Searching for ways to design future-proof cultural relevant brand narratives towards Chinese millennial consumers in comparison with their Western counterparts.









Almost daily we witness yet another Western brand accused of some level of cultural appropriation. The line between winning over Chinese consumers and setting them off is a thin one. Cultural relevance gaps between China and the West can’t be stuffed away with good intention anymore.


The mission of the cultural branding experiment is to advance cultural branding practice towards Chinese millennial consumers by searching for ways to design future-proof cultural relevant brand narratives towards Chinese millennials together with brand and creative agencies in Beijing, Shanghai, Amsterdam, Rotterdam (or other Dutch cities like Arnhem and Groningen) that have extensive experience, high level of expertise, and a kind of adventurous mindset. 




How do Chinese consumers shape their own path towards modernity? That’s the question.



Moving away from blatant generalisations: comparing Chinese with Western millennials


If you want to brand to Chinese millennials it is important to move away from blatant generalisations and understand who they are. Not by magnifying the cultural differences and also not by underlining the global similarities. Contemporary China offers bold and oftentimes challenging glimpses into the future and Chinese consumers are shaping their own path towards modernity. In a large scale comparative visual consumer cultures research emerging lifestyles of both Chinese and Western millennial consumers are compared,


About cultural branding


Western brand practice that is trying to resonate to Chinese consumers is in dire need of a new approach. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Western brands to reach Chinese millennial consumers, but it is not impossible. Cultural branding helps brands to scale sense and align meaning to create meaningful, relevant and resonant strategies and brand experiences across a multitude of brand touchpoints, regions, markets and geographies. There is no way for brands to tell a story outside of the context of culture. Culture is omnipresent. You might not see it, you might not be aware of it, but you cannot ignore it. People are impacted by it, no matter what brands might think and say. If brands fail to shift with the flow of Culture, their advertising will not be relevant. Brands operate within their consumer audience’s cultural context. This context has its own values, ideologies, symbols, meanings, and recognized makers and influencers. It also has cultural tensions and contradictions. More and more, whether they’re aware of it or not, consumers demand that brands acknowledge and contribute to this cultural context. It’s about brands playing a proactive role, confidently taking a stand, and doing so while being accountable for the images and messages they put out there.



Fundamentally rethinking and redefining our understanding of Chinese millennials and genZ consumers. Critical questions are asked. Existing brand narratives and messaging design practices are explored and challenged.




About the cultural branding experiment


In the cultural branding experiment we don’t just talk about or analyse brand mistakes. Through prototyping and testing different narratives and messaging based upon emerging lifestyles that symbolises new values, needs and  motivations in China and Western countries, insights are gained on how to adapt global content to a Chinese and Western local mindset and also vice versa find universal principles for global expansion to build strong brands that are locally relevant. It starts with analysing the trends emerging in China and Western countries and dissecting the rights codes to understand how trends play out globally and  to better fit the cultural specifics of the concrete regional markets brands are active in.


– How to increase the cross-cultural applicability of brand narratives and messaging for both a Chinese and Western consumer cultural context?

– What cultural factors need to be considered in designing narratives and messaging for Chinese consumers?

– If, why and how to design differently to realize cultural relevance for Chinese in comparison to Western millennials?


– Are upcoming lifestyles that symbolises new values, needs and dreams really so different in China than Western countries?

– Which tools can assist in narrative and messaging designs that connect to Chinese and Western millennial consumers of tomorrow?




The initiator of the Modern Chineseness cultural branding experiment is Marleen Spijkman MSc LLM. She is an cultural branding insights designer, Chinese consumer insights specialist, cultural insights specialist and ethnographic forecaster. Already for more than 12 years she continuously follows what Chinese consumers do, how they express their identity, and how Western brands try and succeed or fail to resonate with Chinese consumers. Since 2007 she is frequently in China visiting Chinese people’s homes, observing daily activities or going shopping with them to get a better picture of unconscious behavior and talking with them to reveal the perspective of Chinese millennial consumers. She gained workexperience in (international) communication, marketing, sales and education before turning to cultural branding towards Chinese consumers.



“The cultural branding experiment is an extension of my PhD that I conduct as a external PhD-candidate at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and executed in collaboration with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. I am immensely fascinated by the way Chinese millennial consumers shape their own path towards modernity. Through my PhD-research I develop a modern cultural identity theory of Chinese millennials. And now it is time to extend my PhD-research to branding practice. Together with experts in the field I am tackling the most challenging and interesting questions in cultural branding practice.” 

Previous PhD-research studies have led to understanding:

  • How Chinese millennial consumer re-inmagine the global and shape their own path towards modernity.
  • Why cultural branding campaigns applaud by Western media have resulted in misunderstanding that have led other Western brands to fall for the same misunderstanding with social backlash and declining sales as a result.
  • Why and how Western sport shoe brands have successfully created a brand culture in China.





How do I participate?


If you are interested to participate, fill in underneath form and Marleen will answer you shortly.