Roxanne Millar: What every brand needs to know based on the past two months in China

Roxanne Millar: What every brand needs to know based on the past two months in China

By Roxanne Millar, General Manager, Bastion Effect and Bastion China.


For the past several months China has been grappling with what the rest of Australia is now facing – a health pandemic, orders to stay home and fears for our loved ones, particularly those in ill health.

By no means out of the woods, China is starting to get back to its old self. People are returning to work, luxury malls are reopening and shoppers are returning to the market. Store traffic is up after falling as much as 80 per cent and some are saying the recovery could accelerate, driven by “revenge spending”.

At our sister business Bastion China, we’ve been monitoring the landscape for some time and can share some insights for brands in Australia wondering what’s next?

Turn to content

With a shift to a ‘homebody economy’ the brands that adapt their strategies to the current environment will be the most resilient. In China we saw more people on their smart phones – in fact Weibo usage grew by 31 per cent and TikTok by 102 per cent, while content consumption skyrocketed.

Food, fitness and comedy were three areas that saw spikes in engagement as people sought to be entertained to relieve boredom and try to forget about the situation.

Some of the smartest brands in China pivoted their content strategy quickly to continue to drive engagement, just under different circumstances, such as:
– China’s top fitness platform Keep brought all its offline classes online (and saw their TikTok following increase 18% in five days)
– Absolut Vodka launched a one-off live stream event through Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) featuring local DJs
– Sales associates at the Chinese department store INTIME livestreamed daily to develop relationships with chattier-than-usual viewers, to get them in store later
– Mercedes Benz let customers see a 360 degree view of their GLB SUV
– Various universities streamed courses online for free for those wanting some mental stimulation

The lesson here is to think about what your brand can offer consumers over the coming months.

Think about moving your ad spend from out of home (since no-one is out of home…) to digital formats and invest in great content. This will allow you to maintain a relationship with your consumers and build brand equity in these times.

Consumers will come back, after all. What we have for the first time in forever is an audience with time. The attention span is back. It’s an opportunity to deepen your storytelling and invest in better content, rather than click-bait, short-form.

It’s not the time to sell. It’s the time to educate, inspire and entertain.

Game it

With whole cities on lockdown in China, online gaming increased. Esports tournaments might have been cancelled but downloads went up. Some gaming companies actually had to apologise due to wait times on games.

Can your brand create online games to seed out to fans? How can you build an interactive online community?

Show support

Finally, simply showing support counts. Now isn’t the time to disappear from your customers lives.

Consider what advice, talents and resources you have to share with your community, how you can show up for them when they need you most.

Think long-term

We don’t know what’s ahead and how bad this will get, or how long it will last. And certainly history shows that after recession and financial crisis, purchase behaviour changes. McKinsey found after customers tried cheaper products during the US recession, they liked them…not great news for premium brands.

In China, marketers are now looking to what’s next. According to Jing Daily, the advertising industry is expected to begin recovering in late Q2 and some are predicting a boom in Q3. With so many brands wanting to make up for losses, the space will be cluttered and probably expensive.

This is coupled with the fact that many influencers in China have actually seen their followership go up. Why? Because without commercial agreements they posted more personal content. And you can bet they’ll be charging more for access.

The steps Aussie brands take now to build a deeper and more authentic relationship with customers can insulate them for the future. What brands do now will cement their fanbases for when the market returns.

So what are you going to do?