Coronavirus: How are brands responding in China?

The coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak has expanded beyond China, with countries all around the world bracing themselves for its impact. However, China remains the worst hit by some margin, with many stores remaining closed and residents’ movement across the country still restricted.

In this atmosphere, it can seem insensitive or pointless to carry through with long-planned marketing pushes. In many cases, the instinct to pull or postpone a campaign will be well justified. But it’s important for brands to take a considered approach, in order to adjust to new realities in the short and medium-term. In this article, we take a look at some of the ways in which brands marketing to China, are adapting their approach in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

From offline to online

Brands might tend to be more conservative when launching their campaigns or promotions under this sensitive situation. And whilst this is important, we should be careful not to make drastic decisions. Sometimes, it’s as simple as changing your mindset from offline to online, and you will see that the plan can still go on.

Chinese electronics company Xiaomi did exactly this. Last month, Xiaomi launched its new Mi10 and Mi10 pro smartphones. Due to the health crisis Xiaomi initially cancelled its offline press conference, but then swiftly announced an online-only event as an alternative. They also launched the hashtag #休想打败我的生活 (#Lifeisnotmadefordefeat) on Sina Weibo and joined hands with the video platform Bilibili for a 72-hour streaming event with the same title. As a result, the hashtag received 600 million views and over 143,000 mentions on Sina Weibo.

By shifting its strategy online and adjusting its launch angle, Xiaomi was able to continue with the launch of its new models, whilst also remaining empathetic towards the current health crisis.

And much like Xiaomi, many brands and companies are moving pre-scheduled offline events online, adjusting the concepts to play into the various platforms’ user behaviour.  For example, the real estate industry, which has been hit heavily by the outbreak, has introduced VR/video viewing to allow buyers to see properties without having to physically attend a viewing.

Tap into video streaming

Short video and live streaming have been booming in China over the last two years. Douyin (TikTok) became one of the world’s most popular social media apps within one year of its launch. And advertisers expect the role of streaming to become even more prominent, prompting brands to start reconsidering their digital budgets.

According to Kantar Consulting, the latest report regarding the effects of the outbreak on consumer behaviours shows that watching video has become the most common activity taken by people staying at home. Their report found that 58% of users choose to watch long-form online video, with 56%  also opting to explore short video apps, and 20% opting to watch live streaming.

It has also been shown that the outbreak is changing consumers’ media consumption. More than 40% of respondents said they spent significantly more time on short videos and video sites/apps than they did before the outbreak. Additionally, 21% of users reported that since the outbreak, they have started watching live streaming on mobile, and this is worth noting, as first-time-triers might go on to form habits so brands should never overlook its importance.

Not to mention, various brands have already taken the lead; Xiaomi’s collaborations with Bilibili, BMW launching a live stream on Tmall, Nike’s release of workout courses on Tencent video, and TikTok as mentioned above. So it’s important not to fall behind, seizing opportunities to avoid losing momentum during this period.

Be mindful of your message

Chinese users are spending more time on news channels and social media during the outbreak. With widespread confirmed cases, users are more fragile, looking for hope, empathy and kindness. Continuing to use planned messaging in your digital campaigns can understandably look heartless to the audience in China.

Instead, adjust the key message by engaging with the things that matter for your users. For example, some brands have chosen to make financial donations or provide medical supplies to hospitals as a way of taking some social responsibility. Giorgio Armani introduced a new line of designs inspired by Chinese culture at the end of their Autumn/Winter 2020 show. The gesture was received extremely well, with positive comments pulling through Sina Weibo.

Moreover, many brands are considering pausing or cutting down their campaigns. And this makes perfect sense when considering that most campaigns aren’t going to be able to generate an immediate return in China at the moment. However, don’t forget the value of your long-term proposition as a brand. Users on Sina Weibo have been mentioning on the platform that they’ll repay the kindness and contribution of brands by purchasing from them once the outbreak finishes.

Preparing for the future

Once the coronavirus outbreak passes, consumption will not only get back to normal but will likely rebound significantly, based on the Financial Times’ observations of other outbreaks in the past. The latest report released by Blue Media also comes to the same conclusion.

Therefore, from a branding point of view, whilst you should be mindful, you should still aim to seize opportunities that may arise in the future.  And be cautious about the real-time data analysing consumer trends. For example, according to China’s largest travel agency,, data shows that search volume related to the 1 May Labour Day holiday this year is higher than what it was last year, which indicates that there will be a huge amount of consumer spending around the corner.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that online marketing is not a short-term solution. Once the outbreak is over, more and more brands will continue to normalise their digital marketing activities, and it’ll be important to continue creating an improved and comprehensive digital strategy to keep up. Marrying your on- and offline experiences will give you long-term benefits, making your brand more competitive. Therefore, now is the perfect time for brands to be building on their digital transformation, including developing WeChat mini-programmes to capitalise on these opportunities moving forward.

Is your brand affected by the coronavirus outbreak in China? Do you want to refresh your digital strategy in China? Get in touch to get a free consultation from Croud’s China digital experts.

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