There is an opportunity to create a new framework for ensuring cultural empathy as a brand strategy for national businesses to reach the global market.
Empathy is seen as essential to keeping society together, without which human capacity would never have evolved (Fuchsman, 2015). In the design field, using empathic methods is the key to making a product successful (Kolko, 2014). However, empathy has not been valued enough in business practices (Allworth, 2012). Business globalization and geographical interconnection have created more cross-cultural opportunities, yet most people have not formed an awareness of that (Javidan, Teagarden, & Bowen, 2010). To build intercultural empathy and form effective communication, one has to convey empathy consistently and consciously instead of prejudices (Zhu, 2011). In fact, only when business professionals truly understand customers emotionally and rationally are they able to get access to a customer’s essential needs and wants (Liedtka & Ogilvie, 2011). Therefore, a lack of empathy will possibly lose a customer’s attention and interest, especially when a business is facing intercultural challenges. In this project, I was interested in opportunities to understand how empathy may help strengthen brand strategy.
Interviewees & Quotes
"Culture sensitivity is the subtlety you needed to fit the market."
"There is definitely a trust of humanity that’s required in order to participate the brand."
"Brand is about integrity in trust."
"You want to be something that everybody can be part of."
Survey Question & Result Examples
Analysis of data was conducted by combining results from primary and secondary research in an effort to establish patterns, and by triangulating sources and information. Visual modeling presented information objectively so that trends could be recognized, which then led to insights.
Finally, insights were explored in relation to each other to form a visual map of the associated understandings and opportunities.
From “The Art of War” to the art of business friendship.
“Precise knowledge of self and precise knowledge of the threat leads to victory.”
The only way to win the war is to know yourself well and to know every other participant equally well, which includes competitors, employees, customers, and collaborators.
Consumer to Businessperson
People are willing to rent their houses in China, but they do not know how to do it. Education needs to be established to help users to win the market.
Empathy is the key to form awareness and to understand customer’s senses and feelings. Consider a unique type of empathy, where the end user better understands and feels what the company can offer. Then you will achieve awareness aligning both the company and the end user.
Internally, alignment results from a shared vision. This vision is created in partial reality and imagination. As the vision is shared, more team members or management become aligned. A shared empathy is the result of this alignment.
Pursue parallel paths to discover alternate opportunities. Understand compromises to optimize your selections.
Create advantages based on cultural cues. Know the trends to understand what resonates with your customer.
The market analysis reviewed a range of housing service structures at national level. These structures, of varying size, incorporated either transformation change or innovation into their current systems. Most structures were online platforms dedicated to helping individuals rent their properties or find housing resources while traveling. These principles help people build professional social networks by promoting themselves and connecting with others. Reviews of the companies’ websites, news reports, research papers, and peer reviews, were used to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
2 x 2 Axis
Data collected from secondary research demonstrated the two elements most valued by people looking for short-term rental business: cost and location. The researcher utilized 2x2 axis diagram to analyze the market position of Airbnb. Five platforms were positioned on the 2x2 axis with cost range and location. In the 2x2, there is an opportunity area locates in the middle of four directions.
2015 China Short-term Rental Market Report
This report is conducted by Penguin Intelligence. More than 10,000 people have participated in the survey. The report is used to understand China's short-term market and its trend. By analyzing the results and insights, related diffusion strategies are generated under certain circumstances.
Report Question & Result Examples
2015 Chinese Consumer's Attitude toward the Sharing Economy Report
This report is conducted by Penguin Intelligence. More than 10,000 people have participated in the survey. The report is used to understand general customer attitude toward the sharing economy. By analyzing the results and insights, related diffusion strategies are generated under certain circumstances.
Report Question & Result Examples
Privacy exploitation is the biggest pain point for Chinese people to share their properties.
On the supply side (those who are willing to share), 70% of Chinese people think that profit is the primary driving force for sharing. They are more willing to rent their houses than their vehicles.
80% of the spare housing suppliers' expectation price is in the range of 50% to 100% of the market price.
Security & Privacy, Well-established Credit Rating System, and Safe & Convenient Payment System are the three main concerns suppliers have towards rental platforms.
Future trend: Increasing amount of prosumers.
2015 Chinese Post-95s User Behavior Survey Report
This report is conducted by Penguin Intelligence. More than 10,000 people have participated in the survey. The report is used to understand the Post-95s generation group. By analyzing the results and insights, related diffusion strategies are generated under certain circumstances.
Report Question & Result Examples
For the younger generation, implanting advertisements in mobile applications and games has a higher chance of reaching the target audience.
Media content distribution and celebrity fans operation are more efficient to get access to the younger user group.
