within the Chinese culture. Additionally, Lin has already gained support abroad, especially amongst the 22 million people in Taiwan. Lin can be the man to connect the Chinese basketball fans to the NBA, and more importantly, to the Houston Rockets once again. A player with that potential is priceless
There is a huge market within the Asian basketball market. Regardless of whether people want to admit it or not, the potential surrounding Lin is worth far more than $8.33 million for the next 3 years. The Rockets were insightful enough to make sure he's playing on their court this coming fall.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Night It Up 2012: The Celebration and Showcase of East Asian Culture

Night It Up 2012

It was the "Asian night market" that had everyone talking. Night It Up has, once again, successfully showcased the East Asian community around the GTA over the past weekend. Organized by the Power Unit Youth Organization, a non-profit youth empowerment and development group comprised of volunteers, the team assembled a display of pop-cultural performances and authentic Asian street food.

What exactly, may you ask, attracted more than one hundred thousand people to this venue in the Town of Markham?

Was it the sounds of multicultural performances from talented young singers, bands and dance groups?
Was it the selection of over 100 food vendors representing Taiwan, Hong Kong, and many other parts of East Asia, or the distinct aroma of stinky tofu from one specific cart?

Maybe it was even through word of mouth that there were muscular men at the "Trojan" sponsorship booth - willing to take pictures.

All of these features may have been a part of the reason, but the sense of community among the East Asian within the GTA was definitely the deciding factor.

Night It Up offers the experience to gather and celebrate each others' East Asian culture. There is a sense of pride when coming together to embrace our common backgrounds, values and interests.

There is a sense of comfort when walking around the night market venue and sipping fresh watermelon and pineapple juice straight out of the fruit with family and friends.

There is a sense of appreciation when taking the time to be immersed in one's own traditions, even for a few hours, while having the utmost respect for the multiculturalism in Toronto.

Just like Toronto's annual Caribana, this night market allowed the acknowledgement and celebration of an unique culture - and this opportunity was certainly not overlooked. The physical presence and high spirits among the East Asian community at Night It Up 2012 were overwhelming!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Nestle - Adaptations to the Global Market & Exposing Market Opportunities

Nestle - Adaptations to the Global Market &
Exposing Market Opportunities

                What is the competitive advantage? Derived from this question is the single most important factor that to any business model. However, what might have been prosperous and successful two years ago might not be the case today. The global marketplace is constantly changing; with it, the needs and desires of consumers are rapidly evolving as well.  Companies who adapt through refreshing innovations will emerge or continue their dominance while the less flexible will fall.

                To further toss up the implications, not all cultures within the vast geographical regions are the same. This might not oppose a threat to a local business who operates under one municipality, but can be a huge road block for multi-national companies as they have to consider different strategies, for the different environments. Nestle, the world's largest health food company, is a prime example of doing things right - within the baby formula market anyways.

                China's market demand can never be simplified in one piece of publication. However, there are unique features worth noting. With the one child policy enforced in most urban cities, parents value their child as top their priority and this starts from day one. Chinese parents spend as much as they can on their one and only child; they try to provide the best within, and sometimes outside of their capabilities. Like a business, capital is invested, intangibles are nurtured and competitive inputs are exhausted from resources all in hopes of a future return on investment.

                In the western society, parents are comforted by the safety of the nutritional foods their babies consume. Baby formulas must be 100% safe and limited trust is displaced on any brand when it comes to checking the credibility and sources. However, many Chinese consumers equate the quality of the product, with the name of the brand. Instead, they are looking for other "upper hands" when purchasing baby formula. Formulas rich in DHA & RHA fatty acids, Omega 3 and Omega 6; formulas that will increase brain development from the earliest age possible.

                An overwhelming majority of Chinese parents would not mind paying 150% the price for those added ingredients and commercialized claims and Nestle recognizes this market opportunity. In April 2012, Nestle acquired the baby food unit Pfizer for $11.9 billion USD. Why? Because this specialized company is pharmaceutically capable of enhancing product development through added nutritions that parents want to see. These strengths give Nestle the power to attract emerging markets while maintaining their reliable reputation domestically.

                Nestle understands and exposes the values of the various countries in which they operate under; they do not fail in making the right moves to advance in the ever-changing global market. China has been a primary target throughout the years and those initiatives, as a return, have paid off substantially. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Value Beneath Haggling

Reaching a good deal when it comes to making a purchase is always preferable within every
individual; who would rather pay full price, as oppose to enjoy the benefits of having the same item
when it's 30% off? This simple concept however, whether we are aware or not, goes much further in the
minds of a Chinese consumer. Shadowed by the Chinese social-economic goals and mentalities of
chasing superiority, achieving the greatest success, and ultimately winning, there is definitely a set of
unique cultural values created.

It is rooted deeply within our intuition to beat the system - this concept is the same when
consuming. There is a lack of satisfaction until we can "beat the system," and the value cannot be
optimized until we do.

