The U.S. bridal industry is flat. According to U.S. census data, the number of weddings has remained relatively unchanged for the past 25 years at between 2.1-2.4 million. However, in China, the bridal industry is booming. According to David Liu, CEO and cofounder of The Knot in New York, in 2010, over 10 million weddings took place-- five times as many as in the U.S.
China’s $57 billion dollar wedding industry is now the world’s largest wedding market. And, most Chinese want to emulate the U.S. wedding experience. Therefore, it is worthwhile for U.S. bridal and wedding companies to engage the Chinese bride. However, in order to succeed, they need to understand that weddings in China are very different than in the U.S.
For example, when it comes to wedding attire, Chinese women wear three dresses on their wedding day--a modern western outfit, followed by a traditional white bridal gown and, in a grand finale, a long red Chinese cheongsam dress embroidered with dragon and phoenix symbols. The animals symbolize the balance of male and female power, and red is a lucky color in China.
Web surfing habits are also different. The U.S. consumer prefers short clips of many articles on one page. In contrast, Chinese web users dislike flipping pages and want their information all on one page. Also, Americans prefer clean, simple pages while the Chinese like busy, and text filled content.
U.S. bridal and wedding companies need to understand that social media strategies in China differ markedly from that of the U.S. The U.S. bride relies primarily on Facebook while the Chinese bride relies on discussion forums and blogs to find and exchange information.
Chinese love money and always give cash to the bridal couple usually in a red envelope (e.g. Hong Bao). As the country becomes more affluent, the giving has dramatically increased. As a result, most Chinese weddings are large, lavish affairs in contrast to the more intimate U.S. weddings. David Liu reported that one of the weddings featured on his company’s website involved renting out the Forbidden City in Beijing!
Chinese parents are using their children’s wedding day to display their wealth and are increasingly looking to differentiate the day from their peers. According to the Knot, a venture capitalist, for instance, recently flew a wedding cake from London to Beijing for his daughter's wedding, because it came from a bakery used by the British royal family.
U.S. bridal and wedding companies have a huge opportunity in China. China's wedding industry hasn't kept pace with the desire for status, despite a thriving luxury goods industry. Those successful U.S. industry experts who have entered China have been very successful. According to Normandy Madden of AdAge, top wedding dress designer Vera Wang, who happens to be Chinese, has a formal wear boutique at the Shangri-la hotel in Shanghai's Pudong district, as well as a presence at Mattel's Barbie superstore across town.
Aggressive marketing by global diamond and gold councils in China over the past decade have turned young brides' attention away from traditional jade jewelry in favor of western-style diamond rings. Sales soared from $230 million in 1995 to $1.2 billion in 2007, making China the world's fifth-largest diamond market, according to De Beers.
Most major U.S. brands are not in China yet. However, I predict that within the next 24 months, their need to follow the money is going to result in a tidal wave of brands entering the market.
According to a Knot spokesperson, "It's going to be a lot more extreme in a little while, because more people are getting wealthy. It's going to be blood sport in the battle for status, because weddings are such a big event." Let the games begin.