Making sense of Culture

From changing consumer cultures around the world to cultural branding and modern cultural identity constructions.

"Advancing cultural know-how to tackle global consumer questions of today and tomorrow



Hi, my name is Marleen. I am an independent cultural branding insights designer / Chinese consumer insights specialist / cultural insights specialist / ethnographic forecaster based in Arnhem in the Netherlands. Through Modern Chineseness and Hacking the Cultural System  I help innovative agencies and professionals in branding, content creation, consumer insights and trends to harness culture and to build a strong future-proof cultural strategic foundation to create consumer resonance in different markets. Ánd to help them to acquire the skills and insights to action against cultural appropriation and cultural bias. For themselves or their clients. So that they can generate deep cultural traction. 


I use ethnographic consumer research and cultural branding experiments around the world. My mission: Advancing cultural know-how to tackle global consumer questions of today and tomorrow. I am immensely fascinated by how consumers around the world shape their own path towards modernity and why people do the things they do in different cultural contexts. 


I travel all over the world, from Shanghai to New York and Stockholm to Cape Town, but prefer to stay longer in one place to get to know the locals and learn more about the culture than described in the media. In addition to my home country the Netherlands, I also lived in China and Australia.


To bridge the gap between brands and global consumer audiences I stay in tune of cultural shifts through in-home research, shopalongs, joining a day or evening out to the cinema, karaoke or having dinner, go to the park during family outings or join consumers when they pick up their kids from school. Next, I stay up-to-date on the latest thinking through my PhD-research about: The modern cultural identity of Chinese millennial consumers unravelled for the development of Western brand stories. I specialise in identifying changing values, needs and motivations through ethnographic consumer research and in cultural interpretation from both a global and local perspective, as I believe it is not “either-or” but “both-and”.

“By uncovering emerging needs and motivations of consumers around the world, I advocate the value of knowing them.

International experience

From deep dives in Chinese people’s homes to watching a movie in an Indian cinema, giving a guest lecture in Bangkok, spotting trends in New York  and studying in Melbourne.



countries I worked IN

countries I lived in

Overview Services.


Modern Chinese consumers


  • Cultural branding experiment: Working with branding and creative agencies in a cultural branding experiment to search for ways to design future-proof cultural relevant brand narratives towards Chinese millennial consumers. 
  • Tailor-made interactive and highly visual masterclasses, keynotes and workshops that takes you and your colleagues behind the emerging lifestyles and needs of Chinese millennial consumers 
  • Chinese consumer culture insights and trends


For more information go to Modern Chineseness.



  • Hacking the cultural system (3 days)

For more information go to Hacking the Cultural System.

Educational innovation

  • Hacking the cultural system (3 days)

I am highly specialized at the intersection of innovation / learning and cultural branding / international marketing, both in the context of education and business practice. I like to drive educational innovation, internationalise curriculum and (co)-design future-proof and practice based (international oriented) educational degrees, assessments, projects and courses. 

Contact me more information.

Social movements emerging in the West are not necessarily relevant to consumers in the East and vice versa. The need to understand consumers around the world through their own cultural lens has never been more important.

Your question?


Do you want to learn more about your global consumer audience? Want to find out what makes Chinese consumers  tick and why? What your intended audience thinks of your new product or brand campaign? Do you want to develop your skills with advanced knowledge in global cultural futures and consumer behaviour across markets? Would you like to (re)connect to consumer audiences in foreign markets? Or could you use some support in helping your clients connect to consumers in foreign markets?


For confidentiality reasons it is not possible to disclose the full details of the global consumer insights projects.

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


A global consumer lifestyle research study revealed that millennial Chinese parents are raising the most well-educated generation of kids the world has ever seen. Western-European parents are raising the most well-traveled children. Consumer lifestyle trends show that millennial parents in Western Europe increasingly travel more than single people. While many Chinese parents tend to leave very young kids at home when they are very young, because they see no point in bringer them abroad since they won’t remember it anyway.