In the same way how individuals communicate their persona through various forms of art and
creative writing, Chinese consumers also have different methods of expressing this intuitive desire.

In a Chinese oriented environment, those who are aggressive will haggle ferociously with the in-
store owner for a deal that would seem to be unable to meet gross margins and unfathomable to
Westerners. Pooling together the strategic knowledge of these seemingly relentless hagglers would be
enough to publish a hefty book! On the other hand, the more passive Chinese consumer will constantly
browse online catalogues, search for sales on blogs and social media channels, and compare the prices
until they feel that they have found an exclusive and superior deal. This pattern is omnipresent from
purchasing clothing, to having their tires changed at an auto shop.

Realistically, the efforts spent only translates to savings of 5% to 10% on the lowest price a
retailer is willing to go. However, the hidden value within these transactions is a sense of
accomplishment. The accomplishment that one has successfully achieved the best deal that not many
other people could achieve and it is not enough to have a discount directly presented to the Chinese
consumer. When this occurs, there is an excitement since the consumers' intuitive desires are fulfilled
and this will create a positive impression on the serving businesses' image.

As many people know, the key to successfully reaching out to consumers is knowing their
values. However, values aren't always universal and globalization is always adding complexity to this
assessment. How are you going to adapt?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Canada May Expect More Chinese Students

It always makes me feel home once I land in Shanghai. Because of its attractiveness in terms of economic environment, business opportunities, fashion attitude and convenient lifestyle, Shanghai has become destination for non-Shanghainese and even non-Chinese. Not surprised to hear that population in Shanghai has exceeded 22 Million. I can tell from crowdedness in each subway line in non-rush hours.
I met a lot of friends during my 4-week stay in Shanghai in April. Most of them are middle-class and some of them are in higher status. The common concern for them is the future of China. Given the problems of pollution, government corruption, political system, unsafe food and social unrest, they are concerned about their future and their next generation’s.
As most of you may be aware, education is top priority for every Chinese family. Especially, “one child policy” makes parents put 100% hope on the only child. Some of them decide to go to US to give birth for their kids. It costs more than C$30,000 but they think it worthwhile as their kids obtain US passport.
On one hand, most Chinese save more than spend; on the other hand, when it turns to education for kids, they spare every effort to support. The mentality for Chinese in consumption is price equals to quality; therefore, they prepare for paying premium for better school environment, more experienced teachers and more advanced methodology. The private school in Shanghai charges more than C$12,000 per year (from kindergarten), which is almost the same tuition in Canada.
North America is always the first choice for overseas study. Canada stands out due to its favorable policy (3-year open work visa after graduation), neutral political standing and its diversity. Chinese families have realized the earlier children accept overseas education, the better. As immigration raised the bar, those parents may not get chance to come to Canada as immigrants and they don’t feel comfortable to leave children when they are too little. The line draws at the age of 15 (Grade 9 or 10). And that’s why they prefer boarding schools.
I came back with the request from my friends (children age between 1 and 12): to find out how to apply for private schools in Toronto/Canada. I suppose Canada may expect more Chinese students in the coming years.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Immigration Key to Canada's Future


Globe and Mail ongoing series and discussions on issues that matter most to Canadians has chosen the topic of immigration and explores into its importance to Canadian future. Well for starters, here are a few key "facts and figures" (derived from throughout various articles from the ongoing series):

  • Between now and 2021, a million jobs are expected to go unfilled across Canada
  • When immigrants arrive, they not only fill gaps in the work force but pay taxes and spend money on housing, transport and consumer goods
  • Studies show that their offspring tend to be among the country's best-educated and initiative-taking young people
  • Today, there are 4.2 working-aged Canadians for every senior citizen, making contributions to cover retirees' pensions and health care. By 2031, that ratio will be cut in half. The tax base will shrink, growth will slow and labour shortages will become even more dire
  • Within two decades, barring an improbable baby boom, immigration will account for all population growth
  • With 34 million people, this country remains highly underpopulated, for all its vast geography
  • Recent immigrants earn only about 60 per cent as much as the Canadian-born
  • Among those in their prime working years, immigrants are nearly 60 per cent more likely to have a university degree than those born here (37 per cent compared with 22)

Since launching the focus series just yesterday, there has been a multitude of the comments from the general public. Not surprisingly, the question is placed on the keyword: multiculturalism - is it good or bad for Canada?

As a new breed multicultural marketer myself, how can I possibly not share my views as I stick glued to my screen on all the latest comments that are coming in. But there is one thing that is really pestering me. As a second generation Chinese Canadian, I never really understood why there is a concept that insists on the importance for immigrants/visible minorities to fully assimilate into Canadian culture. The article nails it spot on when they say that our nation's greatest challenge is to understand and embrace the ways immigrants will reshape this country. Integration and not assimilation is the key to social harmony to land of multicultural ethnicities - no one should have to be coerced into giving up their home country culture in order to have the rights to be fully entitled to to enjoy the beauty of being a part of Canada. 

