Marleen Spijkman

Chinese-Western cultural branding designer, consumer ethnographer and hybrid lecturer | Gender, consumer trends , cultural identities and Chinese consumers

Curiosity already got the better of me at a very young age. I apply the methods of communication studies, social sciences, behavioural sciences and semiotics, often in a Chinese-Western cross-cultural context, to identify emerging needs and lifestyles of Chinese and Western consumers. In my 13+ years experience in cultural branding and immersive research I have emerged in various Chinese and Western consumer lifestyles, from gender fluidity, healthy lifestyles to modern parenting to get an in-depth human understanding of changing lifestyles or to unlock hidden truths. Frequently residing in China visiting Chinese peoples’ homes, observing daily activities or going shopping with them to get a better picture of unconscious behaviour, emerging trends, cultural meaning and production. 

I have a master degree in Communication Studies (University of Twente, 2012) and in Law (University of Amsterdam, 2007). Currently in the last stage of my PhD research at the University of Twente and in collaboration with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Together with brand and creative agencies and brands I explore how Western brands can design cultural relevant brand narratives by connecting to the modern Chinese cultural identity of Chinese consumers.



" I have always believed that creating cultural relevance has very little to do with adapting the global brand strategy and more to do with understanding why and how to be legible and relatable to the brand’s local consumer audience"







Exploring how Western brands can nagivage gender representations in China.


Do you need short-term or long-term support in your client work? Possible ways in which I can help you:

  • Consumer audience understanding: Zero in on the right  consumer needs and lifestyles to drive better brand performance.
  • Cultural opportunities: Show clients why they should embark on emerging trends in consumer lifestyles to open up new cultural opportunities and paths forward.
  • Cultural scoping and sourcing stimulus e.g. web, magazine and literature trawls, retail immersions, cultural immersions (galleries, fairs, events, street wandering armed with a camera).
  • Chinese-Western cross-cultural branding: creating and/or increasing the cultural relevance of Western brands towards Chinese consumers or vice versa Chinese brands towards Western consumers.
  • Workshop or in-house academy about Chinese-Western cross-cultural branding.

Feel free to reach out to discuss how I could help you! 




  • Creating Chinese-Western cross-cultural relevance without amplifying cultural differences or shoehorning in a particular trend or cultural ideology that might not land well with the targeted Chinese or Western consumers.
  • Keeping up-to-date with all kinds of cultural shifts impacting narratives of inclusiveness, masculinity, femininity, city quiters, gender fluidity, conscious consumerism, gentrification, body positivity, remote working, and data wellbeing.
  • Critically questioning and addressing underlying power structures and cultural mechanisms that shape media respresentations and Western media imaginairy.
  • Using trend and in-depth consumer research like ethnography and interviews to stay ahead of the curve and inform a better, more resonant and empathetical positioning, concept or messaging.
  • Crafting hyper-local insights about changing lifestyles to take a stand against societal dilemmas and break-out industry clichés.
  • Identifying ways to communicate authentically, while avoiding the slippery slope of tokenism. 







  • 13+ years of cultural branding and immersive research experience 
  • Proud to have worked with great brands like Bugaboo and Starbucks to help them grow in the Chinese market.
  • 6 years of external PhD-research (part-time) exploring how Western brands can tap into the modern Chinese cultural identity for the development of brand narratives that are cultural relevant towards Chinese consumers. University of Twente and Shanghai Jiao Tong University
  • Master in Communication Studies, Marketing Communication, University of Twente 
  • Master of Laws, University of Amsterdam 
  • 1-year exchange program, University of Melbourne
  • Semiotics: A  User’s guide to seeing differently. 
  • Understanding fashion: from business to culture
  • Remote research and the challenge of being there.

“The difference between winning over Chinese and Western consumers and setting them off can't be stuffed away with good intentions anymore.










Clients and partners


Rozenbrood Trendacademy

Shanghai Jiao Tong University | Media and branding

Yunan Agricultural University

Dragans Businessclub

Wij Zijn Gek | Art and communication


Breque | Cultural trends and innovation

Fontys University of Applied Sciences | Academy of creative industries

Kola English language school

Afdeling Buitengewone Zaken | Social service design


Buro Zorro | Future proof strategy 


International Institute for Asian Studies

AVANS University of Applied Sciences | Communication

Festival Boulevard | Theatr

Theater aan de Parade | Cultural Institute





In order to understand how modern Chinese parents, that are ahead of the curve are shaping their future, you have to step into their shoes, uncovering Bugaboo’s uniqueness and emerging needs and values of Chinese parents in Shanghai and Guangzhou


Bugaboo Shanghai and Amsterdam


Aiming to add a qualitative layer to their data, Bugaboo teamed up with me to get to know their Chinese consumer audience on a deeper level. We set out  to spend several days with young Chinese families in Shanghai and talked about to more than 30 Chinese parents in Guangzhou and Shanghai. Digging deep into everyday parenting practices, their user experience with the Bugaboo stroller and competitive brands and revealed the way they attach meaning to Bugaboo’s brand and product communication.