Global youth culture:

New York, Lissabon, Shenzhen and Shanghai


Future consumer behaviour needs to be considered from both a global and local perspective. Lifestyles and trends around the world are changing, affecting attitudes, beliefs, habits, and needs. As a consequence of today’s access to global information flows Millennials in Western countries have more in common with millennials in Asia than their respective parents.

Brand cultures: why do affluent Chinese millennials resonate deeply to brand campaigns of well-known Western sport shoes?


Without truly connecting to Chinese consumers it is impossible to identify the hidden forces that drives their perception and attitude towards well-known brand campaigns of Western brands.

From the inside: understanding and experiencing tomorrow’s consumer behaviour in China to identify how a brand can generate a deeper connection with their Chinese consumers


Spending time with innovators provides a picture of how the lifestyle trends they are embracing are being absorbed and assimilated into their lives.



Everyday life runs the risk of everyone thinking they just know what it means: neighbourhood stuff in New York and Shanghai



Understanding people is best done through immersions in the everyday. 

For a global brand to be a true global brand, it must not be consistent in sending the brand message the same way in all markets, but in achieving the same positioning, the same brand meaning and achieving the same relevance with its consumers across markets.

Identifying how messages and images are interpreted so that a brand can develop cultural relevant content.

Mapping the buying decisions-process in China


Instead of merely asking how Chinese consumers make their decisions, many observations in shopping malls were conducted. Additional in-home interviews and observing online shopping processes were done to get more details.



Getting behind the percentages: in-depth interviews with Chinese women in Guangzhou and Shanghai


“I don’t think women should be encouraged to pursue their dreams anymore. We already have this thought.”

Modern Chinese women were asked to respond to commercials portraying the identity and lifestyles of single women. After first sharing their life story and their opinions towards marriage. The results are noteworthy for brand marketers. The consumer research study identified the unintentional Western elements in the brand narratives and how brands could incorporate the modern Chinese perspective to secure cultural relevance.

Ethnographic consumer research: inside the  home of a Chinese family

Understanding emerging perceptions and values throug watching the popular “The Jin Xing Show” of transgender Jin Xing in 2015. Jin Xing was known and liked for her sharp-tongued, no-nonsense and down-to-earth style all over China.


Global consumer behaviour and audience understanding


Why do consumers around the world do the things thy do?

Spending time with consumers in all kinds of contexts, observing, interviewing, engaging in conversations, probing, hanging out, doing experiments or asking consumers to capture their lives in real time and upload the footage.

Or revealing the embedded meaning in consumer cultures, via a close analysis of its artefacts: movies, music, news stories, personalities, iconography, language, colours and metaphors.



Global cultural futures


How does the Zeitgeist look like, now and in the future?

Tracking cultural shifts, global consumer behaviour, trends and ideas by staying close to the observers and instigators of social change. Looking up, around and forward at changing global and local cultural shifts to refresh thinking about global consumer audiences and categories, and to open up new white spaces of connecting to consumers across markets.


Cultural branding 



How can global brands generate the same deep cultural traction in different countries in the world?

Identifying how and why global consumers’ values, beliefs, attitudes, perceptions and needs affect brand meaning, users’ needs, decision-making, positioning and relevance in the everyday lives.

When global brands have their branding, value proposition, content, products and services anchored in a close understanding of the cultures, discourses and practices they participate in, they generate deep cultural traction.


Without truly connecting to Chinese consumers it is impossible to identify the hidden forces that drives their perception and attitude towards well-known brand campaigns of Western brands.

Mapping tomorrow’s consumer behaviour: future-sense ethnography


How to map the social practices of the consumers who demonstrate behaviour that will be adopted by the general population in the coming years?

A key characteristic is the need to talk to consumers in their own environment: often their home or at work. It goes beyond what people are telling about their own future: it observes their present day behaviour to see what is possible and what is not. To look for contradictions between what people say they do and what they actually do.

Don’t Miss a Beat