Recently, the news of Li Dan’s marriage, a man crowned the “sexiest man from the post-90s” in China, made him, once more, one of the hottest trending topic. In this article, we will try to look at him from an investment perspective. From his sensationalist yet somehow reasonable remarks, we will try to explore and better understand the values and the psychology of the post-95s consumer group. From this, we hope to better fathom consumers behaviour, as well as gain insights on emerging brands and possible future business models. Without further ado, we hereby exclusively present Source Code Research Report Issue No. 15.
- Rational consumption and attractive economical models are not antinomical, and an era of de-monopolization and post KOL is coming.
- The rise of Xiaohongshu, second-hand trading platforms, shared economic leasing models, installment payments, and internet celebrities’ restaurants, reflect the new consumption model of the post-95s generation.
Who is Li Dan?
Even if you do not know who Li Dan is, you must have heard his famous saying, “the world of Man is not worth it.” The man who just “lies on his back and makes money,” coined the “sexiest” man of the post-90s generation, has 6.7 million fans on Weibo. He is not particularly good-looking, but has a beautiful girlfriend.
He is not hot-headed, but has this foresight of “seeing through without damaging” intelligence and savviness. He is very talented, and his appearance on the Chinese version of “Roast” generated 1.8 billion views.
Despite the fact that he scolded more than half the stars from the entertainment industry, everyone still love him. Parallel to his media activity, he is also one of the founders of the “Fun Factory,” that has a valuation exceeding RMB 1 billion.
So why is he so popular? In my opinion, it is because Li Dan’s sense of humor is on par with the younger generation’s values.
I remember when, during the last few years, the post-90s generation was the hot topic of the investment and VC circle. But not long after that, the post-95s generation stepped on stage and quickly became the general consumption’s main driving force.
Now, for new consumer brands and channels, not understanding the post-95s generation will result in the impossibility of grasping their needs and aspirations. With the continuous rise of China’s per capita GDP, the consumption model of Chinese people has shifted from “mass consumption” to “quality consumption.” The essence of quality consumption is based on emotional demands and values.
In this Source Code Research Report, we attempt to explore and discover the values and consumption models of the post-95s through the “Li Dan phenomenon.”
What are the characteristics of post-95s consumers?
With the first batch of the post-95s population graduating, they are slowly becoming the main force of consumption in the country. In them, I see a very different consumption outlook than the one from the post-80s generation.
If we had to choose a word to describe the consumption model or values of the post-95s, I think it would be “realism.”
They are extremely down to earth, and do not display their sentiments. They are more self-centered and are more willing to please themselves. “Never hide your desires.”
Li Dan said, “I just want to live in shallowness” and “my original intention is to make money.” You will find that this is not a pretentious statement, they are in fact, very grounded. From this “chill, carelessness” attitude towards older values to this “get lucky” belief, they may appear seemingly “lazy and bereaved.” Sometimes we cannot help but ask ourselves, is this China’s “Beat Generation”?
The answer is yes, if you consider them through the scope of mainstream values, they are indeed “lost.” Just listen to a few “U can U BiBi” or “ROAST” episodes if you need convincing. Then, it is easy to see that many of the core values of the post-80s generation are crumbling in front of the post-90/95s one.
At the same time, being born in the Internet era, this make them able to support a new consumer market. Their consumption decision is spread in every communication node of the Internet. Their consumption ideas and habits support many new business models.
Old consumer brands will find that, if they keep basing themselves on the previous system, it will become increasingly difficult to attract younger consumers. For new brands, knowing and understanding their new consumers, will make for a new golden age.
Below we discuss three key post-95s consumer values and philosophy:
Refuse to be perfect and phony, be real and approachable.
Twenty years ago, the “Queen of Marketing” was a prideful goddess, who was perfect, impeccable and unattainable. On billboards, she kept telling you with a certain arrogance: “you deserve it.”
Twenty years later, the “Marketing Queen” is the girl next door, so vivid, it looks like she is ready to jump out of your mobile screen. She uses her mobile phone to shoot non-professional videos. While she is removing her makeup, she tells you why this makeup remover is good, and why you should buy it. She may also squeeze a zit to sell you an acne product.
Real, grounded and in the instant, is the ideal image of the post-95s generation.
Has the female star changed? I don’t think so. They just changed their act.
In fact, this new generation of consumers has changed the rules. Our research shows that post-95s individuals follow, on average, over 10 fashion or beauty bloggers.
