This article was written by Greg Paull, Co-founder and Principal, R3, and originally appeared in Adweek.
China is approximately three-months ahead of the world in their COVID-19 recovery journey. As its economy begins to open up, companies that have shown to be resilient during the peak of the crisis share one key characteristic – they have made digital a focal point for every touchpoint of their business. This has equipped them with the ability to communicate effectively with their employees and customers, roll out products and services quickly, co-create and collaborate on ideas and solutions, mobilize parts of their supply chain, and most of all, respond to data.
The power of digital technology in marketing during a time like this is not from releasing more videos on YouTube or newsjacking Instagram with memes. It is about maintaining a strong connection between customer and company and using insights from engagement to deliver the products and services that people need.
Here are three lessons from the marketing recovery playbook of some of the country’s best performing brands. What they have demonstrated during the pandemic should inspire marketers everywhere to reconsider what brands can do and what marketing can be.
1. Keep Customers Out of Sight, But Not Out of Reach
Deploying measures to protect the health and wellness of customers has been top priority for major brands. At the peak of the pandemic, this meant closed stores, limited service, and frequent messaging around social distancing etiquette. Fortunately, for resilient brands, reminders to “stay at home” didn’t mean “stay away.” App-based communication has been a central part of marketing strategy for many of China’s biggest companies, for the purpose of being accessible and connected regardless of where you were.
YUM China has been aggressively investing in its digital strategy since 2015 and has grown its digital membership to 230 million members, offering services such as pre-order and tableside order, online queuing, delivery and payment, e-gifting and media. Its centralized platform has also enabled the company to release new products and services with relative speed, economy, and agility. From customized menus to cook-at-home kits, corporate catering services and contactless solutions, communicating with millions was made easier by centralizing the customer database.
2. Make Shopping A Social Event That Delivers Value to Everyone
Yes, it is ironic that shopping can be social when we’re isolated, but social commerce is growing in China. The concept is faintly resonant of that proposed by Groupon – offer bulk sales through social networks – but where Groupon looks at value through the lends of products and services, in China, the real value is in the network.
PinDuoDuo (PDD) is one of the top social commerce companies in China. Established in 2015, it is worth US$50 billion and is owned by Tencent, which owns WeChat, which is used by 1 billion people. As I said previously, the real value is in the network. The company not only sells the usual suspects of cosmetics and televisions, but as a response to the economic impact of COVID-19, PDD is partnering with farmers in rural areas to sell products. In the Yunnan province, PDD has committed to 100 farm projects. It will also educate 5,000 rural talents to specialize in e-commerce and build 100 agricultural product brands.
As recession and unemployment is forcing people to reassess their expenditure, we might see social commerce grow. PDD is most popular in China among people with lower incomes who live in second or third-tier cities. Online e-commerce in the West has largely catered to middle and upper class, with Kantar calculating that the average Amazon shopper’s income is around $84,449.
3. Making Logistics A Key Part of the Customer Experience
From January 26 to March 10, more than 200,000 business owners opened accounts on Alibaba’s food delivery service, Ele.me. According to numbers by Alipay, ten of the most popular fresh delivery online programs on its platform received three times the revenue compared to the period just before the outbreak. Reflecting the demand for delivery services, e-commerce platform Meituan reported that nearly 30% of surveyed restaurants have begun delivery services as a response to the pandemic and nearly half of the surveyed restaurants say they’re getting more than 70% of their revenues from delivery.
Incorporating delivery capability through third-party logistics partners has helped many businesses mitigate some loss of revenue. For companies, this means providing click-to-order for pickup, delivery, and courier service. It also means elevating the status of last-mile delivery in the overall hierarchy of customer experience.
Starbucks, in collaboration with Alibaba, has been exploring self-serve kiosks in supermarkets since 2018. Coffee orders are placed via an app, the coffee is made in a kitchen in the store, and the shopper can pick up their coffee at an unmanned station in 15 minutes. We will probably be seeing more of this type of contact-less delivery in the future.