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  • Kelly Hu

What we can learn from brands in China on marketing during the pandemic?

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

While governments around the world are trying to contain COVID-19, it takes longer than people hope to contain and control the pandemic. We have received numerous requests from overseas brands over the past couple of weeks to share how brands should do marketing during the pandemic and what we can learn from the brands in China.

Should brands stop marketing altogether during the pandemic?

The short answer is no.

The pneumonia epidemic is unfortunately nowhere close to the downswing for most of the world. As a result, the global economy is languishing, with China leading its way to economic recovery. We have had conversations with business owners who expressed their concerns and worries. The goal of 2020 suddenly became how to survive instead of how to grow. With massive furloughs and layoffs and business closing down, most companies' most significant contribution to society is to survive to keep their staff employed. Therefore, the purpose of marketing has since shifted to helping companies survive better during and after this period. Many people today think of marketing as if it were a derogatory term, but it is not. What exactly is marketing? As mentioned in a previous article, the essence of marketing is to establish a connection between product value and user needs.

Good marketing should help society exchange value and make it easier for consumers to find those products or services that meet their needs. In special circumstances such as now, we still need products to serve us, and we need to do marketing to let users know that what they need exist and what can help them during this tough period. Marketing well in a special downtime like this is especially tricky as it is susceptible. However, it is achievable. Marketing plays a significant role in bringing growth to companies but also establishing a sense of social responsibility for them. Therefore, branding and public relations complement each other to the extent to bring value to both society and individual consumers. Therefore, marketing during the pandemic is for the only purpose to serve the needs of consumers.

How should companies do marketing in a special period?

Our recommendation to the companies at this rough time is to target three things in their marketing:

1)get the consumer insights on what consumers need at this time

2)provide value to their customers

3)give away some benefits for public welfare within companies' capability.

We can also provide additional recommendations based on the categories of the companies.

Category A: companies in the high-demand industries

What are some high-demand industries? These are the needs that people spawn when they are isolated at home. Some of the examples include online education and software for remote office/working. For these companies, the best way to do marketing is through giving up their short-term gains, satisfying the needs of different groups of people, and highlighting the various forms of public welfare to provide users.

For example, having a long staycation without schooling is a huge pain point for students and parents. In particular, it is worrying that many primary and secondary school students are under pressure to have standard exams to further their education.

As a result, online education providers became popular. One led by NetEase Youdao proposed free courses for Wuhan students who were most affected by the pandemic. Institutions such as Ape Tutor and also followed closely and added benefits to increase the scope of free learning courses to elementary and middle school students nationwide. NetEase Youdao and Ape Tutor also provide free classes for working adults who are bored at home; it is one of their prime time to take advantage of the unexpected downtime to improve themselves. Mantou Business School, a paying education institute, also seized this window and started a series of public welfare live classes, which not only gained word of mouth reputation but also received consumer attention. Not only did users not criticize this type of marketing, but they embraced it. Because it does solve users' problems. Before the pandemic, online education has reached a point where the cost of acquiring customers is exceptionally high, and the competition is so fierce that many smaller players cannot afford it. During this time, they have become the best products to solve people's needs.

Similarly, because of the epidemic, everyone can't go out to work, and remote office software has become a rigid need for various organizations.

For instance, Shimo, a remote collaboration software, proposed to provide a free version software for Wuhan's non-profit organizations. During the epidemic, the personal version of the software was also automatically upgraded to the remote version, which is more in line with the office needs of many companies. New types of remote office service providers in the vertical field, such as video conferencing expert Zoom and Xiaoyu Yilian, have also launched free services.

Category B: Other online businesses that have a smaller impact under the pandemic

These types of online businesses have a strong demand during the pandemic. For example, we are all familiar with the content industry. These companies that originally focused on online business can use this time to combine their professional capabilities to see if they can solve users' problems during this difficult period. It not only helps the companies to expand the audience, enhances their influence, but also provides actual value for readers or viewers. For example, Paper Clips has been doing science knowledge videos. Recently, a video of "Everything about the New Corona Virus" came out. Naturally, it achieved over 30 million views, hundreds of thousands of fans, momentarily.

Li Jiaqi, one of the top two live streaming KOLs in China who specializes in selling products through livestreaming, also leveraged his own credibility and influence for public welfare. On the Taobao live broadcast platform on Chinese New Year's Eve, he called on his followers to donate to the Wuhan pandemic through a fundraising project initiated by Alibaba. As of 1:30 am on the first day of the Chinese New Year, he raised a total of 71.4 million RMB.

