Brands need to communicate more – not less – with Chinese consumers during the coronavirus outbreak

As the coronavirus continues to impact the world, brands need to approach Chinese consumers with emotional intelligence, rather than going quiet, argues Richard Chapman.

In light of the devastation caused by the bushfires and the recent outbreak of coronavirus, many brands and marketers are remaining silent or putting their communications on hold for fear of saying the wrong thing or being perceived to be behaving opportunistically.

Brands need to ensure their moral compasses are pointing in the direction of empathy and understanding.

The coronavirus demands a level of emotional intelligence and empathy from brands

As the coronavirus continues to dominate global headlines and more people fall ill, we need to understand the way the Australian Chinese community is feeling and be sympathetic to the impact the outbreak of coronavirus has had, not just on them personally, but, importantly, on their families back home.

As chief health officer of Victoria Brett Sutton noted: “False assumptions are being made about people of Asian appearance which is causing great distress to individuals and communities. We should be reaching out to the Chinese and the broader Asian community at this extremely difficult time for them.”

Australian residents with Chinese ancestry are now in excess of 1.2m – that’s nearly 5% of our total population. On top of this number, there are another 800,000 international Chinese students in addition to 1.5m inbound Chinese tourists visiting our shores, who, on average, spend $8,500 per trip. 38% of our exports go to China ($12bn of Australian products every month).

Recent data is telling us that more and more consumers are preferencing brands that stand for something and do what they say they are going to do. The brands that purely pay lip service are spotted a mile away and consumers are now turning their backs on businesses seen to be leveraging crises in a transactional way for gain.

A McKinsey China study revealed that the typical Chinese customer requires eight brand touchpoints before making a purchase decision. That’s four more than western customers.

Brands need to let the Chinese community know they care and that they are there to support them during these times of complexity. Businesses can’t market to them during the good times and shut down when conversations get difficult or when we don’t know what to say.

Brands need identities, and those identities should reflect the identities of their customer base. Brands have the opportunity to not just advertise, but to create an identity and resonate with specific communities.

And today, it’s imperative for brands to demonstrate an understanding of their customers; being empathetic is more important than ever. Companies can build an emotional connection with customers through a sympathetic lens and that allows them to build deeper connections built around authentic conversations.

Right now, this empathy to Chinese customers can be demonstrated through messages of care and support delivered at the right time and on the right channels. The messages communicated should be considered in terms of language, cultural sensitivities and be delivered on platforms Chinese customers consume daily, such as We Chat, Weibo and Douyin (Tik Tok) in addition to western platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

With gyms closed across China, for example, Lululemon shared a list of trainers who were offering online workout classes. Each trainer’s profile included a QR code to a dedicated live-streaming platform or to their Douyin account. As a result, Lululemon helped its followers stay fit and active from within their homes.

For businesses, it’s important the messages reflect their values, demonstrate a global mindset and are inclusive. While we don’t know the long-term view or outcomes for the coronavirus, connection with Chinese communities will be achieved through continually coming back to a lens of wanting to establish authentic connections.

Brands can’t just stop communicating in times of a crisis. Instead, they need to maintain the connection with Chinese audiences and connect on a more emotional level.

Richard Chapman is the chief executive of Bastion China and Bastion Effect


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