Raymond Xia has a mission – to bring understanding of the Chinese consumer to the Western marketing world.
The former head of brand for Red Bull in China is in Dunedin studying for his PhD at the Otago Business School, another step on his journey to spread the word.
“My mission is to help foreigners to understand more about China and the Chinese market, especially young Chinese.
China is a mystery
“China is a mysterious country to many people. Everyone has different expectations and there are some understandings and misunderstandings, especially when you are thinking about entering the market.
“The Chinese culture is totally different to Western culture, and the behaviour of young Chinese people is different to traditional older people, too.”
China opened its borders to the West 30 years ago, but although much has changed in that time, the culture is now a curious mix of old traditions and Western thinking, Raymond says.
His PhD looks at the Chinese concept of 'face' – which is difficult to describe and changes in meaning through the generations, but generally means “self-image” one claims from others' perception.
Data on consumer behaviour surprises
In particular, Raymond is considering how 'face' changes consumer behaviour. He has surveyed 2141 Chinese people of varying ages about 'face', and how that affects private and public consumption choices, as well as luxuries and necessities.
“What was surprising from the data so far is young people care more about 'face' when it comes to consumption, which is in contrast to the hypothesis. Youth make decisions not only based on their personal feelings about a product, but on how they will be perceived if they own it.
“It is unwise to conclude older people care about 'face' less than young people do. However, elders may not use consumption to enhance 'face' as much as young people do.
Raymond's next step is to find out why, and the role of consumption in modern China.
His career so far has mixed study and periods of work, including five years at Red Bull and a master's degree from the University of Durham, in England, which he says has given him an understanding of marketing from both sides of the subject.
He chose Otago precisely because it was so far from China – “sometimes you need to be out of a place to get an objective view. And this way I can use the Western theories and see Chinese through Western eyes”.
In the long term, he'd like to be an academic, and continue his mission to bridge marketing understanding between two cultures.