On November 20, Meituan launched its World Cup campaign with a video starring Chinese A-list actress and the brand’s ambassador Yang Mi. The video, featuring Meituan’s new concept of 'Everything Comes Home' (万物到家), has attracted 15 million viewers just on Weibo. Kantar picked it up as one of the top ads of the World Cup in China, among others from Mengniu and Vivo. Kantar commended Meituan’s “enchanting” campaign which won “emotional resonance” from consumers.
But great production, a celebrity endorsement, funny puns, and wordplay of Chinese characters are not the only secrets behind cultivating a successful brand. How does Meituan stand out in a highly competitive market? How did its communications fare during the lockdown period? How did it enter the Hong Kong market as a test for its operations outside the mainland market?
Campaign speaks to Meituan’s senior PR director, Han Hu, about his brand communications strategy for the tech platform, the brand's business transformation, and his thoughts about social media in a highly complex market.
Campaign: As senior PR director, how did you navigate brand communications for Meituan during the World Cup?
Han Hu: First of all, this year, the World Cup is different from the previous years in many ways. It is a rare opportunity for the Chinese audience to join a party at the moment because of the pandemic lockdown in the Chinese mainland.
Before World Cup, when we looked at the data in the platform, we found that lots of people had already searched for and purchased products for home decoration, such as flags, banners, or some decorations that are only used in stadiums and bars. Many who placed orders were not male football fans but girlfriends or other family members. We realise that many people staying at home—who might not be fans will join the game. So, brand communication would be quite different this year.
Second, regarding delivery service and retail business, China's courier logistics system was profoundly and widely affected during the World Cup period. In the past, logistics in China was a global leader, but because of the pandemic, the time for collection and delivery has [not been as good].
Then, we found that people who bought food and drink, such as beer and fried chicken, began to purchase daily necessities on the platform. In the past, we brought up a new concept of 'using food delivery app as your courier service', which has become a critical consumer trend as users' online shopping habits are changing during the pandemic.
Thirdly, Meituan proposed a strategic transformation of 'retail and technology' this year. The delivery service extends from food and beverage takeaways to grocery stores, which is also an essential direction in our strategic transformation.
For the second half of the World Cup, how will relaxed control measures in China affect Meituan's brand communications strategy?
Certainly there will be a wave of increase in brick-and-mortar stores and offline spending. What would consumers buy when they walk outside their homes in winter? What kind of stores do they prefer to go to? In fact, this requires us to monitor the data on the platform closely and pay attention to the feedback of users and merchants and user comments while constantly adjusting.
As I mentioned, after the adjustment of the pandemic policy, there will be new changes in consumer behaviours that we will focus on.
As a technology brand, what impact will big data have on Meituan’s brand strategy and marketing?
As a tech company, it is worth noting that we are more forward-looking in observing changes and consumer trends. We have even seen some characteristics of many consumption trends before they become popular. For instance, during the World Cup, as the weather was getting cold, we found on the platform that people started to search for mulled wine and even warm beer. Trendy products will stimulate the potential demand of many other consumers.
Though it only started with a few [people] searching, we were able to amplify a [micro] consumer trend through brand communications. The ability to preview and capture consumer needs at the early stages and spread them is pretty significant to us.
Back to the lockdown period—what has brand communications done to support the brand?
The crucial information that we were constantly sharing with the public is about the stability of the business, such as the efficiency of our riders’ delivery, the scale of our transport capacity, and warehouse conditions in many cities. We share many details to present a stable business operation and move forward.
This may seem like something only few people notice, but it is also a strategy we have learned from past experience. Because, like many other enterprises, we are facing an instant surge in user demand and sudden changes as policy shifts. In this case, we have to deal with things such as users’ emotions, needs, and even anxieties, because suddenly, people rush to order for delivery but find that they cannot place an order. This could have a negative impact on the brand image.
Another point is that the surge in demand has also put short-term heavy pressure on our business. Imagine if we weren't constantly releasing information that makes users feel like a we're a well-organised business. In that case, our promise to consumers about Meituan’s quick delivery will be broken.
It was reported that Meituan would test and start its business in Hong Kong. Would the mainland operation model work well in Hong Kong?
As Wang Xing, Meituan’s co-founder, president and CEO, said in the earnings conference call, he believes that Hong Kong is a multi-lingual and multi-cultural region, and its food habits and consumption habits are closer to those of the Chinese mainland. So it is a good market for testing, but he also pointed out that this is a very early experiment, and the percentage (in business) is still relatively small.
So, firstly, I think we remain cautious in the Hong Kong market and take small steps in tests.
Secondly, in terms of brand communications, my answer is that Meituan is a brand that is constantly helping to increase the value of users' time. Compared with dine-in, we are helping users to save time and increase the value of their time when they order takeaway food. Such a model could get even more recognition and opportunities in the Hong Kong market.
Which model would you prefer for Meituan—working with agencies, in-house, or a combination?
This year, our team is still using more of an in-house model. The reason is that we are gradually transforming the business, which requires our team members who know more about the business operation and the enterprise to sort out and test from time to time. So far, we are still experimenting internally with brand communications and hoping to form a set of strategies for the future.
You were an editor and journalist and then moved to become VP of Pinduoduo’s PR communication. What are your insights on social media communications for brands in China?
I believe it is still difficult for many brand communications professionals to cope with China's social media today, which is highly fragmented. But at the same time, we can instantly reach emotional resonance on specific topics.
The same happened to me at Pinduoduo. The vital point of brand communications is to find commonality when various groups of people share common understandings or views on different social media sentiments and topics. This way, we will have effective communications.
Back then, I found that different social-media platforms were turned into tiny pipelines and they didn't share sentiments or topics. For instance, male users at Hupu and female users at Red have different topics and sentiments. If a brand chooses to please the users of Red, it could hurt users of Hupu.
The first thing we do is to find (and share) the most common and important public topics on different social-media channels among different groups of people.
The first topic is that Pinduoduo is the largest ecommerce company selling agricultural products in China. Agriculture [involves] caring for farmers which then extends to the fruits and vegetables you eat. It is a topic that any group cares about, and it is also a topic that is very hard to challenge.
The second topic is that, as a new ecommerce platform, Pinduoduo can break the traditional monopoly in the industry. It may have many problems, but they're tolerable as a new brand.
In the past, brand communications could just mean offering a lower price. In the latest social media landscape, it may not be enough just feature lower prices, speed, or quality of products. Brand communications should go deeper and share public topics and sentiments.
(This interview is translated from Chinese into English and has been edited for brevity and clarity.)