Amid challenges such as climate change and natural disasters, some principles that marketing strategies in Asia Pacific should focus on are authenticity, transparency and open communication, says Ruder Finn’s David Ko.
In the face of intensifying global risks, such as the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and escalating climate change, the Asia Pacific region has had to grapple with an array of crises. These compounding events, including cyclones, floods, volcanic eruptions and landslides, have caused immense suffering and devastation. Amid these crises, the role of marketers becomes significantly challenging as they strive to articulate empathy and support for their customers and communities without appearing insensitive or self-serving.
Why does their role matter? A study by Bain suggests that consumers in APAC are just as concerned about environmental, social and corporate governance issues as their Western counterparts. Brands play a crucial role in addressing these concerns, possessing the resources to effect change and significant influence over consumer behavior and public opinion. Their actions can inspire individuals, other businesses, even governments to prioritise and address environmental issues.
In this guide, we delve deeper into strategies that marketers in APAC can utilise to navigate these challenging times effectively, focusing on principles such as authenticity, context awareness, transparency, open communication and the role of content marketing, crisis communication, social responsibility and innovative strategies.
Authenticity: A crucial element
First and foremost, authenticity is crucial. Brands need to demonstrate a sincere and consistent commitment to climate action and disaster recovery. This means adopting sustainable business practices and always supporting long-term relief efforts, not just when there are inciting incidents.
Unilever, a global consumer goods company with a robust presence in Asia Pacific, have set ambitious goals to reduce their environmental impact and improve social well-being. During crises, it leverages its expertise and resources to provide aid and assistance. For instance, following the 2015 Nepal earthquake, it donated hygiene kits, water purifiers and solar lamps to the affected communities.
Another brand that has exemplified authenticity is Samsung. After the 2018 Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia, the South Korean electronics giant donated cash, smartphones, tablets and solar-powered generators to the disaster victims. It also initiated a long-term partnership with Habitat for Humanity Indonesia to rebuild homes and schools in the affected areas.
Role of content marketing during crises
Content marketing plays a pivotal role during crises, helping brands communicate their values, actions and initiatives. The creation and sharing of valuable content attract, inform and engage an audience, leading to conversions. During a crisis, this can involve updating customers about changes to operations, explaining how the brand is supporting relief efforts or providing useful information to help customers navigate the crisis.
Content that educates, entertains or otherwise adds value can be a powerful engagement tool during a crisis. This could include blog posts, webinars, e-books or video tutorials related to the crisis or offering solutions to problems customers might be facing.
The principle of context awareness is critical. A brand's response to a crisis should be in line with its existing identity and relationships with the affected communities. AirAsia, a Malaysian low-cost airline known for its innovative and customer-centric approach, exemplifies context awareness. During the 2014 floods in Malaysia, AirAsia offered free flights to aid workers and volunteers, and discounted fares for flood victims – actions that were consistent with its brand values and resonated with its customers.
Transparency and open communication
Transparency is another key element and brands should be clear and honest about their motives and actions. Consumers have become increasingly savvy and can easily identify greenwashing or false claims. Brands should avoid overselling their impact and instead focus on delivering tangible outcomes.
Moreover, maintaining open lines of communication with the community is vital. Marketing is not a one-way street, especially in times of crisis. By listening and responding to the needs and concerns of the affected people, brands can demonstrate empathy and design more effective interventions.
Grab, a Singapore-based ride-hailing company, launched a “GrabBayanihan” program in the Philippines to provide free transportation for healthcare workers during the COVID-19 crisis. This initiative was not a top-down decision but a response to community feedback, thereby emphasising the importance of listening and responding to the community's needs.
Crises often underscore the importance of community. Brands can foster a sense of community among their customers by creating online forums or social media groups where customers can connect, share experiences and support each other. They can also host virtual events or challenges to bring customers together.
Crisis communication and customer relations
In times of crisis, customers often turn to a brand’s social media channel or customer service team for information and support. Therefore, brands need to have a robust crisis communication plan in place. This plan should outline how the brand will communicate with customers during a crisis, including the channels they will use, the type of content they will share and the tone they will adopt. It should also identify key stakeholders and decision makers, and establish clear roles and responsibilities. Brands should strive to provide regular updates, respond to customer inquiries promptly and empathetically, and be transparent about the situation and their response.
Corporate social responsibility and ethical marketing practices
Another important aspect of marketing in times of crisis is social responsibility and ethical marketing practices. Brands should ensure that their actions and communications align with ethical standards and societal expectations. They should avoid exploiting a crisis for promotional purposes, or making false or misleading claims about their products or initiatives. Brands can demonstrate social responsibility by supporting relief efforts, adopting sustainable business practices, and advocating for social and environmental issues.
Brands can show their support for local communities affected by the crisis through various initiatives. This could include donating a portion of sales to relief efforts, partnering with local businesses or non-profits, or sponsoring community events or projects. Such initiatives can help to build goodwill and strengthen relationships with customers.
Agility and innovation in marketing strategies
In the face of crises, brands need to exhibit agility and innovation in their marketing strategies. This might involve pivoting their marketing campaigns, adapting their products or services, or finding new ways to engage with and support their customers.
COVID-19, for example, saw many brands shifting their focus to digital marketing and e-commerce as customers spent more time online and shopped from home. Others developed new products or services to meet changing customer needs, such as virtual events, home delivery options or wellness-focused products.
Brands might also innovate by using technology and data to personalise their marketing messages, improve customer experiences or streamline their operations. However, it's important that these innovations are driven by customer needs and values, rather than merely chasing trends or technology for their own sake.
Marketing in times of crisis requires brands to be authentic, transparent and responsive to their customers and communities. By leveraging content marketing, crisis communication, corporate social responsibility and innovative strategies, brands can navigate these challenges effectively and contribute to a more resilient and sustainable future.
As brands respond to the complex and cascading risks of our world today, they must ensure their actions are ethically grounded. These events should not be seen as opportunities to promote a brand's image but rather, as chances to use a brand's influence and resources for the greater good. This is not only ethical marketing but also a way of building a more resilient and sustainable region in the face of multiple crises.
Brands that can authentically show care and compassion during times of crisis will not only strengthen their relationships with their customers and communities but also enhance their reputation and resilience in the long run. As we navigate through these challenging times, it is the brands that rise to the occasion with empathy, authenticity and responsibility that will make a lasting impact.