Lessons from Asia: Values Key to Managing Resurgence Balancing Act
The saying, Fortune favours the bold, has frequently been used in military contexts to inspire people in battle to take appropriate risk. The situation communicators find themselves in today with COVID-19 certainly has many parallels with war. Truth has been the first casualty. Consumers are having to scramble through a mish-mash of polemic and misinformation. And sorting through it is hard. Even the most savvy can be caught out by carefully packaged propaganda from “experts” that appeals to their sense of conspiracy or salves their feelings of uncertainty.
The challenge for communicators is that with this virus, nobody knows any better. We are all charting new territory. Communicators often need to be the first to craft a response or a policy with no parallel experience to draw on, nor any real certainty of how it will play out when implemented. This can be both terrifying and energising.
In Greater China, we have lived with the pandemic since early in the year, and it feels like we’ve reached a truce. Life isn’t what it was, and many of the structures of the past have changed irrevocably. But we need to move forward, understanding that the decisions we make now will set us up for the next chapter, whatever it brings. It’s no time for nostalgia. This will be the new normal for the foreseeable future.
Here are five things that I have learned and observed over this period.
1. Listen intently: The individuals, companies and organisations consumers are turning to are those that listen well to underlying sentiment and reflect that understanding in their message delivery. Sentiment is changing every day, so what is true one week isn’t necessarily true the next. Using data and insights to guide action has become even more important. Companies need to be regularly taking pulse checks and adapting their narrative to suit the times.
2. Donations don’t buy love: The tech sector dominates global private donations and big players from both West and East have given billions of dollars in PPE, cash and kind. This largesse has been welcomed by netizens but hasn’t necessarily translated into reputational credit nor brand love. Consumers expect corporations to play their part but what they really want from leaders is empathy and clear direction, people who reassure through measured explanation in a timely way and who are in the trenches alongside them.
3. Adapt and pivot: Brands operating in China have been remarkably quick to adapt to the new circumstances and demographic trends. When offline events became impossible, tech companies quickly introduced livestreaming commerce into their platform offerings, allowing brands from alcohol to shampoo to engage with consumers in new online ways and earn revenue at the same time. What has become clear is that brands that have not digitalized their offerings need to accelerate their plans if they are to survive.
4. Don’t be complacent: Consumers were relatively forgiving of organisations in the first stage of the pandemic on the basis that this event is not their fault. In the next stage, however, brands should expect that consumers will be watching them more critically. Every action from the resumption of “new-normal” marketing to the layoff of employees will be assessed through new filters. Getting the right balance between health and safety and commercial initiative will be an ongoing imperative.
5. Review and reaffirm your values: FleishmanHillard research has revealed that consumers want organisations to reshape their culture, purpose and values, potentially to reflect new social contracts with stakeholders that have yet to be codified. Tech companies should look at their values through a long lens and use them to frame the discussions on the trade-offs between privacy and freedom that may need to be made as governments consider technology solutions as part of their overall pandemic mitigation strategy. Values can be a guiding light for these conversations at a time when there is such a lot of uncertainty and unknowns.