At the time of writing – the 5th of February – China and the world are in the midst of the coronavirus situation.
There is a lot to understand about the current reality and, from a business and brand perspective, what you can be doing and saying in China. Being in China, we see a calm situation. There is no mania or hysteria as may be reflected in some media worldwide, but instead there is a spirit of solidarity and togetherness in understanding how the situation is evolving.
To help, we’ve put together a set of guidelines (general rather than prescriptive) to help brands navigate the evolving situation. Of course, your precise strategy depends on the nature of your business, the sector you operate in and your business model. However, this should provide some basic principles as you take steps over the next few days.
1 – MONITOR AND EVALUATE
Understanding the reality of the situation is vital in any crisis. You must put in place a robust system to monitor and evaluate the unfolding status. This may include
– Market scans: See what other brands in the sector are doing. This does not mean that one brand should copy another, but gauging what others are doing in terms of their communications – and observing reaction – is a helpful way to be on the right path.
– Assess events: Many events are currently being postponed in February and March. For example, Design Shanghai, one of the biggest events of the season, has been postponed until May. This is a good indication of the timeline for events and the overall situation. These events will be done with government approval, and so if confirmed for May, then postponing February and March events just a couple of months is a stable option.
– Pay attention to government communications: Both national and local level authorities are providing advice and direction on an almost daily basis in terms of how businesses should respond and act during this time – from official opening dates and when employees can work, to notice on hosting events. Businesses must adhere to government policy.
2 – STRATEGIC RESPONSE
The feeling in China is something of isolation and mis-understanding by the outside world. Is the situation serious? Yes. Is it being handled with the goal of resolution as swiftly as possible? Yes.
A brand that is truly part of China should remain conscious of their customers’ sentiments. It’s wise to find a middle ground in terms of outgoing messaging that is in tune with the feelings of the time.
– Don’t remain silent: At such a time where such focus is on one issue – with China at the centre – stopping communications altogether and closing shop (unless advised by authorities) can be perceived as though you are running from China and insensitive to the situation. You should engage with both external and internal stakeholders to reassure and provide guidance where necessary.
– Show empathy in your communications: On commerciality, switch to more personal and emotional messaging. Speak with your people, teams and agencies on the ground and find out what they are going through. Corporate responsibility should now come in to its own.
– Communications should reflect your values: This is a time to live your positive values as a brand.
– Actions speak louder than words: Some brands are looking at CSR initiatives such as donations and product contributions. Think about whether to reduce the frequency of social media posts.
– Adapt your communications to the current sentiment: This is not the month to heavily promote a Valentine’s Day sales promotion. Create relevant content – and it doesn’t only have to be about donating funds or aid. Speak with agencies and even influencers who, previously collaborating on a commercial basis, can now feedback their feelings on the situation.
3 – PREPARE FOR RECOVERY
The coronavirus situation will improve and China will absolutely bounce back to full strength. When it does, your business needs to be ready and able to recover just as fast, with a plan of re-scheduled events, campaigns and communications, and the capability to recapture the previous momentum that China had.
Now is the time to show your brand’s genuine support for China. Those that do have been shown to win. Running from China during the bad times will be remembered, as will a supportive and empathetic response. Show that you are standing shoulder to shoulder with China during this difficult time – a time when everyone is paying attention.