For crying out loud, I was born here and I really, most genuinely do not know how to answer what "Canadian culture" means. I've been saying this since I've had the intellectual capacity to think on my own, "Being Canadian is great, because the people here embrace me for who I am" There is no greater place in the world to be a Chinese person than in Canada, and I mean that sincerely from the bottom of my heart. It is due to this very reason that drives my passion for multicultural marketing, particular with the focus on the Chinese segment. 

Unfortunately, my appreciation for Canadian diversity on the social front is not always consistently reflected in our workplace and Corporate setting. To raise an example, today I was at a corporate networking event for a prestige book launch in Downtown Toronto, I just really can't help but notice that I, along with the my group, were among the only Chinese face in the crowd of senior level executives. So...in the face of a "looming labour shortage and improbable baby boom", is this how our Canadian businesses respond? 

Perhaps I shall end this blog post with on slightly more positive and hopeful note:

“We're losing the idea of building the country.” Prof. Studin argues that the country should set its sights on swelling to as many as 100 million people. This new Canada would become a far more influential consumer market, a more diverse and imaginative producer and a much more robust and self-sustaining culture. Its voice would become more prominent in international affairs.

Cheers to Canada's future!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

No need for a 2D-glasses for the movie, but maybe one for the word "acculturation"?

It is not big news that latest Chinese movie are entering Canadian theatres nowadays, especially when living in Toronto - I always found myself studying Chinese movie posters on TTC subway and thinking with a smile on my face, "This feels just like home".

Missed seeing The Viral Factor starring Jay Chou and Nicholas Tse just a couple of months ago, I was determined to join the release madness of "Love in the Buff" (the sequel of "Love in a Puff") when press announced that its premier in North America would occur on the last day of March.
Jumped out of the plane which just took me back from Chicago, me and my friends quickly gathered at the nearest AMC, looking forward to a completely Chinese movie night out experience.

The theatre was packed up with a rather long line of Chinese youngsters waiting to enter. Most of them were conversing in Cantonese or English, sharing some jokes from "Love in a Puff", or checking out Weibo and Facebook on iPhone. Again, this resemblance of how such social setting looks like Hong Kong brought me a sense of nostalgia as well as familiarity.
During the movie, you can hear laughter at the most Cantonese jokes and slangs, claps at the funny mimics of old pop culture from the 80s, and whispers about actors gossip. All these things were happening there in a western movie theatre far away from China, when hundreds of people sharing their strong and joyful attachment with their Chinese culture. Can they speak English? Absolutely, maybe even half of this group even reckon English as their first language. They spent a few years or even most parts of their life in Canada, they study or work in Canadian environments, they greatly enjoy western food and cultural activities, but all these doesn't affect how they feel about their own Chinese culture - whether its origin traces back to Hong Kong, Mainland, Taiwan, Fujian, etc.

For immigrants, it is a re-socialization process for all when entering a completely different culture from their original one. For some Canadian born Chinese, it is also an on-going acculturation process when one finds him/herself to some extend attached to the Chinese culture when being exposed to from an early age. Does the concept "acculturation", therefore, worth a second look when it is easily mistaken as a substituent term for "assimilation"? Should it be solely examined based on one's level of adaptation to the host country culture (ie. Canadian culture)? What is the alternative two-dimentional way to look at it?

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Hong Kong's 2012 Chief Executive Election

Today marks the day where Hong Kong is in the process of electing for a new Chief Executive to govern over the next five years. Most of the Hong Kong Chinese community, both locally in Hong Kong as well as here in Canada have been very tapped into recent news of the candidates.

There has been ongoing debate about the future of Hong Kong and how much of its "one country, two system" structure will be kept in the years to come. There has been rumours and opinions that China's central government has been intervening and exerting pressure on the elective council, a body of professionals and individuals who are eligible to cast their vote for the next Chief Executive.

It is pertinent for multicultural marketers to understand not only the purchase behaviours of Chinese consumers but also to understand the political landscape on the macro level. Brands wishing to target this community needs to understand the importance of China's historical and modern day government structure in order to genuinely understand the factors that influence and ultimately drive consumer ideologies and behaviours.

In the next blog post, I'll explore more in depth into the political landscape of China, how it shapes consumer values and ultimately drive consumption preferences. Moreover, we'll look into how to leverage this understanding to target the ethnic Chinese consumer here in Canada.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Do what you love and love what you do

After about 5 months interning with Sensu (in which, I was never referred to as “the intern” by the way – much appreciated!), it’s now time for me to explore another path.

When I first started back in November, I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew I would be working first-hand with a boutique marketing agency, which focused on the Chinese market. Little did I know though, I took away much more than I expected. Not only did I experience how a start-up boutique is run, or the steps that must be taken before a pitch… but I also learned about passion. I learned that with whatever you do in life, you’ve got to be passionate about it.

