Retailers in China have been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, but there are a number of ways they can weather the crisis, including rethinking their marketing approach.

The outbreak emerged just before the eve of the Lunar New Year period, which typically sees the Chinese travel back to their hometowns for family reunions with gifts, and which is an important shopping period.

“Normally, consumers would hit the stores even after Chinese New Year,” pointed out Zoe Cheng, head of growth at Shanghai-based retail tech firm Cosmose.

But home quarantines and work-from-home policies have “minimised people’s outdoor exposure”, resulting in “a really sharp decline in foot traffic in shopping malls”, she told a recent webinar. (For more details, read WARC’s report: Four ways hard-hit retailers can overcome the coronavirus crisis.)

Many malls and stores have consequently chosen to shorten their business hours or shut completely, as Disneyland and Starbucks did.

And while the COVID-19 situation shows no sign of abating just yet, “there is no need to stop marketing”, Cheng advised.

Community-building should be the focus, while balancing sales with branding, she said – “it is important not to do any [insensitive] hard-selling.”

Instead, “soft-selling is required to maintain your brand awareness and recognition [levels], so your customers are familiar with the vocabulary of your brand, and can respond well once they are ready to spend again,” Cheng explained.

Showing sensitivity to consumers does not equate to silence, though, an approach that global brands may be leaning towards given the spate of public apologies several have had to make in the past year.

“A lot of international brands are afraid to say the wrong thing and cause offence during this time,” Cheng acknowledged. “Showing empathy during this crisis is far better than being silent,” she argued.

For example, the CEO of Swiss luxury watch brand Breitling, Georges Kern, showed his support in a video post on the company’s Weibo page, along with the brand's celebrity ambassadors Yao Chen and Daniel Wu.

From a marketing perspective, ‘go beyond the product’ is Cheng’s advice. “This is something brands should pay attention to.”

Sourced from WARC