Surekha Ragavan
Mar 20, 2020

What marketers need to know about turning crisis into opportunity

An Ogilvy report takes learnings from past crises to advise brands through the current pandemic.

A Foodpanda driver in Pakistan (Getty Images)
A Foodpanda driver in Pakistan (Getty Images)

A new report, led by Chris Reitermann, Ogilvy’s chief executive for Asia and Greater China, looks at SARS and the 2008 global economic crisis as teachings for challenging times today.

Reitterman says: “We looked for potential learnings on how some brands found ways to rebound stronger, how new business models were shaped during crisis and how bold moves and timely investment enabled winning brands to gain disproportionate share.”

Brands want to tap new opportunities, but are unsure how to do so

Inevitably, COVID-19 has and will continue to change purchasing behaviours. And some of the questions on marketers’ minds at the moment are:

  • How do we innovate to find new ways to deliver solutions and services in line with the new reality and new behaviours?
  • How do we identify new occasions and behaviours to drive relevance and trial?
  • How do we extend brand propositions into services and content to keep audiences informed and connected?
  • How do we shift from offline reliance to online- and delivery-based ecosystems?
  • How do we promote our business without being seen as taking advantage of the situation?

These are all pertinent and valid questions.

Based on the report, some things brands can do during the acute phase of an outbreak are activate purpose and optimise their funnel mix. Here's a breakdown:

To sustain short-term sales, brands should re-allocate spend behind most topically relevant segments and SKUs, optimise channel mix for shifts in media consumption, rise above self-serving and transactional messaging, respond to shifting topical needs and emotions, and sustain broad reach to facilitate new users’ exposure and trial.

To activate purpose, this could mean supporting hygiene and virus containment efforts, keeping lives (and livelihoods) going, adding brand-aligned values to people, the community, and broader nation. Essentially, this means doing more and saying less.

And to make every dollar count, brands should leverage data analytics for full funnel optimisation and fix weak links. This could mean optimising drive-to-web and drive-to-commerce initiatives, increasing online visibility, and allowing for easier online transactions. Brands shouldn’t be afraid to put bets on surging channels, and subsequently identifying opportunities and expand databases thereon.

Overall, history has shown that brands that get it right are able to capture up to three times more market share through a downturn, and rebound faster and stronger when good times return, according to the report.

Which brands have done well?

An example of a brand that has aced this, according to the report, is Unilever, which utilised livestream to connect with scientists and medical professionals to educate consumers on key points of daily protection. In doing so, the company shifted focus to a ‘public service’ messaging strategy on the most relevant brands in its portfolio.

Meanwhile, Lazada recognised that customers were concerned about safety so it provided access to infectious disease specialists using its in-app live-streaming technology. Over 21,000 viewers were connected to raise questions pertaining to the virus from their homes.

Real-estate group Wanda commendably implemented a waiver of one month’s rent and property fees for Wanda Plaza nationwide, sharing the burden of reduced footfall with its tenants.

Alibaba too deserves a pat on the back for an agile model to save jobs that were at stake during the crisis. Its grocery-store network Hema Fresh hired offline restaurant staff to create a ‘shared employee’ model which resulted in 2,700 employees from 40 companies having obtained a ‘new’ job at Hema Fresh.

Bytedance offered all enterprises and organisations in China access to its Feishu remote collaboration platform free of charge, and Baidu maps upgraded it’s real-time ‘epidemic area’ in more than 200 cities.

Gojek Singapore announced an initiative called GoHeroes to support frontline healthcare workers by offering SG$10 vouchers across hospitals in Singapore to be distributed to staff. Drivers in their network were also eligible to receive financial relief at this time.

How SARS became the tipping point of the internet; and a launching pad for Alibaba 

During the nine-month outbreak, more than 8,000 cases of SARS were confirmed and 774 people died—648 of them in mainland China and Hong Kong. Initially the Chinese institutions were playing catch-up, but over time they came to terms with the challenge. The Chinese government has an unparalleled ability to marshal resources, and Chinese culture prizes stoicism and the ability to work through hardships.

SARS was the tipping point for the internet as a mass medium in China as people looked to mobile phones and the web for information and updates about the outbreak. Shares in Sina, Sohu, and Net Ease soared. Investor interest in Chinese technology took off. It also triggered the digital home entertainment market as millions of people, confined to homes or dormitories, looked for distraction. It is seen as the point that led to Alibaba taking off as those millions, afraid to go outside, began to shop online.

Recovery was also rapid and most Asian economies bounced back. Shares in Cathay Pacific Airways tumbled 30% from December 2002 to April 2003 only to nearly double in the next year as populations proved keen to not only return to normal but make up for lost time.

(This section has been reproduced verbatim from Ogilcy's report.)

Opportunity also exists in recovery 

During the post-outbreak recovery, brands will naturally want to make up for lost ground. A good way to do that is to identify categories and segments that will most benefit from pent-up demand and economic stimulus, Ogilvy's report states.

Brands need to identify priority parts of portfolio with greatest potential, and work with their media agencies to re-allocate budgets and secure quality ad stock. This could mean leveraging data and insights to identify the most significant and lasting shifts, or accelerating innovation, product innovation, and CX innovation. Key during recovery is also not forgetting to maintain purpose/health and wellness connections that were established during the outbreak.

Brands that work smartly will undoubtedly address new needs and priorities in digital content, digital services, utility and commerce, while also leveraging martech and automation to enable more personalised and contextual creation and distribution of content in real-time.

Surging channels and new activities during COVID-19

Categories that were badly hit during the outbreak—such as OOH entertainment, travel, dining, luxury, and cosmetics—will see a surge during the recovery period, according to Ogilvy. And brands in these categories will do well to study changing consumer behaviours during the outbreak and carry through learnings during post-outbreak and beyond.

Interestingly, first-time categories will also emerge as a result of the pandemic such as online medical consultancy, online education, work from home softwares, digital entertainment services, and home fitness equipment. Marketers in these categories can look for disproportionate share gains by activating their loyal users' endorsements, and competitively-designed promotions such as bulk-buying incentives through the crisis and beyond.

Some brands that have already progressed by tetsing new business models include Huanxi Media which changed its film distribution by inviting Bytedance to buy the copyright of Chinese film ‘Lost in Russia’. The film premiered over New Year for free on the Bytedance video platform.

Meanwhile, Chinese real estate company Sunac (Rongchuang) went live on an online platform that provided real-time online services for consumers to virtually view, select, consult, purchase and recommend houses they were unable to physically visit.

These examples are revolutionary in their own right and could influence consumer behaviour in the long run. Brands that want to do well must pay attention to these behaviours in order to jump on trend spikes, remain relevant, and ultimately rebound faster and stronger.

Related Articles

Just Published

1 day ago

Looking for a silver lining in a wipeout that was 2020

A new campaign by FRED & FARID Los Angeles for Oppo encourages us to look at the bright side of a calamitous year. Do we dare?

1 day ago

Pandemic an opportunity for local brands to shine ...

TOP OF THE CHARTS: As consumers demand more variety from brands online, homegrown labels can muscle into markets such as household cleaning and personal care.

1 day ago

Visa appoints Wieden + Kennedy, Publicis Groupe to ...

Incumbents BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi missed out on the US$200 million creative accounts.