Opinion

Lessons from China’s recent lockdown

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The latest round of Chinese lockdowns has had a different impact on consumer behaviour and consumption from all the others. SawGin Toh from MediaCom China’s Incite Consulting highlights six key differences.

When “Lockdown” first became a word and our world was restricted to our flats and houses, we changed our behaviour. Health and the desire to learn something new – baking bread or another language, for example – became key global trends.

However, later lockdowns including the most recent, tougher lockdowns in China, show new effects. Our latest qualitative research in China, identifies six key areas where changes in mindset is having a real impact. Resilience is an overriding emotion - if this is going to happen then we need to take emotional and financial action to reduce the impact on our lives.

We’ve been able to identify these motivators so global brands based in China can use these lessons to support customers and employees in the market and even apply these lessons beyond.

1. Health beyond physical

One impact of lockdowns has been that we are more aware of mental health. In early lockdowns the emphasis was on avoiding infection, now the focus is on ensuring that our minds are as healthy as our bodies ‘Looking and

feeling good’ is the most important goal for younger Chinese consumers.

Business strategies in this area can focus on providing paid or free avenues for employees and consumers to stay physically and mentally healthy. There are opportunities for businesses to connect with captive indoor audiences by providing community-led programmes or talk sessions and offer additional ways for them to stay positive. Such approaches work as a scheduled “break” that can be looked forward to in a period of otherwise mundane lockdown living.

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2. Comfort in the home

When home becomes everything, then every square foot or square metre of space needs to matter. Digital tools and devices can expand those four walls and ensure that life looks beyond the front door.

Helping people navigate around their living spaces in lockdown creates opportunities for businesses to inspire better, comfortable indoor urban living through unique indoor experiences such as a café, hotel or restaurant experience. Businesses can promote the equipment needed to access these experiences – which will be powerful post-lockdown too – and help create a more comfortable experience.

I should equip my home with all the urban lifestyle essentials – a coffee machine, an oven, a bigger fridge, a slightly bigger apartment, a lovely balcony and I will be ready to face any future lockdown.

Donghai, 29, Beijing

3. Learn something new

Lockdown put the economy into a spin. The impact and the insecurity that this can create hasn’t gone un-noticed.

Younger consumers have seen COVID as an opportunity to build new skills and to futureproof themselves in the face of economic disruption. In China, that means developing hobbies, reading more and focusing on self-improvement. Companies and businesses that can build loyalty by providing self-development frameworks – through corporate training, or paid courses, for example – will win the talent wars.

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4. Closer community ties

The first time around family was No. 1; this time community is becoming much stronger. We see a rise in group buys in individual residential complexes combined with more corporate initiatives and CSR programmes reaching people in need.

This trend creates an opportunity for companies and businesses to earn continuous loyalty, relevance and appreciation on every front through their actions in difficult times.

I made a dish the other day and my neighbour gave something back in return – we gained new friendships.

Daniel, 42 - Shanghai

5. Luxury essentials

Lockdown is a moment when ingrained habits can be broken. The best way to do this is to deliver “enjoyment”, as well as function, across all price points. The power of “enjoyment” can stick well beyond the lifting of restrictions.

Businesses need to meet consumers at the point of need and make that experience memorable. Businesses with new products and offers should take the opportunities to drive trial and recruit new consumers for the immediate term.

6. Carpe diem

Repeated lockdowns have made us all more flexible. In China, consumers are now continuously reassessing their plans almost to the point of “not planning”. Instead, they are now choosing to accept the circumstances when it happens and enjoy the moment.

There is a huge opportunity around more impulsive experiences, entertainment and purchase opportunities to meet the rise of spur-of-the-moment decisions.

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These trends have been identified in China, but we see echoes in other markets – even those where second lockdowns have not been as strict (or even imposed at all). The rise of community, for example, has helped power a substantial rise in engagement in apps such as Nextdoor, a social media network that focuses on neighbourhoods.

Wherever you are, the one clear impact from lockdown is clear: consumers will never return to pre-pandemic behaviour. They have learned new ones and found new priorities during their time at home. Successive lockdowns have changed their goals and nowhere is that clearer than in China.

Get in touch

This report is based on an outcome of a qualitative study by Incite Consulting (The Growth Division of MediaCom China) commissioned by Foresight Factory, which involved a series of trendspotters located in Tier 1 to Tier 3 cities in China to identify their key aspirations and life priorities in 2022, as well as captured the sentiments from our trendspotters as people are forced to reassess their aspirations and their life priorities. On top of that, we have layered our key findings in this report from MediaCom China’s ongoing 2022 Weekly Covid Tracker.

To find out how you can succeed in China, contact [email protected] from the Incite Consulting team.

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