When promoting a product/service to Post-95s, building a good reputation within the same age group by spreading it out is the key to success.
Take advantage of this need to create channels for the younger user group to express themselves. The feeling of getting noticed can even be created.
The key to getting the attention of the younger user group is to make them "unique".
The World Tourism Organization predicts that China will become the largest travel destination and the fourth largest source country by 2020. In that year, there will be 137.10 million international travelers to the country, taking up 8.6% of the global share, and 100 million outbound Chinese visitors, 6.2% of the worldwide outbound visitors.
Data Source: China National Tourism Administration
Outbound Tourism in China
According to China Tourism Research Institute, China had 120 million outbound visitors in 2015 who collectively spent 104.5 billion US dollars, increases of 12% and 16.7% compared with 2014. The main driving forces for the increases included rises in personal income, favorable policies, and appreciation of RMB.
When analyzing travel destinations, Asia still dominated China’s outbound tourism market. From January to May 2015, South Korea still ranked as the No.1 destination country. Nevertheless, the situation changed after MERS broke out on May 20th, which meant Japan moved into first place. As for European countries, Germany became popular among Chinese tourists as a result of simplified visa application procedures. In the first half of 2015, the number of Chinese visitors to Germany was 1.7 times that of the same period of previous year. France, Italy and Switzerland, famous among Chinese citizens for their romantic culture and art, also took a large market share. The number of mainland tourists visiting Hong Kong dropped dramatically by over 50% due to the protests against mainland shoppers.
As for the gender proportion of Chinese outbound tourists in the first half year of 2015, 64% were women. Fond of shopping, countries producing high-quality goods attracted them significantly.
Outbound tourists aged between 25 and 34 became the largest outbound tour group, indicating a younger average age.
From the perspective of outbound tourist sources, Guangdong Province still ranked as the first, followed by Zhejiang and Shanghai.
Inbound Tourism in China
China has carried out various measures to deal with the inbound tourism downturn since 2007. Recently, the 72-hour visa-free transit policy has been adopted in many cities to welcome overseas guests. The convenient flight network and high-speed trains have made traveling in China both faster and smoother. Besides this, extensive publicity campaigns are launched to fight against environmental problems and ensure food safety. It is believed that more advantageous moves will be taken in the near future.
Domestic Tourism in china
As an important element of China's tourist market, the domestic market benefits hugely from the large population. In recent decades, domestic traveling has greatly enhanced the employment, consumption and economic development of the country. Currently, the most popular destinations for domestic travelers include Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Guilin, Hangzhou, Sanya, Lhasa, Chengdu, Lijiang, Hong Kong, and Macau. The visitor quantity soars to amazing numbers during the peak seasons, especially the two golden weeks (the National Day Holiday, from Oct. 1 to 7 and the Spring Festival). This may cause traffic problems and poor tourist service quality. When planning a visit to China, you should avoid these rush periods.
Millennials are the biggest generation after the baby boomers and their attitudes towards life and enjoyment are only just beginning to be understood. They are the owners of the sharing economy and responsible consumption; they inhabit a global world that invites them to travel and fulfill their need for adventure and new discoveries, forgetting about luxury and embracing the challenge of the unknown. They are addicted to technology and cell phones are classified as a basic need to them. They are put off by connection interruptions and poor performance in Internet service.
There are plenty of research studies about Millennials and for the purpose of this project I decided to base my user identification on the three periods of Millennials: early, middle, and late Millennials.
Based on previous research and analysis, I developed four personas representing the three major audiences Airbnb needs to reach at this current stage. They are Viola Zou, Adam Goldstein, Piquer Mao, and Siji Zheng.
Name: Viola Zou
Relationship Status: In relationship
Residential Location: Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
Occupation: UI Designer
Name: Adam Goldstein
Relationship Status: Married + 1 kid
Residential Location: San Francisco, CA
Occupation: Technology Manager
Name: Piquer Mao
Relationship Status: Single (For 3 years)
Residential Location: Mianyang, Sichuan, China
Occupation: Fashion Designer, Founder of own brand
Name: Siji Zheng
Relationship Status: Single (Just broke up)
Residential Location: Qingdao, China
Occupation: College student at China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA)
After closely evaluating key insights and opportunities, I narrowed my focus and began to generate ideas. I wanted concepts to revolve around the goal of building trust and a sharing culture.
Based on human-centered design principles and design thinking methodology, concepts were then filtered, evaluated, and refined. Initial concepts were validated with research insights and design criteria, and a final direction was chosen after the application of the Action Priority Matrix (APM).
