Exploring the Chinese health market

With almost 1.4 billion inhabitants China is one of the most interesting consumer markets today for Western companies. More than ever, consumer insights founded on solid market research are required to enter the Chinese market and be successful. The Healthcare team at InSites Consulting recently turned to China for one of our clients operating within the healthcare sector. The goal: explore the Chinese health market, in particular in relation to health supplements.
The method: a three-week Consumer Consulting Board (also known as an online research community) with 58 Chinese consumers to go in-depth and uncover a wide range of insights. Read on to learn where China stands today in regard to healthcare and health supplements and how the community provided actionable insights for our client to act upon.

A fast-growing market

Reports by the WHO (World Health Organization) show that between 2006 and 2011 the total expenditure on health per capita in China has doubled. The entire healthcare sector – which includes pharmaceutical companies but also consumer health and other medical products – is developing rapidly, so rapidly in fact that China is growing the fastest of all large emerging markets.
Underpinning the fast growth of the healthcare sector are the continuing urbanization, the expansion of China’s overall economy, increase in income, and better access to treatments and products. At the same time there are increased health concerns by citizens due to pollution, contamination of foods and the stress level that comes with the fast, modern life. It comes as no surprise that foreign companies have been looking at China, eager to enter that huge market.

One product category that lifts on the growing healthcare expenditure is that of health supplements, a category that is still largely novel to China. To get to know the Chinese consumer and prepare a possible entry in China, one of our clients requested a qualitative study with at least 50 Chinese consumers to generate insights on both the healthcare market and the Chinese consumer taking health supplements. The China ‘Health Supplements community’ was born.

Meeting Chinese consumers

To get to know the Chinese consumer, a Consumer Consulting Board with 50 participants was set up, spread geographically throughout China. The Chinese consumers in our community soon proved to be ‘health pioneers’, as they were more concerned with their health than their average fellow countrymen and -women. For example:

“Health is the 1 and other aspects of life are the zeros that follow (10,000…)”, one 22-year old participant wrote. “If the 1 is gone, all the zeros means nothing.”

Active health management is felt to be increasingly important in China due to the pressure of modern society and pollution. Modernity and fast growth come at a price and the participants in our study clearly acknowledged that health is a large part of that price. Consumers feel the urge to protect themselves from outer harm and potential illnesses, although this often is a challenge as many health products and supplements are still new or unknown in China.

From this starting point we proceeded with the community, a three-week project centered around three themes and under the inspiring ‘moderatorship’ of a local moderator, member of InSites Consulting’s Global Community Moderator Network:

  • Formulating segments charting the Chinese consumer interested in health supplements to focus on when entering the Chinese market;
  • Exploration of the Chinese healthcare market and evaluation of purchasing channels;
  • Evaluation of visual stimuli and potential partners.

Throughout the three weeks, the total length of the community, a total of 1,778 written contributions and several dozens of pictures were left behind by Chinese consumers.

The success of the Consumer Consulting Board

Without going into detail about the findings and insights, one conclusion stood out from the rest: Chinese consumers are very enthusiastic and more than willing to participate in qualitative community research and give their feedback. Chinese consumers really like to think along and feel highly valued when they can give feedback on stimuli and co-create a new product, commercial or package.
The participants put a lot of hope into the new brand and product, brainstormed very actively and came up with suggestions, almost becoming brand ambassadors even in absence of that brand in China.

“Time flies”, one of the participants wrote. “Our community closes so fast. Hope the product we discussed can be launched with our input in China soon. Don’t forget to let us know then.”
Another commented: “Our 3-week community is ending. I really look forward to seeing the new product we discussed. Thanks for introducing it to us.”

With the help of the InSites Consulting Global Community Moderator Network and a group of motivated Chinese consumers the community was a great success, evidence of bringing the consumer into the client’s boardroom via the digital highway.
Interested in knowing more about doing market research in China or the (global) possibilities of our services? Read our latest paper on running research communities in Asian markets or download the free e-version of our Consumer Consulting Board book.

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