Simply put, I believe that having a passion for what you do is the foundation of your “drive”… your drive to prosper, your drive to progress, and your drive to persevere. No matter what happens, you will always push forward because at the end of the day… it’s what you love.

Working with such passionate and insightful ladies at Sensu, I’ve also gained a sense of inspiration. Every week, I would leave the office feeling so inspired after seeing what they do and their hard work put into it. I would always feel so inspired to work harder in order to achieve what I want. It was almost like an inspiration to make sure I’ll be passionate about what I do one day too.

All in all, interning with Sensu was such a valuable experience to me. Just remember to do
what you love and love what you do. Thank you, ladies.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

When fashion embraces culture!

When the curtain of New York fashion week has dropped down for two weeks, the buzz around exquisite fashion elements painted under the cultural veil continues to be the hot topic amongst beauty hunters.

From Vera Wang to Anna Sui, runway definitely becomes a more fun place when edgy fashion aspired by a soft cultural touch. As the New York-based designer Vivienne Tam put to describe her latest design, "this collection is a bridging of cultures between West and East." True, no one knows fashion better than Tam in the sense of what "when east meets west" encompasses - and certainly no one applies better cultural sensitivity than this Guangzhou-born, Hong Kong-bred girl who is greatly inspired from her extensive Asian experience and international adventure.

Well, while Sensu cannot experience this fashion feast of all senses, last week several of us culture enthusiasts were invited with great pleasure to the launch party of Tatsuaki Spring/Summer 2012 Collection. Enjoyed a phenomenal success in Japan, the Chinese Canadian designer Dan Liu is bringing his brand Tatsuaki to Toronto where it will be carried in Canada by the Hudson’s Bay Company in mid-March. Exposed to fashion during early years, Liu established his personal label Tatsuaki ('bright dragon' in English) in Japan where the embeddedness of simplicity and uniqueness receive great popularity.
Throughout the fashion show, we were completely taken by how subtle Japanese culture in showcased by the couture. From floral to geometric elements, from plain cutting to lace details, Liu injects the essence of poetic Asian delicacy into women's apparel and encourages females embrace their elegance and cuteness at the same time.

We are definitely looking forward to seeing this talent Asian designer's work entering our mainstream department store in March! Are you? :p

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Jason Wu creates a buzz for Target

There seems to be a trend going on of retailers collaborating with designers to create more affordable “designer” clothing, including the very popular “Versace for H&M”. Jason Wu and Target are another example of these up and coming fashion partnerships.

Now… what’s different about “Versace for H&M” and “Jason Wu for Target” is that Target isn’t even open in Canada yet! With the Canadian launch of Target in 2013, this Jason Wu pop-up shop is definitely adding to consumer’s anticipations of the store opening and business in general. From the Toronto Star article, it seems the event was expected to draw in many consumers and of course, be busy. It was only open for 6 hours and had customers lining up hours before the opening. Adding to the operating hour’s limitation, there was also a 3 item limit per purchase as well.

The pop-up shop seems like a smart move for Target I would say. As a consumer, I do prefer the idea of “limited qualities” of clothing because the fact that others don’t have it, make the clothes that much more special (note: I’m assuming there was little supply). With that said, if I followed Jason Wu's designs, I would definitely be at an event such as so. Besides the scarcity idea though, there were actually more “good things” about this pop-up shop. For one, Jason Wu was in attendance himself! Secondly…

"Target said they will donate an amount equal to 100 per cent of the sales of the Jason Wu for Target event to United Way Toronto" - The Star

Does it get any better than that?

I actually hope his line "Jason Wu for Target" goes well in Canada. I really do appreciate these designer collaborations because it gives consumers, who may not have been able to afford the items before, the chance to purchase them now. All in all, the pop-up shop event looks like a win-win-win situation. Win for consumers, win for Jason Wu, and… win for Target.

For more on the article and the collection: http://www.thestar.com/living/fashion/article/1135535--target-launches-jason-wu-one-day-pop-up-store-today-on-king-st-w

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Lin's infamous 3 pointer over the Raptors

Linsanity continues! Toronto was able to witness Jeremy Lin’s talents on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre. He definitely attracted the Chinese community of Toronto, which made the ACC a full house that night.

I sat at home watching the game while a friend of mine was watching it live and texting me, “I’ve never seen so many Asian people at a Raptors game before!” Apparently there were more fans rooting for the Knicks (or Jeremy Lin should I say), rather than the Raptors (poor, poor Raptors). Personally, as a semi-Raptors fan and supporter of anything from Toronto, I was rooting for the Raptors… but then I was even more interested to watch because of the Jeremy Lin hype. I mean… what was he going to do now?