As a result, social media and e-Commerce platforms like Xiaohongshu have replaced traditional TV advertising, and become the new mainstream channel for brands to reach consumers. Online celebrity marketing, live selling, are also nibbling at a portion of the channel’s market share.
Strong consumption desire and a diversified consumption demand.
Not long ago, Zhang Yuqi said on Xiaohongshu, “diamonds under one carat are not valuable.” This comment went viral immediately.
Somehow, you could say that the post-95s generation lives in a Buddhist kind of way, because when it comes to consumption, they are more honest with their desires than the post-80s generation. These young people advocate a more frugal healthy lifestyle while satisfying their own consumption desires in various manners. When they have the time, they will take afternoon tea with their friends. After working overtime, they will reward themselves with a cup of milk tea, or they will go to an Internet-famed restaurant for a weekend treat. They travel at least twice a year, and rather adopt a pet than raise a child. All of them admit having one or two expensive hobbies.
What shall we do? The growing consumer demand and a limited income factor lead to the polarization of young consumer groups in their consumption habits. On the one hand, for some high demand daily goods, they opt for a “consumption degradation” approach, budgeting carefully, and paying attention to the “cost to use” ratio. In that case, they are not willing to pay for premium brands easily.
On the other hand, in some low-demand but personalized products, they enter a “consumption upgrading” phase. For example, if they want coffee, they will go to a “boutique” café. Truth be told, the recently popular bulldog shaped cake was not even tasty.
I call this polarization “the friends circle phenomenon.” All consumer behaviors that are not fit for instant social media display are downgraded. Those include, for example, daily beauty care.
On the contrary, cool, trendy, good-looking activities that may gain you more exposure on social media are highly sought after.
Therefore, it is not hard to understand why Internet-famed restaurants spend more money and time on decoration and dish presentation, than on actual food taste itself.
In a nutshell, the so-called “beauty economy” and the phenomenon of various Internet celebrities booming, reflect not the material needs at the bottom of the Maslow pyramid, but the spiritual needs at the top of it.
Yet, behind it, there is a sad reality. The strong need for attention cannot hide the fact that the post-95s individuals struggle with loneliness.
Self-esteem and self-mockery
“Self-awakening” and “self-gratification” have become the labels of the post-90/95s. This reflects on their consumption choice, which can be summarized as de- monopolization.
Popular brands are not as valued as they used to be. The post-95s need brands that are individualistic, interesting, and innovative. They will not blindly follow a brand, but will focus on a popular product instead.
Not only do they think through a more liberal access to information and branching out their decision-making paths, this group is characterized by information fragmentation and multiple choices possibilities.
They are no longer loyal to a brand, they pay more attention to products. “KOL recommendations” became an important factor in a purchase decision, and social media became their new main channel of information.
The emergence of new channels and the diminishing ability for brands to retain loyal customers, have laid a foundation for new companies to build upon.
On the one side, we can observe how, many new domestic brands that understand and communicate better with younger consumers are now flourishing. That is the positive side. At the same time, a group of consumers characterized by novelty fascination and a lack of loyalty, is worrying, when thinking about those new companies’ growth potential.
Today’s businesses should not only get behind the psychology of their clients, but also understand the operational methods of major social media channels. No matter if it is a Xiaohongshu recommendation, a Tiktok marketing campaign, or a live sale, controlling the key nodes of information dissemination is essential, and the same goes for spotting who will become the next Internet sensation.
It is worth noting that “fun” seems to be one of the fundamental character traits in order to attract young people. Major brands have stepped down from their altar and started interacting with consumers in a more equal way. New brands have become “naughty.”
The women fashion brand “Simple Pieces” printed “why so serious” slogans on their T-shirts and bodysuits, and they became a hit rapidly. Their woolen hats featuring an emoji rolling its eyes are also very popular amongst the post-95s and their daily mourning.
III. Commercial insights based on the post-95s consumer
As an investment institution, what business opportunities has Source Code Capital seen through the behavioral changes induced by the post-95s consumer groups?
De-channelization: Facing consumers directly in D2C model
The channels through which brands reach consumers have changed. Post-95s consumers’ information acquisition tools are no longer offline stores and brand advertising campaigns, but social media platforms.
According to a survey, they use the WeChat public account, Weibo, friend’s circles, micro-blog, etc., as their main information channel to enquire about a popular celebrity. At the same time, we found out that they design their home and choose their fashion using QQ space, AB station and INS, etc. Post-95’s usage and time spent on social media is far more important than the precedent generation, which also reflects in their lack of real-life social interactions.
