SHANGHAI: Emotions are an important driver of brand loyalty for Chinese consumers, according to new research which argues that an understanding of their consumption patterns must move beyond geography, demographics and social groups.

GroupM China, WPP's media investment management arm, carried out a comprehensive study of consumer behaviour in Tier 1 to 4 cities, involving 19,400 respondents and 22 product categories, and found that emotional factors came first as a reason to buy for more than half of the categories considered.

"This research has forced us to re-evaluate our assumptions regarding consumer behaviour in different market tiers," said Mark Patterson, CEO, GroupM Asia Pacific and Chairman, China.

He noted that the key findings on emotions as a purchase influence varied across product categories, product usage, demographics, geography and tiers. "Marketers must develop a much more nuanced understanding of consumer attitudes and behaviours by market clusters and adapt their strategies accordingly to truly engage consumers effectively," he said.

Among the specific findings of the research were that emotions affected consumers differently depending on market maturity. Thus, respondents in Tier 1 and Tier 4 cities were most emotionally bonded with skincare brands, especially those with feel-good factors.

Consumers in Tier 2 and 3 cities, however, were more focused on less emotive issues such as brand reputation and safety, which could work to the advantage of international brands.

Respondents in the upper tiers were also generally found to be more emotional than their counterparts in the purchase of luxury products. Consumers in Tier 1 and 2 were most influenced by their emotional bonding with brands, with consumers in Tier 2 cities also buying brands that catered to their sense of self, status and wealth.

Consumers in Tier 3, however, were heavily skewed towards brands that could match their sense of identity, social and economic status in their luxury purchase. Tier 4 consumers, while concerned with the physical benefits of the purchase, also responded well emotionally towards lesser known luxury brands.

Women were most influenced by emotional factors when considering a car purchase. Six of the top ten influencers were emotional for them, compared to just one for men. "Attractive advertising" was the common factor.

Patterson observed that brands had up until now tended to focus on getting distribution but in future "the battle will be about which brands the consumers perceive to hold the most value".

In this context, he said "it is essential for brands to understand the importance of building the emotional connection with their consumers".

Data sourced from GroupM; additional content by Warc staff