How You Can Sell to the Chinese Expat Community in Singapore

There is a trend that is set to alter the population demographics of many key cities in the world, including Singapore. This trend is the increasing number of mainland Chinese emigrating to different countries, and Singapore is the top destination in Asia for 3%, or some 870,000, of current and would-be Chinese affluent emigrants, due to its geographical and cultural proximity to China, according to a Hunun report in 2014. In particular, changes in immigration policies since 1989 have also affected Singapore’s Chinese population. There are now a sizable mainland Chinese expat community in Singapore, with the number of new migrants from China estimated to be around 100,000, according to a report by Vaughan Rapatahana and Pauline Bunce (English Language as Hydra: Its Impacts on Non-English Language Cultures). These include about 36,000 students, who are studying in the country’s local schools, and most of them are accompanied by their mothers, another estimated 5,000 of what we called ‘peidu mamas‘, or ‘study mothers’. Many stayed in Singapore for only a while, and then returned to China, but many also settled down permanently to become permanent residents or citizens. 

On top of that, there is another influx of high net worth individuals (HNWIs), which are those with assets of more than USD1 million, to Singapore. Worldwide, more than 64% of Chinese HNWIs are rapidly emigrating, according to a 2014 report from the Hurun Institute. This creates an important consumer segment for luxury brands in particular, and in countries such as Singapore, many companies are rushing to catch a slide of the pie by targeting this segment of the market. According to South China Morning Post, mainlanders, typically businessmen, continue to top the list of foreigners purchasing high-end property in Singapore, with the number of properties bought by them peaking in 2011.

With such a big number of mainland Chinese expat community in Singapore, how can you accurately target them for your products and services? Below are some tips and strategies, foremost of which we need to find out who exactly these mainland Chinese are.

Who are The Chinese Expat Community in Singapore?

We can mainly classified these groups of Chinese expat community in Singapore into three groups, businessmen, white-collar workers and academics and teachers.

Besides well travelled businessmen who are the main buyers of high-end properties, other new immigrants of Singapore are mostly highly paid white-collar employees working in multinational corporations, academics in research and educational institutes, or Chinese teachers in primary and secondary schools and junior colleges in Singapore.

The Affluent Mainland Expats

According to a study that was commissioned by SPH Magazines, and who interviewed affluent Chinese women expats of between 30 – 50 years old, with annual income of more than USD250,000 and net worth of at least USD1 million, these affluent women in Singapore mostly maintain low profiles and do not mix with the other elite socialites in Singapore mainly due to their language barrier and preference to stick to an all-Chinese speaking environment. While they have no problems integrating into the mainstream society, they prefer to create their own groups and gatherings in private clubs. What’s needed are people they trust to ease them into the local space.

The affluent Chinese expat community in Singapore tend to want to differentiate themselves through more refined lifestyles and knowledge of luxury, and a genuine appreciation for quality goods, not only in terms of product craftsmanship but also brand equity. They tend to stick to classic luxury brands such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton, but the younger ones are more willing to choose newer brands to reflect their personal style. According to the SPH report, most of them research for luxury items, especially on their brand story and heritage, and consult the salespersons before a purchase.

How Do You Target These Mainland Expats?

Given the above characteristics and purchasing patterns, how do marketers sell to these mainland consumers?

(a) Build a Private and Dedicated Group 

Based on the above report from SPH’s commissioned survey, they recommended the need to build a private and dedicated group for these mainland Chinese in Singapore. It will be very wise to use an all-Chinese or bilingual Chinese/English medium to engage them with your brand message.

(b) Build Trust and Credibility through Multiple Touchpoints 

Brands also need to build trust and credibility through various touchpoints, be it online or offline. They can perhaps do this by engaging with a notable and trustworthy website, or influencers whom the Chinese are familiar with. Content that resonates with the target audience such as brand stories will be particularly useful for this segment of the market. Add a personal touch if you could, through your sales channels, and this will further strengthen your brand message.

(d) Leverage Chinese Social Media 

Traditional media such as the local Chinese newspapers and magazines, TV and radio will likely not be as efficient and cost effective as the digital media in reaching the mainland Chinese. Nowadays, you could target audience by ads, and pay by clicks or impressions only. It is possible for advertisers to only deliver their ads to their target audience via the current ad technology, which supports niche targeting based on location, site, interest, gender, income level and more.

Although mainstream digital media such as Facebook, YouTube and Google are available to the mainland Chinese in Singapore, most of the Chinese still prefer to stick to Chinese social media such as Sina Weibo, WeChat, and QZone, search engines like Baidu or Soso or even video sharing sites like Youku, Letv, or PPS.According to a Nielsen report from Hong Kong/Macau, 41% of respondents said that their purchases were influenced by Weibo and WeChat posts.

According to Campaign Asia-Pacific, which cited an eMarketer’s survey in June 2016, there are more than 806 million active users for both WeChat and Weixin today, and a GlobalWebIndex (GWI) report stated that between the first half of 2015 and the first half of 2016, WeChat nearly doubled its usage rates in Asia Pacific, excluding China.

Besides WeChat and Weixin, Tencent’s communications app Mobile QQ, and Mobile Qzone, a leading social networking site in China, and QQ Music, one of China’s most popular digital music websites, are also platforms which advertisers in Singapore can use. One advantage that Tencent has, is its ability to target accurately niche customers, based on demographics, environment, keyword search, user behaviour and interest. If you already have an official WeChat account, you can even place the advertisements yourself, as there is a self-service platform for you to place orders, process payments and track ad performances.

(e) Products or Services Customization 

While these following examples have a focus on Chinese tourists, they still apply to the Chinese expats living in these cities. In the US, many museums are catering to the Chinese and Chinese tourists with the addition of audio tours and maps in Mandarin and more restaurants are also adding Chinese to their menus, while in France, the Louvre has tapped into Weibo and WeChat, with information on exhibits and maps in Chinese. In Australia, the Accor group of hotels have welcome kits, menus and business cards in Chinese, and Chinese meals and utensils in restaurants, and at InterContinental hotels, there are now staff speaking Chinese, and Chinese TV channels.

(f) Develop Content Marketing Strategies Targeting Mainland Chinese 

Marketers can also study the purchasing patterns of mainland tourists and expats to develop content marketing strategies targeting specifically at this segment, and promote the content on Chinese social media platforms as discussed above.

(g) Know Their Product Preferences 

Clothing, cosmetics, luxury goods and watches – these are the top products that most Chinese outbound travellers are interested in. According to digital insights company 6Estates, which gathered data from 300,000 conversations, food was also a hot favourite among travellers in Singapore, with brands Bee Cheng Hiang and Charles & Keith taking top spots. As a general guide, we can thus infer that these are also the products that most Chinese expats will be interested in too.

(h) Language 

Most importantly, when you are communicating your brand message, use the correct language in the advertisement. In this case, most of the mainland Chinese in Singapore speaks and reads simplified Chinese, so it makes sense to include this language in your communications materials.

(i) Multicultural Holidays 

Marketers can also tap into Chinese multicultural holidays like Chinese New Year, Dumplings Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore, which are good opportunities for marketing campaigns targeted at this segment, as usually purchases tend to be higher during such holidays.

Contact us for a chat using the form below – we’ll be able to offer some tips on how to market and sell to the Chinese expat community in your country.


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