As Asia Pacific markets are beset with a complex array of crises ranging from COVID-19 to unprecedented wildfires to debilitating flooding, Trends in Two Minutes examines some of the cutting-edge tactics for brands and businesses to build resilience and minimise losses as they navigate the new crisis era.

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Decentralising the Workplace: From Optional to Essential

Over the past two months, Asia Pacific markets have played host to what one major news outlet described as ‘the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment’. In locations like mainland China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau, such a shift has been triggered by the outbreak and spread of COVID-19. But, in markets like Australia, similar initiatives have been suggested in response to pervasive (and toxic) wildfire smoke.

While it may seem like a development prompted only by extreme circumstances, it’s actually very much in line with broader workplace trends. Since 2005 the number of people who work from home worldwide has grown by approximately 140%. Trends in Two Minutes actually originally covered the rise of co-working spaces and non-traditional work arrangements back in 2018.

However, recent circumstances may be pushing non-traditional working arrangements from a competitive edge to a business necessity. In the wake of the Australian bushfires, it was estimated that one city was forfeiting up to fifty million (Australian) dollars in lost productivity and revenue per day. The extant and prospective economic impacts of COVID-19, meanwhile, have been extensively documented

A decentralised workplace allows businesses to more easily mitigate the impacts of city- or nation-scale crises. It’s why remote work arrangements represent a cornerstone of a country like Singapore’s COVID-19 response strategy. Coupled with the documented business benefits of work from home arrangements (among others, reduced costs and greater productivity), growth in adoption rates of remote working seems almost assured.

With the scope of recent events demonstrating the practical possibility of large-scale remote working arrangements across Asia, it’s possible that businesses unprepared to support remote operations may soon find themselves at a stark disadvantage.

The New Need for Accessible Technology

In the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, one Chinese company enjoyed a 200% increase in monthly sales of fresh produce. In Japan, the outbreak actually saw a struggling international brand deliver landmark results in the market. While many sectors are suffering in the wake of COVID-19, ecommerce and online retailers may actually see a boost – as ‘cocooned’ consumers rely on online shopping to supply their households.

Throughout Asia Pacific, new technologies and technological infrastructure have proven an essential component for successful navigation of emergent crises – be that by individuals, brands or governments. In the wake of New Year’s floods, the Indonesian government used cloud-seeding to try and limit further rainfall. In China, technology firms worked with the government to develop quarantine, delivery, and diagnosis systems. By contrast, Australia’s navigation of the recent bushfire crisis was believed to be hampered significantly by compromised technological infrastructure.   

In navigating large-scale crises, accessible technological infrastructure can play a crucial role in minimising losses for brands and sectors. Or, in the case of some sectors ( e.g. Asia Pacific’s ecommerce sector), leveraging unforeseen shifts in the market to ensure survival. While it may be difficult for brands to build infrastructure in some markets, ensuring services are technologically accessible and legible to the widest array of potential stakeholders can help accomplish a similar outcome by ensuring organisations maintain consumer, client and employee relationships during times of crisis.

By way of example; an online customer experience that appeals equally to older generations (who historically prioritise convenience and ease-of-use more highly than their younger peers) and younger generations will allow an online retailer to retain a greater market share in times of crisis than more youth-oriented competitors. Even when crises are fully resolved, accessible infrastructure continues to yield dividends as diverse engagement proceeds to drive greater brand profitability.

With all evidence suggesting an increased likelihood of both extreme weather events and global pandemics in the future, brands willing to ensure their technologies and infrastructures are accessible to the widest variety of stakeholders will likely find themselves in a stronger position than their competitors going forward.

Humanity First: Responsive Marketing in Times of Crisis

A recent report found that consumers were approximately 70% more likely to purchase a brand’s products if that brand were perceived as more ‘human’ than their competitors. It’s a finding supported by Weber Shandwick’s own global research from 2019 – which found stakeholders of all kinds were prioritising more tangibly ‘human’ experiences in an increasingly technologically-driven world.

With multiple crises subjecting people of all backgrounds to heightened degrees of stress and anxiety, such priorities have become increasingly vital to brand stakeholders. There’s mounting pressure for brands to communicate with renewed sensitivity for the emotional needs of their various customers, clients, suppliers and employees – and a growing expectation that backlash will be forthcoming if such sensitivity is not delivered.

The benefits of emotionally responsive marketing are two-fold. Firstly, it safeguards business reputation in a time of volatility. According to Weber Shandwick’s recent State of Corporate Reputation 2020 report, two-thirds of global executives identify Ethics & Values as a significant driver of corporate reputation. In the same study, the majority of global executives attribute an average of two-thirds of company market value to reputation.

With such realities taken in mind, emotionally insensitive communications represent a substantial reputation risk – one with significant potential to negatively impact a company’s market value. However, emotionally responsive marketing also represents potential business benefits beyond building reputational resilience. An empathetic understanding of stakeholders can reveal new opportunities for collaboration and growth.

This has been particularly evident in recent crises. With a substantial percentage of the market quarantined to their homes on account of COVID-19, mainland China’s online gaming usage has soared; not just to combat boredom but in response to isolation from social networks. Many companies have responded to the populace’s need for social connection with innovative solutions that encourage remote social gatherings. 

Through a thorough understanding of consumers’ emotional needs, brands have been better positioned to communicate and connect with their stakeholders and navigate the crisis era with decreased disruption. In future crises, similar opportunities around emotionally responsive communications will abound.

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