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Lessons from China: Preparing for a Post COVID-19 Rebound

3/25/2020
— Penny Burgess, CEO WE Red Bridge 

While the rest of the world is still reeling from the global pandemic, China is beginning to embrace its “new normal.” In the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, business leaders and communicators are coming back to their 2020 plans and asking themselves, “Where do we go from here?”

Without a doubt, the entire ecosystem has experienced fundamental changes. The country is still not operating on full throttle — government restrictions on travel and gathering sizes remain in place. Factories and production lines are slowly returning to full operations. Most of all, the consumer mindset has shifted. What was business as usual is not the case and will not be the case.

What this pause provides is a chance for a business to increase its resilience. As our Purpose in China study pointed out, it is times like these when brands must own their purpose and lean into it. This is the time for brands in China to act upon their purpose to build brand affinity that will carry on well beyond the outbreak and into the new normal.

Here are some of the recommendations for brands operating within China, and even those outside China, to prepare for the eventual end to the pandemic and a rebound in consumption.

GET CREATIVE WITH CONNECTION

COVID-19 remains top of mind for every Chinese consumer and still dominates social and traditional media conversations, despite the slowing spread within the country. This is not a time for hard selling, promotional activities and messaging.

Instead, this is a prime opportunity for brands to support the country’s emergence from this challenging period and be a source of escapism and joy. Brands that experiment, using new technology to connect with customers in meaningful ways authentic to their organization’s purpose, will be remembered and be top of mind in the new normal.

Chinese New Year, although a time of family gathering, is also a key period for movie releases across the country. With people staying home instead of crowding theaters for the latest releases, ByteDance, the parent company of Douyin/TikTok, established a new distribution method for feature-length films as the exclusive release platform for the film Lost in Russia. The one-off movie launch has led to further collaboration with the film’s studio across ByteDance’s platforms.

Even Shanghai Disney Resort, a tourist destination, found ways to embrace “online tourism,” providing an escape from the stress and anxiety of social distancing while enabling fans to interact with the brands and its characters through encouraging family-oriented leisure time.

LEVERAGE COMPETENCIES TO YOUR COMMUNITY’S BENEFIT

Our Brands in Motion global study showed that, in times of crisis, businesses have a responsibility to set up to support the communities they operate in and act as a stabilizing force in uncertain times. Brands must act true to their purpose, remembering those they support are their community, not just their consumers, and prioritizing people over promotional value.

Take Alibaba as an example. Not only has the company donated more than 40 million medical products to Wuhan, the virus’s epicenter, but the company is also using its supply-chain management expertise to open a “green channel” to transport medical supplies to the hardest-hit communities, and using its technology infrastructure to build a free-to-use community prevention app.

Committed to providing its users with ways to remain active during lockdowns while physical fitness facilities are closed, Keep, China’s leading fitness app, stepped up by adding a dedicated selection of in-home workouts to its offering.

The brands that go beyond donations, acting in authentic and genuine ways by leveraging their capabilities, will be those remembered for driving positive impact during the crisis.

PREPARE FOR A REBOUND

Although it is too early to tell the full global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the end will happen. In the case of China, at a much later stage of the outbreak, Chinese consumers are eager to get out and spend after months of restrictions.

But brands that expect to simply flip the switch on old strategies may struggle. 

Back in 2003, the SARS epidemic accelerated the growth of China’s e-commerce sector. In the case of COVID-19, it will push businesses to reconsider their sales and engagement channels to adapt to the changing consumer landscape. Businesses will need to adapt, and adapt quickly.

When reevaluating your strategies through today’s lens, here are some of key questions business leaders and communicators need to consider:

  • Have our consumers’ needs changed?
  • How do our offerings and communications messages need to evolve?
  • Are there different ways and more suitable platforms to help us better support and connect with our consumers?
  • What ways can we build brand affinity now to translate to sales when spending returns?

The brands that adopt a long-term perspective, lean into their brand’s purpose and competencies, and plan for an eventual rebound will be successful in navigating the post-COVID-19 consumer landscape.

 

Learn more about planning for the rebound in our report Business Continuity in the Era of COVID-19.