…Then there it was. Last quarter, 15 seconds left, tied game, and the ball is in Jeremy Lin’s hands. Literally at the edge of my seat, I witnessed him score a 3 pointer which just amazed me. I could only imagine how the Raptors felt after having a lead for almost the entire game. It was such a mix of emotions. On one hand, I was thinking, “Great, another lost” and on the other, I was just amazed at the risk that Jeremy Lin took. I mean, after that move there would be an even BIGGER craze in Toronto for him.

According to the Globe and Mail, news of his winning shot was featured on Toronto’s Ming Pao and Sing Tao websites. It was stated that the Canadian Chinese Youth Athletics Association sent 300 members to the game and as well, they were planning on buying tickets for the next game in Toronto. Interesting bit at the end of the article however…

This was too much for Tarek Fatah, the Pakistani-born Canadian activist who has written about multiculturalism. “What is it with Toronto’s Chinese community? They’re cheering the Knicks win against hometown Raptors ‘cos their star LIN is a Taiwanese?” Mr. Fatah said on Twitter. “I’m sorry, but when Canadians come waving Taiwan flags in Toronto, it pisses me off.”

As “Canadian” as one may be, I think that at the end of the day… if someone from the same culture as him/her does anything positive and/or impactful (such as so), he/she would feel a sense of pride. I really don’t think it should be a problem for others to be proud of where they came from.

Reference: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/torontos-chinese-community-already-scrambling-for-tickets-to-next-lin-game/article2339252/

Saturday, 11 February 2012

A rising star and inspiration: Jeremy Lin

If someone asked you to name a Chinese basketball player a few years back, you would have probably said Yao Ming. Fast forward a couple years and now you’ll be saying Jeremy Lin. Gaining attention all over; he has already been a trending topic of Twitter with fans using the hash-tag, “#Linsanity”.

Now who is Jeremy Lin you may ask? He’s an American-born, Harvard graduate, and most importantly… comes from a Chinese/Taiwanese background. If you’re wondering why I said “most importantly”, it’s because his Chinese descent is the “surprise” factor in this success story. Lin basically broke stereotypes just by doing what he loves. I hate to say it but many people stereotype Asians into the volleyball and badminton sports, but Lin is really proving something to the world. To me, he seems to be this shining underdog. With his 38 point winning game over the Lakers recently, he really is opening up eyes all around the world and becoming such an inspiration.

"The Asian American community in the United States possesses certain values which are: Religion, Education, and being a solid citizen, not only does Jeremy possess all of those but he appears to come from the "Asian Dream" — Harvard educated, a rare combination of brains and brawn. He's a wonderful role model for Asian Americans, especially among the young." - Vicki Wong, President & CEO of DAE Advertising

As much as Lin is this great success story, in reality we do live in a capitalistic world. With his talents, intelligence, and role model potential… he does seem to be a perfect candidate for endorsements though. For multicultural marketers of the Chinese community, he would really be the ideal “celebrity” influencer. What more could you ask for?

Lin is really building a sense of excitement and pride for the Chinese community, or even the Asian community as a whole. Its actually amazing how one person can have such a powerful impact on the world. Jeremy Lin is definitely the “next big thing”.

Read more about Jeremy Lin and his endorsement future here: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/jeremy-lin-york-knicks-player-marketing-dream-machine/story?id=15557844

Saturday, 4 February 2012

How far can assumptions of ethnic markets take you?

After going through online articles, in search for something I could write about this week, I came across one in the Globe and Mail titled, “In de-coding class in China, cars are your best clue”.

The article states it all started on Weibo, China`s very popular version of Twitter let`s just say. On that social network was a discussion about the type of car a Canada ambassador owns versus the type of car that a Beijing vice-minister owns. From there, stemmed a list of cars which would define one`s social class in Beijing. Basically, the article talks about the type of car one has can determine the social class you are (assumed to be) in.

As I went through the list of cars and its perceived social class… it provoked some thoughts about the idea of “assuming” in marketing today.

Some businesses will refrain from investing into an authentic ethnic marketing company and simply just rely on their own “assumptions” about ethnic markets. Assumptions can only go so far though. For example (real life example!), a business would just throw an ad into the Sing Tao Chinese newspaper and that’s it, marketing to the Chinese community (check!). They just assumed that their target market will read the newspaper, see that article, and are now ready to go make a purchase. A few questions arise from this… is it even the right channel to use? Where is the strategy behind it?

Now is there any other approach to ethnic marketing besides the newspaper ad? No, and this is another problem. If businesses even make an attempt at ethnic marketing, there’s always a cap on it as if it’s not important, not a big deal. In other words, investment in ethnic marketing is very low; however, how can a business really benefit if they don’t put in the full efforts? How does their “knowledge” of the ethnic market compare with the knowledge of an ethnic marketing company? The least they can do is consult with an expert right? A cultural expert that is.

