Part 2: Theta-Lambda Mentality of the Chinese Consumer

Isaac Mostovicz writes that there's more to explore on the dual Theta-Lambda mentality within the Chinese luxury market...

In my previous blog post, I talked about China’s young luxury population and the Chinese consumer pyramid. We also looked at how Tom Doctoroff’s ‘Confucian Conflict’ model of Chinese mentality parallels with my own Theta-Lambda theory on luxury consumption.

Acknowledging the fact that of course not everyone can fall neatly into one category and certainly, I am not saying one should be completely Theta or Lambda. What is still peculiar but altogether fascinating here though is the fact that Chinese consumers, if not all, but majority of them have this Theta-Lambda duality ingrained within their consumer consciousness. If we look at the study below, it might perhaps shed some more light on this:

Added Value did an interesting study where they had two variables which defined where a country was placed in terms of luxury. One axis was from maintaining to transforming lives, and the other was from inner to outer motivation. And in the transforming and inner motivation you have Japan, then you have the UK, which is about maintaining inner motivation, the US is in maintaining and outer motivation, and China in transforming and outer motivation. So Japan is about confidence – ‘don’t be shown up’, the UK is about pleasure and knowing, USA is showing you know/status and China is about showing and status but also moving forward in society.

Here we can see that the UK has a more Theta-like tendency; being more comfortable in the sphere of knowing and belonging with others, whilst the USA possesses more of a Lambda tendency; more motivated by externally displaying knowledge and status. China’s showing and status is a Lambda quality; showing off what you have achieved and differentiating yourself by being one of the few to be on top of the pyramid. However, status to the Chinese can also be interpreted as fitting in, belonging with your fellow peers. As Doctoroff puts it, you can’t be blatant in your ambitions, you can’t ‘crash through the gates’ because there are rules to observe and follow. You can say this is the Chinese way of being a Lambda but in the fashion of a Theta. It is then not surprising that what makes a ‘luxury’ brand in China are its benefits externalized.

Luxury, says Doctoroff is a tool, a means to an end and because the luxury segmentation in China is so diverse, it becomes a more important tool than ever. This again goes back to idea of the Chinese’ ‘Confucian Conflict’, of wanting to ‘play in the game.’ This statistic by TNS shows this difference in perception of luxury goods:

According to TNS, 64% of Chinese think luxury brands denote success, and only 1% think they denote superficiality.

In China, luxury brands are synonymous with success, yet they do not share in the western fear of fake luxury taking sales away. Instead, a brand that is copied substantiates the brand’s luxury status. However, because luxury goods are synonymous with success, it becomes even harder for someone to pull off wearing a fake.

Anybody that has the money to buy a luxury brand would not be caught dead with a fake.

Chinese can tell very quickly if something is real; it would be a huge loss of face to be discovered with a fake.

In order for luxury brands to succeed in the Chinese market, they must have mass media exposure, must be big and omnipresent and in the right stores in the right locations. Physical presence is also important so you must have an overseas marketing department; you cannot import your content and it cannot be done digitally. Education of your luxury brand to the public is also imperative, as well as the ability to demonstrate innovation of your luxury brand. The idea of a mass media exposure on the public very much hones into Theta personalities, because it’s telling them that everyone else will have this and in following this trend, you desire to belong with this group of people. But it also appeals to the Lambda side of the Chinese consumer because it is so in your face and because the public would have been educated of this particular brand, they would know just how successful you are.

In summary, we’ve explored Doctoroff’s Chinese model of mentality, his ‘Confucian Conflict’ and found how very important it is for a luxury consumer in China to exercise this when buying luxury goods. In addition to this, we have also seen how this ‘Confucian Conflict’ comprises of essentially the same two parts as my Theta-Lambda dichotomy, but here they co-exist in a more symbiotic relationship, and what’s more, it is the majority of the China’s population who subscribe to this luxury, symbiotic mentality.

Photo: Flickr

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