Retail sales in Hong Kong plunged 21% in January as the effects of the coronavirus bit deep and mainland tourists stayed away, but even in this crisis environment brands have an opportunity to connect with consumers by ensuring their actions convey empathy and inspire trust.

And that is something they may have to commit themselves to for the long term as, on Monday, Hong Kong Retail Management Association chairwoman Annie Tse Yau On-yee suggested that retail sales in the first half of the year could fall between 30% and 50% year on year.

Consumers don’t listen when a brand says it cares, notes Terence Ling, Head of Strategy, TBWA\Hong Kong in a WARC Exclusive. “Only actions speak of being caring, especially timely actions that pick up where the public sector falls short,” he writes.

So when Hong Kong public hospitals were under-equipped with protection gear, the Li Ka Shing Foundation donated 250,000 face masks and protective gowns to hospital staff and those in need, while AXA and Ping An Insurance launched free medical coverage for frontline medical staff.

When the government couldn’t provide enough face masks for people, HKTV Mall slashed its sales commission on masks from 25% to 5%. It paid double the price to purchase a mask production facility. Watson's launched an online queuing platform to sell 30,000 boxes of masks without price hikes, and commenced redemption a mere four days later.

“Such deeds may already be having brand and business impact,” says Ling: since the start of the year, Watson’s (majority-owned by Li Ka Shing) had a 16.8-point and 7-point increase in its YouGov Buzz and Recommendation scores respectively. HKTV Mall’s revenue, meanwhile, jumped nearly 50% in January.

In the current environment, his counsel to brands is simple: talk less, do more.

Read more of Terence Ling’s advice to brands in his article To curse or to cherish? How Hong Kong’s brands can conquer the COVID-19 challenge. This is part of a special WARC Snapshot focused on enabling brand marketers to re-strategise amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak. 

Sourced from WARC, South China Morning Post