Check out the article here:

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Walmart embraces diversity

As the biggest retailer in Canada (according to the Toronto Star), it’s inevitable that Walmart would notice demographic changes and reciprocate with strategic actions. Known for its everyday low pricing, Walmart now offers everyday low pricing for the Asian market as well. With ongoing demographic changes, Walmart had already stepped into the ethnic markets before by providing a small selection in their stores. Starting with the Steeles Ave. and Markham Rd. store however, where there’s a strong presence of Asian consumers, they’ve continued to expand their selection now more than ever. Just in time to celebrate the Chinese New Year, the Scarborough location at Steeles Ave. and Markham Rd. were the first to launch the plan.

“Earlier this month — and gearing up for Chinese New Year — the sprawling supercentre became the first Walmart in Canada to house an Asian bakery, fish market and butcher, catering to a large Asian population that comprises 40 per cent of the outlet’s clientele.” - Jayme Poisson of the Star

With the large Asian community surrounding the store and visiting the store, it does make sense for Walmart to initiate their ethnic-focused plan here. I’m actually interested to find out how much revenue they will generate from this new addition to the store.

Mass merchandisers, with Walmart as an example, are slowly moving in on specialty stores. With that I mean, these mass merchandisers are trying to attract the target market of specialty ethnic stores. From the article however, one customer quotes, “It could use a little more variety. It’s not 100 per cent what I want.” Although there may not be a variety (just yet!), Walmart has definitely added some more competition to its roster.

Adding to its strategy of everyday low pricing, it’s clear to see that Walmart is focusing their efforts on a one-stop-shop for ethnic consumers… but will it be a success? What do YOU think?

Reference: http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1120080--walmart-celebrates-chinese-new-year-by-catering-to-the-neighbourhood

Thursday, 26 January 2012

What does it mean to be Chinese in Canada?

Started my morning off with my usual routine, scanning Marketing Mag, Adage and Strategy Online (and if I have the occasional extra time, the Globe & Mail). Came across a column article by Pepper Miller, who founded an agency focused on the African-American market "To Know Market Segments, Know the Many Shades of Black Identity". I really enjoyed this article for its blunt, candid, grassroots and yet professional perspective of what it means to be black in America.

It prodded me to validate Sensu's reason of existence in the Canadian market. (I often like to tell others that we "sell people...Chinese people to be exact". Quite frankly, that's exactly what it is - we are selling an audience and along with it, their lifestyles, habits, attitudes, values and behaviours.)

You can easily apply Pepper Miller's article into the context of being Chinese in Canada. I think that our "shades" become much more complex: we have the fobs, the cbc's, the hongkongers, the mainlanders and even amongst the mainlanders, it breaks down further by region - GZ group is different than those from Shanghai and then different from those in Beijing. Fujian is another story altogether. Infuse the Canadian layer on top of all that...boy must I tell you, mainstream marketers have a LOT to learn and understand about Chinese consumers in Canada.

But I absolutely love the beauty of this complexity, because that is what gives Sensu our real value proposition, that is how we help our clients best. Pepper mentions that "Improving one's African-American cultural IQ is critical to understanding the differences among segments." In parallel, improving one's Chinese-Canadian cultural IQ is critical to understand not only the differences but also similarities, among Chinese segments. Trick is, you cannot really articulate a culture unless you are IN it. Culture is dynamic in nature, it is an experience not a theory, not a rationale.
Many clients hold back from committing to multicultural marketing, most of them mention issues with scalability and market size - it's about the bottomline. But they seem to be missing the key point - the nucleus of multicultural marketing that drives cultural activity and growth - is to pay attention to all the subtle differences between and within ethnic segments. To impact the bottomline is to not only recognize that there are subtle differences but also to show your customers that you care and you want to make a connection - an authentic one.

Scalability should not be a barrier to strategy nor creativity. Neither should it come at the sacrifice of authenticity. 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Lunar New Year fast approaches!

As most have already celebrated a happy New Year on January 1st, 2012, the Asian community prepares to ring in their New Year for January 23rd, 2012.

The Toronto Star article titled, “Chinese New Year celebrations in Toronto kick off Year of the Dragon” explains all about this worldwide celebration. From traditions of the red envelope to the history of the dragon, the article is a helpful quick read for those wishing to learn more about this day and the events on-going for the weekend.

Firstly, as I was reading through the article, I noticed the author made an early clarification before getting into the details of the topic…

“Though often called Chinese New Year, the annual celebration (also called the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival) is celebrated by Vietnamese, Korean and other Asian populations worldwide.”

The Chinese New Year is celebrated by, as stated above, other Asian populations as well. Although it is commonly referred to as “Chinese New Year”, many can get confused by this, and assume it to only be celebrated by the Chinese. This clarification was actually one of the reasons why I thought this article was a helpful read.

