SHANGHAI: Brands hoping to make an impact outside of the biggest cities in China should combine television advertising with attempts to stimulate word of mouth, a study has argued.

GroupM, the media arm of WPP, surveyed 7,500 people in the 15–45 year old age range, drawing its panel from 542 cities across the country.

It found that respondents displayed different characteristics when measured against residents of the 30 largest urban centres in China.

For example, the average monthly salary in the first of these regions was 1,601 yuan ($263; €186m; £155), rising to 2,373 yuan in places like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

More specifically, 64.6% of the sample from lower tiers were married, a figure that fell to 60% for their counterparts living in the premier cities in China.

These totals stood at 22.7% and 31.7% respectively with regard to the number of participants that were educated to degree level.

In terms of media, TV and magazines have a higher reach in smaller markets, and the web also records greater penetration in lower tier cities in the centre, west and north-east of China.

Overall, television commercials and word of mouth were described as being the "key influencers on consumers' decision-making" for product categories such as telecoms.

However, teenagers and young adults are noticeably moving away from TV to online, meaning ecommerce is gaining ground, and sponsored events in internet cafés is also proving an attractive strategy.

Similarly, social networks offer the dual advantage of engaging with customers and encouraging word of mouth, which is a trusted currency as well as a cost-effective marketing channel.

Elsewhere, the report divided the potential audience in smaller cities in China into five distinct groups.
"conventional homemakers" were generally female, 30–45 years old, married and had at least one child.

Members of this cohort typically had a monthly income of 1,000 yuan, and agreed with the statement "I always choose the cheapest product".

The "newgen progressives" segment was made up of 15–24 year olds with no children and earnings of between 2,000 and 5,000 yuan a month.

Students contributed a major portion of this community, constituents of which regularly exhibited an inclination towards foreign brands.

For people taking a "pragmatic and practical" approach, the quality of a product was more important than the name it carried.

This cluster earned 2,000 yuan a month and had graduated from university, with men in the 25–34 year old bracket most commonly fitting this profile.

“Emerging trendsetters” are normally 15–29 years old, educated but with no children, have a monthly income of at least 3,000 yuan and "like to be recognised as a fashionable person".

Finally, "responsible achievers" are married, 30–45 year old, have a family and monthly income of 2,000 yuan or lower.

They often lack confidence in using computers, and prefer well-known multinational brands.

Data sourced from GroupM; additional content by Warc staff