Brands in China have maintained connections – and sales – in China throughout the COVID-19 outbreak by switching their marketing messages and their media mix in ways that provide lessons for brands in other countries.
The pandemic is bringing significant shifts in consumer behaviour, media consumption and the use of social platforms that require brands to reconsider how they relate to consumers. Just-released research by Gartner shows how several leading brands have successfully adapted to these changing conditions, and suggests ways that brands in other markets can manage their way through these difficult times.
One key learning in China was that time spent online shot up 20% as people confined themselves to their homes. Social networking continued to be people’s favourite activity, but there were surges in time spent mobile gaming (up 44% between January and February 2020), watching short videos (up 14%), and reading news and other information (up 14%).
Gartner says brands were able to play a role in easing people’s concerns and sense of isolation. Many brands generated messages of solidarity and hope; some made practical contributions to the fight against the virus, such as making donations of funding or medical supplies to help those on the frontline, and promoted their efforts via social media.
Celebrity ambassadors (or Key Opinion Leaders/KOLs) also encouraged people to stay positive, often through song. Estée Lauder’s Weibo hashtag “We Can Win This Fight”, associated with its celebrity video messages, has been viewed more than 61 million times and has generated 328,000 discussions.
“Although the form it takes in the West will be different, the need to immediately express solidarity and support will be the same,” said Gartner analyst Danielle Bailey. “During a crisis, social platforms can serve as a vital channel to help spread awareness and raise funds.”
The report’s other key findings were that brands should:
- Shift marketing efforts online, where consumers are spending more time. Louis Vuitton’s physical stores were closed in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day, so the brand launched an online pop-up store within the WeChat app, with live chat for pre-sale consultations and promotions shared via store associates online. Online sales were double those of Valentine’s Day 2019.
- Use online video to win consumer engagement. People isolating themselves at home are hungry for entertainment and information. Activewear brands have been quick to promote in-home exercise content at a time when usage of the short video app Douyin (known as TikTok in the West) has seen usage as much as double. Nike began posting workouts to the platform, and its account has amassed 346,000 followers and more than 2 million likes.
- Focus on delivery options and be transparent. Consumers expect that there might be delays, but they want brands to keep them updated. In the early stages of the crisis, household cleaning brand Dettol took to its Weibo account to detail how it was handing the spike in demand.
- Be agile, developing new content and products, and adapting to new platforms and circumstances. The dog of a beauty influencer began trending on Weibo after appearing in a livestream, and beauty brand Perfect Diary used his sudden celebrity to launch a “Dog Eyeshadow” pallet; 16,000 pieces sold out in 10 seconds.
“During a crisis, timing is critical. Determining the appropriate cadence and striking the right balance between commercial and branding messaging will be key,” Bailey said.
“Follow the lead of the consumer and adjust your content strategy accordingly. China has a much higher tolerance for sales messaging than the West, and a business-as-usual strategy approach is not advisable for Western markets. Brand-building should be prioritized in this period.”
Sourced from Gartner