3 Coronavirus B2C Marketing Lessons From China

March 30, 2020
Contributor: Laura Starita

B2C marketers are braving new territory as they seek new ways to engage home-bound, remote-working and income-stressed customers.

Starbucks’ WeChat account features a cartoon barista instructing readers on how to brew the perfect cup of coffee — at home. Nike posted a series of videos on Douyin (China’s version of TikTok) with trainers doing at-home workouts. Beauty brand SkinCeuticals offers tips to protect skin from dry indoor air and long hours looking at a screen.

Welcome to brand engagement during the coronavirus pandemic. Marketers are rewriting the B2C marketing playbook to keep their brands strong through the crisis. During this period of high sensitivity and limited choice, effective marketers communicate with customers through new media and take actions that are authentic and sensitive.

Read More: Adjust Your Marketing Strategy for COVID-19

Consumer Sentiment About COVID-19

Understand the cultural implication and consumer behavior amidst COVID-19.

Companies in China are the unwilling pioneers in this experiment, and the approaches they’ve forged since the beginning of 2020 are providing useful lessons to brands beyond China’s borders. One key reality is that online time increased by 20% for Chinese consumers in February, creating a clear channel for reaching customers.

Acknowledge the reality

The coronavirus outbreak is a tragedy, and many brands have struggled with the question of whether to promote their products at a time when people are scared and struggling with illness and financial uncertainty.

One approach embraced by brands like L’Oreal, LVMH, Richemont and others is to focus first on social needs by directing financial donations and supplies to hard-hit regions. Brands share their philanthropic activity with followers on social channels. Starbucks took a slightly different approach by positioning itself as an information provider with videos on the proper way to wear a face mask or wash your hands.

Read More: Embrace Proactive Customer Experience in the Midst of COVID-19

Promotional marketing hasn’t stopped, either, although many brands have shifted the tone of their messaging. Products that are particularly useful right now reach customers by focusing on comfort, support or personal care. Starbucks’ brewing video is one example. L’Oreal is another: The cosmetics brand sent well-wishes from Paris, followed by subtle recommendations for eye cream and make-up that can protect skin from dry indoor air.

The take-away for brands in and beyond China:

Focus on tasteful brand-building that is context-aware and supportive. Listen closely for changes to consumer sentiment and adjust the content strategy accordingly. 

Move event and location-based marketing to video

In-store promotions, event-linked campaigns, out-of-home messaging and other analog campaign formats are off the table given the cancelation of events, travel and activities. Stuck at home, Chinese consumers spent an average of six hours a day in February online. Many forms of online entertainment saw a boost in traffic as a result.

Numerous brands embraced the new reality by creating video experiences for customers. The Nike trainer videos are just one example of a fitness brand providing virtual experiences; fitness app KEEP and Chinese gym brand Super Monkey also offered their versions of online classes and workouts.

Fashion brands have also embraced virtual experiences. Dior’s Chinese celebrity influencers promoted the brand’s Paris Fashion Week show from their social accounts when they couldn’t take their front-row places in person. Intime Department Stores, a leading Chinese retailer, trained sales associates to use Taobao’s live-streaming functionality, and partnered with Alibaba to create a landing page for the live streams to live. These resources allowed quarantined customers to engage with salespeople from their homes, resulting in impressive sales.

The take-away for brands in and beyond China:

Online video creates high levels of customer engagement. In the past, brands have focused on produced content, but the immediacy of live streaming enables brands to move and adjust faster, and may offer a more authentic experience.

Stay transparent about what you can deliver

When Chinese diaper brand Mooney ran out of face masks and wipes, it acknowledged the stock depletion, and then adjusted the calculations for loyalty program members so that they would need fewer points to buy popular products. In this way, Mooney turned a reality of the current time into a trust-building opportunity.

Closed factories and limited mobility have taken their toll on company supply chains. Some brands have experienced lower production volumes; others have a full supply of products but can’t get them to customers as quickly as they normally would. No brand wants to announce when it can’t provide a high level of service, yet people get that the circumstances related to coronavirus are not normal. Brands do themselves and their customers a service by providing clear and accurate information about which products they have in stock and when they can deliver them. 

The take-away for brands in and beyond China:

Communicate realistic expectations on product availability and delivery — it reassures consumers and sends the message that the brand is aware of the current uncertain reality and has put measures and communications in place. Post on social media to update shoppers on store closures and provide multiple digital channels for customer support.

Gartner clients can access a range of coronavirus-related resources here.  Gartner for Marketers clients can read the full research report  How the COVID-19 Coronavirus Has Changed the B2C Marketing Approach in China and What Western Brands Can Learn  by Danielle Bailey. 

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