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?


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:

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.


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.