Chinese community marketing: Unprecedented demographic change

Canadian society is undergoing a transformation.And more than any other force, demographics are the engine of change.For marketers and advertisers, the implications are enormous.In the past decade, the rate of demographic change in Canada has accelerated at an unprecedented speed.This change...

Canadian society is undergoing a transformation.

And more than any other force, demographics are the engine of change.

For marketers and advertisers, the implications are enormous.

In the past decade, the rate of demographic change in Canada has accelerated at an unprecedented speed.

This change is most dramatic in the Chinese community in Canada: fuelled by immigration, the number of people reporting Chinese as their mother tongue almost doubled in Canada in the half decade leading up to 1991 (source: Statistics Canada, Mother Tongue, catalogue no. 93-313, 86-313).

Almost 500,000

According to the planners of ‘The Chinese Consumer in Canada,’ an annual syndicated study of the Chinese-Canadian market conducted by DJC Research, Chinese populations have reached an estimated 280,000 and 190,000 people in Toronto and Vancouver, respectively.

This means that more than one in 10 consumers in these cities is Chinese-Canadian.

Analysis of the total number of identifiable Chinese surnames in the Toronto telephone directory provides an interesting view of the growth of Chinese communities in this city.

Figure 1 on p. 35 demonstrates the growth being experienced in the suburbs surrounding Toronto.

Based on this phone book analysis, the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, for example, has experienced 121% growth in households with identifiable Chinese surnames.

(Experience in telephone research among Chinese-Canadians using identified Chinese surnames has shown that about 5% disqualify at the Chinese ethnic origin question.)

When such explosive population growth is coupled with the consumption power of the Chinese-speaking community, the effect is staggering.

Due to the high levels of wealth they bring, Hong Kong business immigrants in particular are having unparalleled economic impact on the Canadian economy.

High education level

Further evidence of the affluence potential of Chinese-Canadians is also suggested by their average level of education.

DJC Research reports that 62% of the Chinese-Canadians in Toronto whose responses were included in the 1993 edition of The Chinese Consumer in Canada study had at least some college or university education, compared with 48% of non-Chinese Torontonians (source: Statistics Canada, Educational Attainment and School Attendance, catalogue no. 93-337.)

Together, their numbers, affluence, higher education levels and urbanity make the Chinese-Canadians especially desirable targets for marketers of durables, retail and financial services, automobiles and leisure products.

According to the 1993 edition of The Chinese Consumer in Canada study, ownership of non-essential appliances such as computers, cd players, air conditioners and microwave ovens was higher among Chinese-Canadian households than the general population.

Preliminary data from the 1994 edition of this syndicated study indicate penetration of home computers into Chinese-Canadian households in Toronto is about 67%, while Statistics Canada reports the figure for the general population in Toronto is 23% (source: Statistics Canada, Household Facilities by Income and Other Characteristics, catalogue no. 13-218.)

More than guesswork

Marketing to this vital target group depends on more than intuition and guesswork. It relies on successfully translating hard data and evidence into quantifiable behavioral patterns.

It is critical that research and marketing strategies be devised and implemented in a context of cultural knowledge to be successful.

With respect to research, every effort must be made to ensure the intangible concepts being rated or measured be communicated in a manner that is accessible to recent immigrants, who may not yet be attuned to the nuances of Canadian culture.

Take, for example, the concept of comfort.

When trying to assess how comfortable respondents would be using computers and automated banking machines in their financial dealings, it became apparent that, while physical comfort could be translated appropriately, the concept of emotional comfort, as North Americans understand it, could not be communicated in Mandarin or Cantonese.

The question was changed to one of confidence in the product and the information was collected successfully.

Similarly, cultural insight should always inform interpretation of the results of research among Chinese-Canadians.

This becomes particularly clear when trying to measure opinion of service quality – Chinese-Canadians tend to use the scales to which North American researchers have become accustomed quite differently than non-Chinese consumers.

Responding patterns demonstrate a tendency on the part of Chinese-Canadians to avoid both extremes of a semantic scale when the poles are anchored with terms such as ‘extremely’ or ‘not at all.’

To correct for clustering of responses around the centre of the scale and ensure comparability with mainstream results, researchers must use language that provides suitable scale increments, but avoids total endorsement or rejection.

A potential pitfall for North American marketers is the tendency to view the Chinese-Canadian market as a homogeneous unit.


The many behavioral similarities between segments within the Chinese-Canadian community are often mitigated by internal idiosyncrasies in the form of culture, language, country of origin and generational influences.

For this reason, it is vital that any market analysis be broken down into these demographic components. Yet, many strategies have fallen short of effective targetting the segments within this growing community.

Length of time since immigration is a demographic factor with behavioral and psychographic implications.

The longer an individual has lived in Canada, the greater their satisfaction level with life in this country.

For example, while less than one-third of respondents in the 1993 edition of The Chinese Consumer in Canada study who had lived in Canada less than five years reported they were optimistic about Canada’s economic development, nearly half of those who had been here longer than 11 years did.

Language should be a central issue for Canadian marketers when developing marketing communications.

While Chinese media are used extensively – preliminary 1994 data suggest that more than three-quarters of respondents watched some Chinese television on a weekly basis – the high English comprehension levels and facility reported by Chinese-Canadians suggest that English media are powerful tools.

Weekly use of Chinese television, radio, newspapers, and magazines in 1993 were all lower than levels reported for their English counterparts.

The only Chinese medium that exceeded the English version was videotapes and laser discs, with 37% of respondents indicating they used Chinese versions on a weekly basis, and 23% indicating they used an English version.

These high levels of use of English media may be more a result of historical weaknesses in the media servicing the Chinese community than committed use of mainstream Canadian media.

Preliminary data from the 1994 edition of The Chinese Consumer in Canada study indicate that readership of Chinese newspapers, Chinese radio listenership, and viewership of Chinese television on a weekly basis have all increased.

These increases are likely due to more competition in the wake of the launch of Chinese newspaper Ming Pao and FM 88.9 in the Toronto market, increased length of broadcast days, and the increase in the quality of Chinese television by ChinaVision/ Fairchild Communications

The rapidly expanding and lucrative Chinese-Canadian market is dynamic and multifaceted, with a demographic landscape that continues to shift in anticipation of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

Increasingly, successful ethnic marketing strategies will be developed through identification of a potential market, confirmation of assumptions and expansion of learning through informed research, and implementation through carefully targetted marketing initiatives.

Nancy Kramarich is an account director at DJC Research, a Toronto-based research firm providing marketing information worldwide to business and government. This report was prepared with the assistance of Claire Chui and Helen Pang, research associates at djc.