Staff Reporters
Apr 13, 2020

Lessons from Asia: Exemplary brands during COVID-19

Branding experts give their view on some stand-out brands in Asia that have handled the crisis well, and what others can learn from their response. Superunion weighs-in first.

Lessons from Asia: Exemplary brands during COVID-19

Many countries are looking to Asia for lessons on how to handle the novel coronavirus outbreak—as the continent that has been dealing with the crisis the longest, and one that has dealt a similar outbreak in the past with SARS in 2003. As governments share advice on how to contain the spread, reduce the number of deaths and the crippling economic impact of the virus, over in the advertising bubble, brands are also looking for advice on how to stay afloat.

Campaign Asia-Pacific has asked branding experts to select some Asian brands they believe have handled the unique challenges of the virus well, in hopes there may be some lessons for our friends in other continents. First up is Superunion, with commentary from Adrian Li (Hong Kong), Jolin Guan (China) and Tanja Crnogorac (Singapore).

Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong)

Adrian Li, strategy director, Superunion

Hong Kong has been through 12 months of chaos with anti-government protests and now the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly every sector has suffered, but few have felt the turmoil as much as travel and leisure.

Cathay Pacific, one of the biggest brands in the industry and possibly the worst-hit airline outside of mainland China, is reducing 96% of its flights in April and May and announced that 25,000 staff would be taking unpaid leave. Despite a challenging environment not seen since SARS in 2003, Cathay has responded decisively for those who matter most: their customers.

As the outbreak gathered momentum in January, they were the first airline to introduce a waiver for all mainland China flights, offering passengers the chance to cancel or change their itineraries for free. With the situation worsening across the world, they’ve now extended their policy by offering unlimited rebooking and waiving cancellation and no-show fees on all flights.

Then they announced “10 things we're doing to reassure you” to explain how they’re coordinating with authorities to implement initiatives such as deep cleaning procedures, safety measures in F&B catering, and amended service procedures to maximise hygiene.

For their most loyal customers in the Marco Polo Club, Cathay introduced a relief system that not only gave people more time to use their loyalty benefits, but offered free points for three months to help customers reach their normal membership tier.

Huawei (China)

Jolin Guan, executive strategy director, Superunion

The unexpected outbreak has chased people into isolation and forced them to live their lives in the digital cloud. As people turn to the Internet to meet their daily needs – no matter how big or small – and as cities across the country continue to cope and recover from a stagnating economy, demand for remote working solutions has skyrocketed in a bid to reduce physical human contact.

Just as COVID-19 cases started escalating in January, Huawei Cloud started giving free access to WeLink, its enterprise collaboration platform. It offers an invaluable service to the government, hospitals, companies and organisations through collaboration tools that create a functional office experience for anybody, anytime and anywhere.

With the country in lockdown, WeLink has been embraced rapidly by the market, with Huawei revealing a 50x increase in platform usage. With over a million new users each day, this has translated into a 50% increase in new accounts opened per day compared to before COVID-19.

WeLink’s impact goes beyond words. Through its technology, the government can communicate and collaborate more efficiently, front-line doctors can get assistance from medical institutions when needed, and businesses can get back to a certain degree of normality, which is critical for sustaining the domestic economy.

Singapore government

Tanja Crnogorac, strategy director, Superunion

A global pandemic has shown us just how small the world really is. It’s going to be a tough year on the economy and brands need to be more agile and nimble than ever before.

So, if you ask me who’s doing the best job today when it comes to weathering the storm, while managing to sprinkle some optimism here and there, no brand stands out more than that of Singapore itself.

Think Singapore and you think of words like ‘meticulous’, ‘thorough’, ‘organised’ and ‘efficient’. During the COVID-19 crisis, Singapore has managed to live up to its reputation, but what really sets Singapore apart in this crisis is how they have managed to engage with the public in a pragmatic and human way.

From deploying social media, to hand-delivering masks to every household, to sending timely updates and reminders on WhatsApp, Singapore has addressed the practical need of fighting the spread of the virus, but more importantly, they have also managed to fight the spread of fear, perhaps the most dangerous disease of all.

Superunion's advice

In a climate of fear and uncertainty, several Asian brands have stood out in their response to the crisis.

Firstly, they’re thinking about what matters most to customers in these unprecedented times. Whether it’s increased safety or having face time in a lockdown, they’re recognising peoples’ anxiety which is helping them create a greater level of practical and emotional appeal. It allows them to build a kind of ‘brand currency’ that’s invaluable for the organisation in the long run.

Secondly, they don’t wait to react, but are proactively reassuring people with consistent, composed and timely communication. Always calm in the storm, they haven’t forgotten the importance of the human touch. As human contact becomes increasingly restricted, they’re finding ways to bring more warmth into their words and actions.

Thirdly, and most importantly, they’re expressing empathy through thoughtful gestures. In these circumstances, it’s easy to forget that things can be as simple as ‘how can we help you in this tough situation?’ By hand-delivering masks, or making a cloud service free, or doing 10 things to combat the virus, they’re doing what’s feasible for them to demonstrate leadership, common sense and compassion in a chaotic world.

When the virus recedes, these brands will likely be remembered for the impact they’ve had. We’re all human after all, and people always remember the friends who helped them in their hour of need.

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