Mapping and cultural interpreting  Chinese consumer trends in both a global and Chinese consumer culture context. From cream cheese toppings, skateboarding to blind boxes. How do Chinese consumers are shaped by and shape global trends?


Starbucks China


Conducting cultural research to help Starbucks get an idea of how global consumer trends play out in China. The research was part of a global consumer cultures study in 5 countries spanning across 3 continents. The Chinese consumer insights and trends informed the new global culture strategy and positioning.

Increased global activism, slow traveling, sustainable fashion and changing attitudes towards masculinity and femininity.

Consumers around the world are looking for brands that go against the capitalist grain and commit to social and economic causes. But.. how to culturally interpret global consumer trends without unconsciously turning to cultural stereotypes?


Rozenbrood Trendacademy Amsterdam


Lifestyles and trends around the world are changing, affecting attitudes, beliefs, habits, and needs. The trends we think we see and read in out-of-home countries is not always what we think it is. In a guest lecture at the Rozenbrood Trendacademy in Amsterdam we dived into several global consumer trends and critically explored why it is becoming more and more important to study trends from an international consumer perspective. How does modernisation shape changing needs and values of consumers living in different and similar geographies? How do trends play out globally? How can you culturally interpret global consumer trends? And how do consumers around the world create and negotiate cultural meanings of global consumer trends?

Challenging students to build impact with consumer and culture insights. Asking them to create an side look at tomorrow’s consumer behaviour. Make a pop-up box about the future of food. Critically explore cultural lenses of a global consumer culture and show others what this means in a magazine,  podcast, poem or something else.


Academy of Creative Industries at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Tilburg, The Netherlands


Developing and ‘teaching several (elective) courses in English and Dutch’ for the Academy of Creative Industries at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands. At the centre of all the courses is learning Dutch and international students to understand and capture an in-depth understanding of ‘leading’ edge consumers who demonstrate behavior that will be adopted by the general population in the coming years. It is about getting the skills to accurately understand ‘leading edge’ behaviours: why are they doing the things they do, what is important to them and why, what are the underlying values and needs, what are they looking for and why?

  • Elective course: consumer insights
  • Elective course: global consumer cultures
  • Course: human-centred design
  • Course: visual cultures
  • Course: lifestyle research

Cultural blindspots, Western perspectives, Euro-centric worldviews… how to adapt trend lectures to a multi-cultural and global audiences?


Buro Zorro, future proof strategy agency, The Netherlands


With trend lectures on a wide range of futures, like Holy F*CK ‘the future of sex’,  founder and futurist Jeanneke Scholtens of Buro Zorro asked to help with identifying any potential cultural blindspots in her trend work. What tools to use to go beyond cultural stereotypes and ensure cultural relevancy in out-of-home markets and for global audiences? We dived right into the matter at her office in the north of The Netherlands. 

Learning how Chinese parents use the Bugaboo stroller, getting to know their journeys and everyday lives to better understand emerging needs and Chinese consumer behaviour for product innovation


Bugaboo HQ Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Facilitating ideation sessions with the insight and product development teams of Bugaboo’s headquarter in Amsterdam. Generating a broad set of opportunities based upon UX research conducted in Shanghai to identify ways to adapt strollers to the Chinese consumer audience. Making the stroller more suitable to daily usages and travel in Chinese in- and outdoor living areas, aesthetic preferences and emerging needs.

Guest lecture: How do Chinese and Western brands adapt their advertising towards Western and Chinese consumers? Developing the skills of master students in a deeper understanding of cultural branding.


Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Media and Branding department, Shanghai, China


Discussing cultural branding strategies of Western and Chinese sport brands at a guest lecture at the Media and Branding department of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Exploring how these brands adapt their advertising towards both Chinese and Western consumer audiences alongside best practices. It is about getting the strategic skills to evaluate what cultural branding strategies are in place in brands like Nike, Anta, Adidas and Li Ning, and understanding why?

Minimalism, slow travel, sustainable fashion and digital nomads. What and why are people in the West doing the things they do?


Kola Language School, Shanghai, China


Discussing the lives of people in the West with language students working at international companies or Chinese companies that do international business. What are popular lifestyles in The Netherlands and other Western countries? Why is minimalism so important for Western people and how does this relate to Chinese people? What are important emerging values and needs in the West?