In the past, brands were responsible for market positioning and setting the tone, while sales were made through distributors. This way is outdated. In this new era, brands know how to connect with consumers, they understand the psychology behind the demands of younger generations, and value social media platforms. Therefore, the D2C (direct to consumer) model is our preferred channel when it comes to brands sales.
The Eye-Catcher: How to attract consumers in the post-KOL era
Like we have mentioned previously, social media platforms have become the new major channels for consumer goods communication and positioning. The post-95s generation of consumers need to show off their “social status” and “style.” This show is conducted through this new “social media premium” frenzy that we pointed out earlier.
Therefore, when brands need to position and market themselves, they need to identify any new potential KOL group. Even when designing and manufacturing products, the future communication inherent to these goods must be anticipated. Is this design attractive enough? What would make strong marketing points?
This phenomenon is not limited to local brands, but also affects many others like luxury or sports brands. We did note that, in the recent years, luxury brands (such as Balenciaga, LV, and Supreme) have switched their focus to offer more and more eye-catching designs, aimed at seducing the younger categories of the population.
Adidas, the sports brand, has for example multiplied its collaborations with artists. Collaborating with the infamous rapper Kanye West, they created the Yeezy, which became a sensation in the younger generation. The limited version of the shoes triggered a buying frenzy, where Adidas sold tens of thousands of pairs, making this collaboration a huge success.
The rational consumption phenomenon: How the importance of cost effectiveness leads to the creation of China’s Brandless
The other side of this “consumption show” is the rise of what we can call the “rational consumption” phenomenon. In the United States, there is an e-Commerce platform called Brandless, which is the American equivalent of Buy Together. Everything on the platform costs $3, but the quality offered is on par with what one would expect from MUJI products. It uses a very smart model where advertising and marketing expenses are reduced to a minimum, allowing them to, therefore, lower the product purchase prices for consumers.
On Brandless, you will only find one type of toothbrush and one type of toothpaste. This is very cost-effective.
Traditional FMCG products spend more than 50% of their cost on marketing expenses. If we take the case of cosmetics, the R&D development investment only accounts for less than 5% of the total product cost. The rest goes to marketing and positioning.
For the first time, this year, HFP (home facial Pro) entered the top 10 of the skin care products industry. Their company model is built on cost effectiveness and good ingredients. Nowadays, young consumers will not easily pay a premium for a brand product. Their consumption model is more and more rational, and this is especially true when it comes down to daily usage products. They pay more attention to cost effectiveness and performance.
The brands need to understand their user’s psychology, and provide strict quality and price controls. Those who can achieve effectiveness at lower prices will be the ones that can gain the attention of the post-95s consumers.
Carpe Diem: Second-hand transactions, rental market and installment payments
The post-95s consumers have diverse aspirations and needs, they are not willing to save money to buy a house. Their motto, should there be one, could be carpe diem. Using this “I want it now” state of mind, some new business models have emerged.
This is easily observed through the prevalence of the second-hand and leasing market. Young people want new things. They prefer the experience of consumption over long-term ownership.
So, when they cannot afford luxury goods, they will look to buy them in the second-hand market or even rent them. Here, we are not only talking about bags, this includes most of products from clothing to digital goods. Young people preferences lean towards second-hand items or leasing. They don’t value long-term ownership, owning it once is enough.
Another interesting phenomenon is the popularity of installment payments in the post-95s generation. They do not only buy expensive goods but consume low-cost products using installments.
According to data, 24.4% of the post-95s generation have used installment payments to purchase goods under RMB 500. This is also a very current practice for goods under RMB 5,000.
Therefore, one can easily deduce that if a platform or a brand can offer installment payments for its products, they might be able to boost their mix of young consumers.
To sum up, Li Dan is just a window from where to observe and understand the younger consumer group. Gaining insights on the values and the psychology of this group, we can assess that new demands have emerged. This has in turn, inspired changes in channels and methods, leading to the emergence of new brands and growth opportunities for existing ones.
Source Code Capital has always been interested and enthusiastic for this trillion-dollar consumer market. We kept a curious and an open-minded attitude towards this increasingly strong post-95s consumer groups, striving to learn and identify the new opportunities that have emerged with them.
We encourage and welcome any experts, researchers and entrepreneurs with mindful insights to contact us and share what they think about this post-95s phenomenon.