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How advertisers should respond to the coronavirus pandemic

By Richard Zhu, Chief financial officer

February 19, 2020 | 4 min read

For overseas brands, concerns around the coronavirus outbreak in China have brought difficulties to many industries, while others are experience success and opportunity due to crisis response and preparedness. So, what have these organizations done to thrive, and what can other businesses do differently to match their success during the outbreak?

Adult holding phone

Responding to Coronavirus: strategic brand advice

In my role at United Media Solution (UMS), an independent digital marketing-to-China agency, I lead the Establish team which provides China consultancy and advisory services. For the last two months, we have been closely researching the outbreak’s effect on different industries, providing expert advice regarding overall strategy and marketing activities in China. I strongly encourage organizations to utilize our consulting services to assist your organization in addressing the points below.

One of the biggest changes that has affected business in China is the closure of warehouses, physical stores and supply chains. To mitigate interruption, organizations should be increasing the weight of budget allocation towards diversifying their trade and e-commerce channels, including the establishment of a self-run e-commerce eco-system with payment and tracking/tagging functions. This greatly reduces risk, and for international brands that adopt this recommendation early, the impact of ongoing trade operations during the outbreak may be minimized.

In line with this, the main market trend we have observed is the increase in online purchases being made, as physical stores remain closed across China. Offline sales activity is expected to be severely affected in the first and better part of the second quarter (if not all of Q2) of 2020. This further escalates the need for organizations to establish and upgrade online sales functionalities across more than one e-commerce platform.

An estimated 50 million people are now on lockdown in China, leaving many residents with more spare time than ever before. Unsurprisingly, many are turning to social platforms, e-commerce and entertainment activities as a result. This shift has drastically changed the online environment and poses as an interesting opportunity for businesses to capture new customers and reach extended audiences.

Firstly, before any campaigns are launched it is imperative that organizations research market options, the success and failures of competitors and revisit user profiles. Through regular target audience monitoring and client user profile research, unless your organization provides a specific product or service for a niche market in China, almost all Chinese target audiences will have changed radically. This should be addressed before publishing any new major campaign.

I strongly suggest that brands that have scheduled posts or campaigns that are heavily affected by the virus should shift their marketing focus and re-shape their content. However, brands should not stop social activities altogether. Instead, take this crises-emerged opportunity to create a well-established digital footprint in China’s internet surroundings. Targeted campaigns that provide general product information or increase brand awareness should continue to prevent disruption.

To reach your new audience, you must keep your content engaging. Our research has found that during this short period of isolation, participatory topics and activities such as games, voting and questionnaires are currently receiving a lot more attention and are being shared further across online networks. In addition, subscription-based at-home training/education apps are experiencing explosive user growth. For these companies, their ability to clearly map out user behavior and drive engagement once the virus has subsided will determine whether they will be able to retain their new users and further grow their communities.

Finally, in a crisis such as this, fear and heightened anxiety will likely be aimed at your organization in the form of questions and negative feedback – especially if your organization is heavily affected by the outbreak. It is crucial that more manpower is allocated towards responding to and monitoring online verbatim and public opinion, as well as redirecting traffic to your main official accounts. Any important announcements should be published in a simple and easily shareable format.

United Media Solutions (UMS) is a full-service independent agency that specializes in digital and social marketing-to-China.


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