Chinese community marketing: ParkLane alters house plans to suit Chinese sensibilities

As a result of suggestions made by Chinese respondents to a direct mail survey, a b.c. home builder will be offering prospective buyers a greater number of options in the design of their homes.Dale Barron, division manager at Port Moody, b.c.-based...

As a result of suggestions made by Chinese respondents to a direct mail survey, a b.c. home builder will be offering prospective buyers a greater number of options in the design of their homes.

Dale Barron, division manager at Port Moody, b.c.-based ParkLane Homes, says after reviewing comments about one of the company’s proposed layouts, his designers are busy developing alternate plans that include a finished basement and a choice in the design of the front entrance.

According to Barron, while respondents said they were satisfied with most of the features of the company’s Bristol I model, it became clear from their responses there were a couple of areas that needed to be reconsidered.

For example, Barron says 80% of respondents said they wanted a finished basement and would be willing to pay extra for the option.

As well, a significant proportion disliked the front entrance, which was angled, rather than parallel, to the street.

Karaoke room

Asked to specify the features they would like in a finished basement, several families said they wanted a karaoke room.

(Karaoke is an Asian pastime in which participants sing the lyrics to popular, often North American, songs to an instrumental soundtrack.)

Others said they wanted a space to dance or play the traditional Chinese game of mah-jongg.

Sonny Wong, president of Vancouver-based Hamazaki-Wong Marketing Group, the agency which created the Chinese-language direct marketing piece, says he fully expected respondents would request a finished basement, even though the plan under consideration already included a family room, den and media room.

Multiple generations

Wong says in a Chinese household, it is not uncommon for two, or even three generations to share a residence, making the extra living space desirable, and even necessary.

As for the angled front door, Wong says respondents were consistent in their disapproval.

‘They felt it was facing the wrong way, that the whole configuration of the entrance wasn’t appropriate for someone coming in the house in an auspicious manner,’ he says.

Although respondents did not specify why they disliked the angled entrance, Wong speculates it may have something to do with Feng Shui, a Chinese concept that is used to describe balance, harmony and flow in the way things are placed, either in nature, or in one’s home.

‘Not in harmony’

‘With the door being at an angle, there is, possibly, the feeling that it is not in harmony with the rest of the house,’ he says.

As way of explanation, Wong says it is unlikely a Chinese person would buy a home in which the back door was perfectly aligned with the front, because the principles of Feng Shui suppose that when good luck enters the home, it will simply flow out the back door.

Blessed by an expert

At one point, Wong suggested ParkLane have its homes blessed by an expert in Feng Shui, as an added enticement to Hong Kong Chinese, many of whom Wong says tend to be ‘quite superstitious about these kinds of things.’

Barron says he considered the idea, but decided against it largely because the concept means different things to different people.

Not only that, but many Chinese homebuyers bring a Feng Shui expert with them to determine whether the home they are considering is appropriate, he says.

‘We work with [the Feng Shui expert] because there may be changes required in the placement of the home, the alignment of a door, even the landscaping,’ Barron says.

‘But it depends on the individual,’ he says. ‘It is not something that is easily done as a blanket principle.’

Location

Barron says even the location of a development may affect the degree to which it is considered desirable by Chinese homebuyers.

He says Coquitlam, the site of Westwood Plateau, the largest residential development in b.c. and the site on which ParkLane, among other builders, are erecting homes, is considered by Chinese immigrants a particularly good place to live.

While ParkLane’s sales to Chinese buyers are about 50% overall, about 80% of its sales in Coquitlam are being made to Chinese.

Barron says the reason is due partly to custom.

‘If you took a map of Vancouver and overlayed a dragon on it, the tail of the dragon ends up in Coquitlam,’ he says.

‘The dragon dictates the luck, or lack of luck of certain areas of Vancouver. And a very lucky place [to be] is the tail of the dragon.’

Even the direct mail campaign required that the agency be sensitive to cultural differences.

List source

First, the list of 330 prospects was derived from ParkLane’s own database to ensure people would be more likely to respond.

Each of the prospects had already visited a ParkLane Homes development and indicated they were thinking of buying a home in the next 12 months.

Wong says that because Chinese people tend to be somewhat secretive and are often reluctant to part with personal information, the strategy demanded something more creative than a three-page survey on standard paper.

Intrigue respondents

It required an approach that would intrigue the respondents and get them involved in answering the questionnaire.

So, Wong designed a mailer in the shape of a gameboard.

Players made their way around the board by answering questions about the house plan that was illustrated below.

‘We did it that way because it was compelling, and we wanted to get the whole family involved,’ says Wong, who adds it is customary that everyone be involved in decisions about the home.

Dinner for 10

Even the offer, a chance to win one of eight dinners for 10 at a well-known Chinese restaurant, was chosen for a reason.

‘We felt a dinner for 10 would be very attractive, because in addition to housing being a family decision, the Chinese are social people,’ Wong says.

‘They very much enjoy food,’ he says. ‘And being able to sit down and enjoy dinner with the family is very important to them.’

Wong says he is ecstatic about the 13% response rate, which is more than twice what he had anticipated.

Cared enough to ask

He believes people responded because they were interested, they were addressed in their own language, they liked the offer of a dinner for 10, and, finally, because it meant a mainstream marketer cared enough to ask for their opinion.

‘What this questionnaire does is it addresses a mentality within the Chinese community which I call a minority mentality,’ Wong says.

‘In a large way, because the Chinese are only starting to garner attention from [mainstream] marketers, it was thought that if some attention were to be given to them, they would respond positively,’ he says.

‘Because this questionnaire took into consideration some of the cultural sensitivities, it demonstrates how mainstream businesses can reach the Asian market, and it demonstrates that Chinese people are responsive to this kind of reaching out.’