With the ongoing coronavirus in China (now spreading to the rest of the world), knowing how to manage a digital marketing campaign in the country is tough. The vast majority of the Chinese population is all-consumed by the virus, either in government-imposed quarantine or changing the way they eat, shop, travel, and live to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
And with high streets empty and consumers at home, local and international businesses are adapting their strategies to prop up their revenues. Car manufacturers are turning to online sales as consumers keep away from showrooms, realtors are using virtual reality to show people around properties, and eLearning has grown by $3.2 billion since the virus began.
Though Chinese New Year is often the peak season for internet usage in China, this year’s celebrations were muted, and consumers are still indoors browsing their smartphones. In fact, research shows that social networks like Douyin and Kuaishou are recruiting users at breakneck speeds, with popular influencers gaining millions of followers in just a few weeks.
And whilst much of the talk centres around the virus, users are also searching for recipes, gaming, comedy, lifestyle content, and celebrity news and gossip to keep them occupied.
As a UK business with a presence in China, you might be tempted to “keep calm and carry on” with your existing campaign, or perhaps even go quiet until the dust settles, but there’s a more sensitive and appropriate course of action that you should follow, as we outline below...
Show your support
Perhaps the most important change to your strategy should be supporting those who have been affected by the virus. It’s natural to err on the side of caution, worried you’re going to say the wrong thing, but showing your support and empathy is key to winning over followers.
Sending an encouraging message from time to time, creating educational content on how to stay safe and hygienic during the crisis, and offering free products and services to those in need will help you win favour and demonstrate your commitment to China and its people.
Where possible, you could make a donation to a charity such as the Hubei Red Cross and encourage your followers on social media to do the same, without patronising or pressuring.
It’s very important that you make a clear distinction between the virus and your products and services; don’t try to piggyback off of the virus to sell more of your wares, as it will come across as insensitive and insulting. Unless your product directly relates to hygiene and the virus (soaps and detergents, for example), steer clear of linking the two separate subjects.
Though your products and services may not be directly linked to coronavirus, you might be surprised to see increased demand, especially if you offer digital services or have a WeChat Mini App where people can engage with your brand. Industries such as entertainment, health, fitness, and online learning are seeing the biggest spikes, as consumers look to fill their time in quarantine and keep themselves occupied. If you fall into those categories, you could consider opening up your services for free during the crisis or offering extended free trials to aid those affected, and subtly build brand awareness and increase post-crisis sales.
If you offer workout videos via an app, for example, you could offer access for free and let users work out during the crisis, reminding followers that it’s important to exercise and stay fit during an epidemic. With the right strategy, you’ll gain followers and become part of the story, without putting your products and services in users’ faces or being too promotional.
If you were running a promotion, giveaway, or influencer campaign before the crisis began, consider halting it as soon as you can. Running a sale or offering discounts will appear out of touch when the rest of the country and local businesses are responding more sensitively.
Where possible, put the breaks on any advertisements you had planned. Check your content calendars, things you had scheduled to be sent on social media and published on your site, and reassess your strategy to ensure you’re operating in a thoughtful and tactful manner.
That doesn’t mean you have to go quiet. See what your competitors are posting about and follow suit, and add more entertainment value to your existing content. Online gaming has exploded in recent weeks as consumers look for distractions from the news, so if you’ve built a game or Mini Program that users might enjoy, consider rolling it out to fans to play with.
Go digital - and evolve
If you simply cannot press pause on your Chinese operations due to operational costs or supply, bring your services online whenever possible. The chances are that you already have a strong digital presence, but if you operated offline, then launching an e-commerce website, or partnering with one of China’s e-commerce giants like Taobao and Tmall, will stand you in the best position should the crisis continue for an extended period of time.
The key to your short- and long-term success will be your ability to evolve and spot new opportunities to sell and offer value to consumers. Chinese food delivery company Meituan, for example, is receiving four times as many orders this month as it did in the same period last year, and though it has suffered from a shortage of delivery drivers, it’s begun using unmanned delivery vehicles to ensure food arrives at consumers’ homes in record speeds.
Delivery companies are also evolving to offer grocery deliveries for the first time, as buyers are choosing to stay indoors to avoid the risk of interacting with others face-to-face. It’s this speed and ability to adapt to changing market demands that are allowing companies to grow.
The truth is, we don’t know for certain the long-term implications the coronavirus outbreak will have on China or other parts of the world. What is important to remember, however, is that these circumstances are temporary, and things should return to normal in the months ahead, with consumer confidence and consumption bouncing back to pre-crisis levels.
In the meantime, what your business does now will determine how it will be perceived in the future. Focus on building brand awareness and loyalty, and you’ll be rewarded; look for short-term wins that increase sales but alienate customers, and your brand will struggle to recover. Reach out to the Chinese digital marketing experts at Zudu if you need assistance.