Continuing through the article, traditions are explained more in depth and then onto the dragon – which I thought was really interesting. As stated, the year of the dragon is to be the luckiest. The article also includes a quote from Paul Ng, an international feng shui master, stating, “Economically speaking, the world will do better.” What’s interesting to me is that, from a year being a certain type of creature, such outcomes can be predicted in relation to that creature! Hopefully this is true!

Although many families might celebrate together at home, towards the end of the article, there mentions places which will be holding events of this celebration. At the very end of the article is another helpful bit, headlined as, “Chinese New Year Do’s and Don’ts”.

Remember… don’t clean your house on the Lunar New Year day (January 23rd, 2012); you could clean away the good fortune!

To read more dos and don’ts: http://www.thestar.com/living/article/1118373--chinese-new-year-celebrations-in-toronto-kick-off-year-of-the-dragon

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Have you jumped on the Chinese market bandwagon?

...You do not want to get left behind!

As Toronto takes the prize for having the most Chinese-Canadians, Vancouver is not too far behind. With that being said, there is no surprise that media companies are tapping into the Chinese communities of Vancouver.

From the article, “Western Canadian media firms plan Chinese-language editions", Susan Krashinsky reports that both Shaw Communications and Postmedia Network Canada Corp. will be making these strategic moves. Shaw Communications plans to unveil a Mandarin edition of the Global News evening newscast and Postmedia Network Canada Corp. plans to start a website that will translate the Vancouver Sun into “both traditional and simplified Chinese script.”

In the article, Loretta Lam, who is the president of the Chinese Canadian Advertising, Marketing & Media Association, also adds her insights about Chinese-language media editions and I agree with many of her thoughts. The most important point she mentions is that for these media firms to succeed, they will not only have translated versions of Canadian news, but will need to incorporate news from China as well. I believe this point to be very true and quite a “smart” move. Simply adding a Chinese news portion would definitely create a sense of connection to the homeland of Chinese-Canadians. This sense of connection would be seen amongst first generation Chinese-Canadians and especially for newcomers into the country. The addition of Chinese news allows target viewers to be up-to-date with current affairs back home, which is extremely relevant if they have family or friends there and in most cases, they probably do.

From such steps businesses are taking, it is clear to see that many companies are beginning to specifically target the growing Chinese market.

…So, what are you waiting for? Sensu can help you get on the right, strategic path :)


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Losing face is serious business, it's no joke!

After reading the article titled, “The Cult of Face”, I realized just how crucial and impactful the concept of “face” was in the Chinese culture.

To recap, the article compares the West and China based on how they perceive the concept of face. According to the West, face is how one views him or herself – more individual-based – opposed to China, where face means how others would view oneself. It describes actions, which are common or “the norm” in the West, to be losing face if performed in China. For example, to Westerners, raising a question would seem common at meetings; however, in China it is seen as “uncultured, overbearing, and rude”. Ultimately, the way Westerners do business, is definitely not how the Chinese do business.

My attention was further drawn when “truth” was added into the discussion. As stated in the article, being truthful – regardless of the shortcomings – automatically gains respect in the West. In China, on the other hand, this is a different story. The truth can be disguised with a lie, when the intention is to save one’s face.

“In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell a lie—even a bald-faced one—if it serves to protect face. China’s culture of shame doesn’t think of lies in terms of “right” and “wrong.” Instead, the goal of Chinese truth is often to protect the face of an individual, group, or even nation.”

After reading this article, I learned a lot more about the Chinese culture (on top of learning more about “saving face”, of course). From the above statement, which further explains the acceptability of telling a lie to save face, it also explains the concept of “shame” in China. What I didn’t know was that, the basis of being truthful revolves more around saving face than it is around being “right” or “wrong”.

“The Cult of Face” really opened my eyes to the importance of understanding another’s culture before doing business with them. At the end of the article, there are extremely helpful hints for giving or losing face situations – a must-read for conducting business in China. One of the points, under losing face situations, mentions “calling someone out on a lie”. Now, this is another area where the West differs from China. In the West, as the article states, “we don’t like to be bull-sh*tted” and therefore, will call one out on it! Keep in mind; however, this is an example to losing face in China!

This article proves just how different one culture can be from another. We are not all the same. What’s a big deal to you may be meaningless to someone else and vice versa. For that reason it’s crucial to understand these minor, yet impactful, actions because it could definitely make or break a relationship.

Reference: http://www.china-mike.com/chinese-culture/understanding-chinese-mind/cult-of-face/

Monday, 9 January 2012

Culture breeds character, diversity shapes communication.

I grew up knowing that people are different. Being one of the very few students from the city in my high school, I noticed how little kids already started labeling each other "suburban" or "urban". Afterwards having spent most of my adolescent life in international dormitories, from Shanghai to Hong Kong, from Hong Kong to North American, from North America to Europe, the two words "culture" and "diversity" no longer stop at being definitions on my Sociology textbooks. In my mind, they take forms in stories, pictures, travel journals, body languages, tears, dances, hugs, and even the smell of morning grass I enjoyed when staying at my friend's farm in Scotland.

