If you were to ask any major global brand what their top priority markets would be for the next few years, you’d be hard pressed to find a short list that didn’t include China.  Home to over a billion people, and steadily on track to emerge as the largest consumer market by 2018 according to global ratings agency S&P, it’s no surprise to see the intense curiosity and interest that Chinese consumers have in exploring brands today.

UM’s recent Power of Curiosity study revealed that 98% of Chinese consumers have searched for a brand or business online – more so than any other market in the 15 market survey – with more than half having conducted a search in the last day.   Chinese consumers aren’t just searching either; nearly 90% have actually bought something based on a recommendation from a website or advertisement with over a third having done so in the last day.

And when a Chinese consumer comes across a brand they feel is genuinely curious, that connection translates into a 56% increase in likelihood to buy that brand and a 42% increase in likelihood to talk about or engage with that brand.    To a Chinese consumer in particular, being a curious brand is as much about talking about what a brand does as it is about taking on initiatives like research and development and innovation.  If given the opportunity to play brand manager, a Chinese consumer would allocate nearly 47% of a brand’s budget on media to prove a brand’s curiosity.

Individually, curiosity is a value that is also held in high regard, and 95% of Chinese said they saw curiosity as an advantage in daily life – the highest of any group.  When asked, 79% self-identified themselves as curious*, and while they weren’t the most out-rightly curious country in the study (that honor goes to Mexico at 90%), they consistently demonstrated some of the most curious behaviors, particularly with media.

In part because of China’s tight media regulations (popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are banned and TV programming is heavily monitored), China has one of the lowest media consumption rates globally (even still, the average Chinese consumes upwards of nine hours of media a day).  However, these confines have also shaped the Chinese into some the most experimental consumers of media, who are more likely to watch a new style of a TV show, watch a foreign movie or TV show, or listen to a new musical artist when compared with any other group.   With smartphone ownership hovering at 91%, they are particularly curious with mobile and regularly download new applications and use these apps to help them discover new things to do in the area.

Social connections also continue to play a key role in a country that deeply values guanxi (relationship), and you see this same type of social behavior surface in online conversations, where nearly 83% have either asked a question or left a comment online in the past day.   Curious interactions are truly two way conversations, and while the Chinese are slightly more likely to say that curiosity is about asking new questions, keeping conversations going is also an important part of the equation.

What this means for brands

For brands, these behaviors and beliefs provide a wealth of opportunity to tap into the modern Chinese consumer’s emerging curiosity.   Armed with the knowledge that a Chinese consumer, particularly a curious one, is someone who is deeply interested in exploring different products and experiences, brands should offer consumers a variety of choices that they can pick from and explore.  No matter what medium you choose as your showcase (e.g., print, digital, OOH), reference a destination (and preferably one that’s mobile friendly) that allows them to dig deeper in their own time.

Be part of the conversation, particularly on forums, mobile messaging, and microblogging platforms like Weibo, and be prepared to play the role of both asking questions and answering them – especially in helping individuals explore uncharted territories (e.g., a new category, a new line of services, a new area).

Where possible, make the effort to ask additional questions to personalize experiences with online video or online TV – platforms where Chinese consumers spend 2.5 hours more on a week with than average.    This is something that they will appreciate, and 73% of Chinese agreed that they enjoy Internet services that have built in recommendation engines based on their preferences.

And for the truly curious brand, connecting with China’s emerging curious will not only translate into increased sales and brand engagement, but also provide an opportunity to learn how to effectively engage with some of the most forward-looking media users today.

*In UM’s Power of Curiosity study, curiosity was defined as: “Someone who reacts to interesting or unfamiliar situations or information, in order to understand and move forward.”  We landed on this definition after doing extensive third-party research and fielding multiple definitions with a focus group.