Been away from China a while, I had hoped that some of the insane stereotypes that informed the understanding China may have subsided.
But low and beyond, the biggest one still holds strong – Chinese people are all the same. If you said that more 1.3 billion people million are ‘pretty much the same’ in any other context, you would be laughed out of the room or perhaps considered an alien. It is quite alarming that this stereotype still provides the basis for multi-million dollar investments.
To be fair, China in its own way has helped propagate this external understanding. Respective historical missions informed by Dynastic, Republican and Communist thinking, has looked to project to the world a united and undifferentiated nation state. They did a super job, most of the world still unquestioningly believes this.
But take a world map, you know one of those big old school ones from your school days, then attack it with scissors, cutting out all of Europe and then China. Then place them on top of each other – you will notice they are geographically similar sizes, with China larger overall.
Now if I suggested that the French and English are pretty much the same – you would think I was a bit simple. If I said the English and the Germans were pretty much the same, you would think I was mad. But if I said a guy from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou walked into a bar … and were pretty much the same, you would most likely tend to agree with me.
If you posed a similar question to someone Chinese, they would immediately think of potential cultural differences due to the regional origins of the those in the bar. If you then mentioned that they were then joined by someone from Chengdu (in China’s West), then the thoughts of difference would then explode.
Quite simply, China is a hugely diverse nation based on differences in language, cultural, diet, aesthetics, development … you name it, the Chinese are just as diverse as anywhere else.
It is fascinating that another country of similar massiveness has always been understood in terms of its diversity, while China for it’s apparent lack of it.
So, you have read this far … and say, “OK Jerry, we get you … of course China is as diverse as everywhere else. But are you suggesting we do 1000 focus groups to ensure we capture this diversity?”
While 1000 focus groups would be great for the bottom line, and I would welcome the travel, but the answer to addressing China’s diversity is in clever research design and using cultural research to understand the wider culture context that informs local consumer’s perceptions and behavior.
Embrace China’s diversity! Approach it in a SMART way!