I didn't realize there even exists culture differences between mainland China and Hong Kong until I actually lived in this mysterious little SAR (Special Administrative Region). I was surprised to witness how its civic culture brings out the city's organized social pace, how its family culture forms the adults' attitudes towards love, how its business culture stores everyone's confidence in performing fair and square, etc.
If say I already experienced a Chinese culture shock when moving from mainland to Hong Kong, then my multiple Asian and western culture shocks definitely broadened my entire world of cultural perception. I was amazed by the similarities between me and the Japanese and Korean, every understanding smile that we had simultaneously when facing a western dilemma reminds me of the Asian cultural roots that we share. I loved the moments when my dutch friends joking about the Germans and could even rap about the two countries' differences without a breath.

So many cultures are described with characters, while at the same time they gave us our very own characters. We walk around without knowing exactly what those characters actually mean. However, when we encounter each other, something called "diversity" starts to make us become aware of who we really are.

Difference exists when there are dissimilarities, it is often a neutral and factual concept being independent from human relationships. Diversity, however, exists not only when there are dissimilarities, but also when there are implications to give such 'diversity' further meanings. Put aside the political debates between the two terminologies, diversity is considered more emotionally involved and associated more with the aesthetic and social perspectives.
Practically grew up in international dorms, I was constantly amused by communications result from diversity in cultures. Completely aware of the different characters that we each has to offer, everyone tend to more openly express confusions or appreciation regarding others' values and opinions, or even question themselves! Stereotypes usually work in the first and create communication platforms for diversity. Conversations and debates exchange for a nice sense of understanding with both one-selves and others. With no doubt, diversity brought us more reasons to believe in this world's broadness and tolerance, as well as a more powerful motivation in continue to learn about the culturally unknowns.

Today, I am still walking in between cultures to experience their characters while forming my own. And I believe for a very very long time, the diversities that happening around us would not stop generating wonderful communications for this big lovely world.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Sensu Grows Stronger!

The New Year is off to a great start for all of us here at Sensu!

I would like to take the chance to introduce Amanda Chen, Sensu's newest addition. Amanda will play a critical role in driving Sensu's research capabilities, including the development of our proprietary model used to better understand ethnic Chinese consumers from all walks of life. Stay tuned as we are really excited to share our findings with you!

Here is a little bit more about Amanda:
Born and raised in Shanghai, Amanda pursues education and work experience all over the world. Besides undertaking most of her undergraduate study in Hong Kong and volunteering extensively in rural areas of China, she spreads her footprints all the way from Asia to the US, Canada, Australia, Norway, England, and many more countries during her travel. Equipped by academic training in Statistics, Sociology and Urban Development, Amanda extends her cultural sensitivity through participating in a variety of activities and work projects in different cultural contexts. From debating in the classroom of Harvard University to handling delicate ancient art crafts at Hampton Court Palace in England, from selling brownies for international students organization in Norway to daily working in suit at a prominent bank’s headquarter in Australia … Amanda now finally settles down in Toronto – to reflect on her identity as an inbetweener of cultures and engage in the multicultural marketing conversation for better communications.

Welcome Amanda!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

What does "holiday" mean?

The importance of Christmas for Canadians is equivalent to Chinese New Year for the Chinese. As the biggest holiday, Chinese New Year, means new clothes, big fat dinners and red envelopes for kids; for most young people, Chinese New Year means a 7-day holiday. In some sense, Chinese young people seem to appreciate Western holidays more than traditional Chinese holidays.

Before I came to Toronto three years ago, my understanding of Christmas was all about shopping. I guess it is common for Chinese as Christmas usually is the beginning of “on-sale season” in China... that was why I couldn’t understand the closing of all stores on Christmas Day. In China, even during the Chinese New Year holiday, most stores are open and even packed as people go shopping between two meals.

I heard the only store open on Christmas Day, in Toronto, was Pacific Mall. Being in the market for more than 10 years, Pacific Mall has established its position as the leading Chinese mall. You can tell how popular it is by looking at its always-busy parking lot. My friend Jenny brought me to Pacific Mall on the past Christmas Day but we couldn’t find a parking spot for almost 30 minutes. I was excited to see so many Chinese people, which reminded me of my hometown, Shanghai, a metropolitan with more than 20 million populations. We had to leave Pacific Mall finally and then I was wondering what Canadians do on that day. Obviously, they don’t play Mahjong nor sing Karaoke.

A Canadian friend told me that family members open their Christmas gifts and share their happiness on Christmas Day. I can picture a happy family in a living room enjoying their moment no matter how cold outside was.

Comparing the Chinese way and the Canadian way to celebrate holidays seems thought-provoking. Sharing with family and friends is a simple and traditional way and it might be the essence of any holiday.