Ideation Process and Techniques
Mind-mapping was used as one of the methods for concept ideation part. Different categories in this process were color-coded in order to make it visually clear for the audience, and to help the author finding the relationships between them.
Idea 1 | A new Chinese name
Airbnb’s current Chinese name “Kong Zhong Shi Su” does not represent Airbnb as a brand, and may not even deliver the right message to the Chinese audience. The first two characters “Kong Zhong” means up in the air. The third character “Shi” means food. The last character “Su” means the place to stay. When combining all three together, you will get “Food and housing up in the air”, which is indirect and confusing. Most Chinese people are not familiar with Airbnb according to my interviews. 80% of them do not even know how to pronounce the word “Airbnb” correctly. A proper Chinese name is needed in this case to build people’s acknowledgment and trust. There are many cases in history showing the importance of an intuitive Chinese name for the promotion of a brand, such as the car brand Infiniti.
Idea 2 | Alignment with government policy
China has a relatively sensitive social environment. Everything needs to be aligned with current government policies and laws, including foreign businesses. Indeed, companies may run into trouble if anything is contrary to the government’s rules. Many examples have been seen in the past. Keeping track of the latest news and announcements in relevant fields is essential for growing a business in China.
Idea 3 | Building trust with market
A certain percentage of Chinese customers are still holding back with regards to the idea of a sharing economy, especially for property rentals. In traditional Chinese culture, people are concerned about their privacy and don’t quite like letting strangers use their personal stuff. However, there are still approximately over 50% of people indicating that they are willing to rent. Considering this, gaining trust from Chinese customers plays a decisive role in the diffusion process. Most of Airbnb’s users are Millennials. Plus, Chinese variety shows are some of the hottest topics in China now. Chinese variety shows have a huge audience base already, and most of them are Millennials. Chinese Millennials have an unconditional trust towards celebrities. Moreover, celebrities are involved in the shows. If all the elements are used to make a conclusion, promotions through variety shows in China would be the fastest way to build trust among the target market.
Idea 4 | Social media promotion (Chinese ones)
Social media has always been a significant channel for market promotions. This is especially the case for Airbnb’s largest customer group, Millennials, who grew up alongside the development of Internet; they are addicted to technology and can’t live without social media. Promotions via social media have often succeeded in the past. However, China has different channels of social media compared to anywhere else in the world. Thus, ensuring the correct ones are used will be the main concern in making these promotions efficient and effective.
Idea 5 | Divide levels for listings
Chinese consumers have obvious stratifications, which lead to different levels of consuming abilities. Having just one platform for renting could not differentiate consumers’ levels, which means there is no difference between the higher and lower level. Considering Chinese people’s consumer vanity, dividing levels for listings or creating a higher-level platform has a strong possibility of boosting Chinese user’s consuming desire. A good example that has been successfully established in China is Taobao and Tianmao, two different levels of online shopping platforms conducted by the same company. Chinese consumers have obvious stratifications, which lead to different levels of consuming abilities. Having just one platform for renting could not differentiate consumers’ levels, which means there is no difference between the higher and lower level. Considering Chinese people’s consumer vanity, dividing levels for listings or creating a higher-level platform has a strong possibility of boosting Chinese user’s consuming desire. A good example that has been successfully established in China is Taobao and Tianmao, two different levels of online shopping platforms conducted by the same company.
Idea 6 | Guidance for interior design (collaboration with local designers and agencies)
For people who have the intention of renting their properties, some of them are lacking aesthetic sense or access to design resources. There is a significant opportunity for Airbnb to work with local interior designers or agencies that provide guidance or related methods to help customers achieve their demands. Also, helping local businesses and hiring local people is going to be a plus for Airbnb’s stay in China.
Idea 7 | Guides for Chinese outbound travelers and foreign inbound travelers
Chinese outbound travelers and foreign inbound travelers have one thing in common: the language issue. This issue could lead to various problems. For instance, a non-native speaker would have trouble with transportation, travel advice, and access to authentic locations. Imagine a system being built to fill the gap between travelers and their destinations. Travel walkthroughs and digital books could be provided with different languages included. Furthermore, tour guides could be an option for group travel. Alternatively, even ways to get travelers themselves actively involved in helping each other for similar hobbies or activities could be taken into consideration in the near future.
Idea 8 | Collaboration with Chinese property developers such as Wanda Group (spare housing and hotels)
Chinese property developers are holding a lot of surplus productions because of the currently saturated market in China. Instead of just having the C2C business model, there is a splendid opportunity for Airbnb to become involved in B2C as well. Taking advantage of their existing good reputation and rich resources would help Airbnb build trust in China as well as gain trust from the Chinese government to some extent.