During this time, the demand for content consumption has increased substantially. After this epidemic, companies should think more about how to improve their content production capabilities and talent construction in content marketing.

Category C: Businesses that have been hard hit by the epidemic: including catering, offline stores, consumption, retail, etc.

For these businesses, the reform is not just about marketing, but more about the business model, as the battlefield has migrated from offline to online, and marketing is used to promote online products and services. For example, Xibei Catering has set a model for the general catering industry in this regard. Because of the severe losses the chain restaurants have incurred, Xi Guobei Chairman Jia Guolong had to reach for help. He mentioned in February that his company's cash flow could only last for 3 months. The news was explosive, and Xibei immediately promoted the takeaway business, transformed the in-restaurant dining into the takeaway, and donated many takeaways to the front line medical workers in Wuhan.

Traditional real estate companies have also seized the opportunity to transform. VR house viewing was once an aspirational project of Shell, a real estate company, and it was quickly adopted by many real estate companies during the epidemic, becoming an important step in the transformation of online marketing for realtor companies.

In the offline gym space, Super Orangutan tried online live classes for the first time during the pandemic and achieved unexpected results. In the first live broadcast, more than 170,000 people were online at the same time, making it a Top one in the category. In addition to these platforms, we have also paid close attention to the dynamics of the consumer industry. Almost every company in the consumer industry has a long supply chain, involving not only factories, logistics, but also e-commerce and online marketing. The epidemic has affected almost every aspect of the consumer industry. So the consumer industry need to act.

The food industry actively participates in the rescue of the hungry through public welfare. For example, Sandunpan, a young innovative brand in the coffee industry, announced that they will send coffee and vacuum cups to the medical staff in the Wuhan front line, which was well-received by the public. In the face of disaster, do what you can and do what you are good at. In addition to the food industry, people asks what about those companies that are difficult to ship or most of their businesses are offline? Our advice is to think about what value you can provide as a brand. These values ​​can be sold to consumers through marketing methods, such as discounts and promotions, to prepare for the sales period after logistics is smooth. It is also possible to convey spiritual satisfaction through content or make people gain awareness. For instance, some beauty brands can do online makeup tutorials. In addition, during this "not so busy" time, in fact, marketing or operations departments can choose to run their own private domain traffic during this period to achieve online promotion. For example, Perfect Diary launched a Valentine ’s Day-themed game in advance, allowing users to both passed the time and got exclusive coupons when playing, to find the fun of buying and buying.

Is marketing trying to help companies make money?

Many people think that marketing is about helping companies make money. In reality, marketing is about managing the growth and traffic, branding, and the power and social responsibility behind the brand. Marketing is not just about attracting new customers; it should also help companies build soft power, shape corporate values, and enhance corporate social responsibility. If you are a business owner, it's time for you to reflect your business and the brand power, trust, and social responsibility your business holds. This epidemic is not only a disaster but also a mirror. The long-lasting businesses are usually the ones with good reputation. For example, if you order takeaway now, will you care more about safety and only order large brand chain stores? In the face of the epidemic, people's trust in any brand has dropped sharply, and the need for safety is even worse. What marketing can do at this time is to help companies practice social responsibility and build long-term brand power. Internet celebrity Xin Youzhi went on a hot search because he donated 100 million yuan. When most netizens did not know who he was and doubted whether it was a fraudulent donation, the other person's 100 million yuan in cash had already arrived. Simba and Meituan's actions during the epidemic Other stars who donated to Wuhan may not remember it, but netizens have recognized the responsible post-90s celebrity. At this time, corporate marketing may refer to Meituan. Affected by the epidemic, Meituan's takeaway orders fell. Instead of trying to make money, Meituan chose an opposite path and spread money out. Of course, donating this kind of cash requires extra effort. Enterprises should use their own conditions as a benchmark to measure their capabilities and ensure that they have sufficient operating reserve funds before considering whether to donate. Externally, the enterprise has social responsibility; internally, the enterprise has a more social responsibility towards their employees.

Haidilao, a catering and chain restaurant in China, was fast in its response to the pandemic. It quickly made detailed work and rest schedule for employees, and filled it with various learning courses. It not only meets the needs of employees to improve themselves but also improves the competitiveness of employees in the entire industry, thereby enhancing the entire enterprise's effectiveness.

Finally, marketing under the epidemic situation is a true test of the company's ability to respond. Companies should do marketing for the long-term benefits of the enterprise and for people to get some value and comfort from this disaster. At the same time, during this period, companies can better reflect on their business models, polish their products, and improve their organizations.

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