Greater China Women's Study


While syndicated studies in Greater China now provide solid information about media and brand consumption, their ability to provide real insight and understanding into personal behaviour, beliefs and motivations is inevitably limited by inbuilt target definitions, standard lifestyle questioning and priority of scale over nuance. With competition for a share of the emerging middle-class woman’s heart, mind and pocket escalating amongst brands in Greater China, SMG saw the need for a dedicated women’s study to help it to truly understand not only what women want, but also how they feel about the continual challenges and opportunities they face as they progress through life.

In addition, for China in particular, it also needed to investigate how this differed across developmental market tiers. Whatever the agency designed had to provide scale so that its findings would be sufficiently robust to make informed marketing and communications decisions, yet with inbuilt subtlety to allow discovery of differentiating and actionable understanding across client categories. Essentially it wanted to have the granularity and personability of qualitative, at the scale of quantitative. No small order.


From the very beginning it wanted this to be about women’s life stages and how they defined her behaviour and attitudes above age, education or income. The agency defined the critical life stages as being: Young Ladies (high school and college); Career Women (married or unmarried in full-timer work); Mothers (working and not working, with kids from dot to teens) and Golden Girls (retirement age). But if it was to truly understand her personal, brand and media motivations, it needed something more than “agree or disagree” to the standard lifestyle statements.

So, in a first for a scale study, SMG designed a Desire Framework that would allow it to map its respondents and their brand choices against the 10 fundamental human desires (inspired by Hugh Mackay’s theory). In this way it could not only gain a unique motivational angle on a chosen audience, but could also understand the differing personalities of brand users. For example, while brand “X” might record a profile of being primarily “For Love”, a target of mums in tier one China cities might be motivated by the desire “For More” and “For Control”, thus giving new creative, content and communications opportunities (as well as challenges of perception to overcome).

Of course, it also asked women about their brand, media and content preferences and usage, all of which could be assessed by lifestage, desire, location or (if required) by old-fashioned demographics. With more and more clients exploring cross-border, regional campaigns, it was vital that the same approach was used in each country.


The study was designed in two phases: Qualitative: 68 women 3 hour + home-visit and shop alongs or leisure activities participation across 5 cities in PRC, Hong Kong and 3 cities in Taiwan; and Quantitative: 11,000+ 1-hour face to face interviews. Where this may seem to be “standard” quant-qual approach, SMG ensured that from the beginning it was designing for actionable findings. Prior to the qualitative phase it gathered input from a diversity of sources (internal client teams, clients, journalists, academics, sales forces, influential bloggers) to define some hypotheses that it could explore, expand or dismiss during interviews.

All interviews were conducted in-home, with video recording to bring context and detail to the ethnology. Rather than rigorously adhere to a rigid series of questions, its moderators encouraged a natural flow of conversation, picking up new threads of story as they arose so that it gained new perspective and ideas for the subsequent interviews and discussions. Planning staff from key accounts also attended in-home sessions, posting internal blogs and personal perspectives upon the stories and contextual experiences.

"Starcom’s Greater-China Woman Study helps marketers understand modern women's attitude, life style, behavior across different life stages, and also the differences across city tiers. By illustrating the whole journey of moms by baby stages, the learning is going to help Mead Johnson enhance our business success,” says David Wong, Associate Marketing-Director, ConsumerInsights.


From debut in April 2013 at roadshow presentations to clients and media in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, HongKong and Taipei, the Women’s Study has been a resounding success. Over 200 people attended each event and it earned $900,000 in local, regional and international media-coverage. Within 6-weeks all planning staff across SMG’s six Greater China offices had been trained in deployment of Desire-Framework planning model and other approaches. By September 2013 100% of key clients had received tailored presentations and workshops.

To date, the study has been actively used to create new strategic approaches for: Proctor & Gamble (multiple brands across skincare, laundry, femcare, oralcare Greater China); Kelloggs (launching to Mums in Shanghai); Baileys China (creating new social occasions for Young Ladies); Samsung (designing connective experiences for Career-Women); Coca-Cola (festive campaigns targeting Mothers); MeadJohnson(shifting focus towards Mum as a woman first) and Longchamp Taiwan (creating desire through travel). The greatest result has been the depth of conversations and quality of ideas sparked by the new approaches, reaching beyond media to tackle content and messaging; design and CRM.

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