Telum Talks To... Didi Liu, China PR Lead and Head of Marketing, North China, JLL

Telum Talks To... Didi Liu, China PR Lead and Head of Marketing, North China, JLL

Telum caught up with Didi Liu about marketing commercial real estate in Mainland China during COVID-19, why "offices are here to stay" and the importance of cascading the "why" behind corporate purpose to frontline employees.

What is it about doing marcomms in commercial real estate (CRE) that interests you the most?
It is actually JLL's corporate culture and brand vision rather than the CRE industry itself that enticed me to do marcomms. Although JLL is a 200-year-old company categorised as a traditional services provider, it has been very active in transforming itself into a PropTech company. I can see a lot of potential on how B2B marketing can be done differently at JLL as well as in the transforming CRE industry. It's the opportunity to change the industry and be creative and innovative that excites me the most.

The Luxury Conversation's 2020 report argues that stakeholders now place a greater emphasis on a corporate’s long-term purpose. What suggestions do you have for companies to implement a business strategy focused on sustainability and corporate responsibility?
It is crucial for a company or a brand nowadays to have a sustainability goal and take it seriously along with its overall corporate social responsibility. When I implemented our company's sustainability ambition in our local activities, the hardest thing I found was to cascade the purpose (the why) from the leadership to local employees. It’s very difficult to pass the high-level message down and educate baseline staff on why the company needs to have a sustainability strategy, what it will do to me, why do I care, etc. 

What are a few key elements when crafting an authentic and considered story to stakeholders?
Entertain, inspire, educate and convince are some key elements for storytelling. Mapping your content to the customer journey is also very important. For example, if we are facing investors, our purpose will be to inspire and to convince. Concrete data and thoughtful insights will be needed for this "story".

How important is it for companies to know the Chinese city tier system before marketing their services in Mainland China? 
It is very important to know the difference between each tier and each city in Mainland China. Although some cities may appear in the same tier, citizen behaviours can be very different, i.e. Beijing and Chengdu. City tier matters, but we also need to know that there isn't an official list from the government - the hierarchical classification may vary according to different media and sectors, such as infrastructure, tourism and transportation. We take city tier as a reference when deciding on our marketing effort, manpower and budget, because of the similarity on income levels and population sizes. A detailed marketing strategy has to be based on the nature of each city, which includes consumer behaviour, consumer sophistication and talent pool.

Since the pandemic, transaction volumes in the property sector in Mainland China have dropped, what does this mean for JLL?
COVID-19 has affected the office rental, occupancy and transaction volumes in many cities. Landlords / Building owners are looking for leasing advice and better property management solutions, while most corporate tenants / occupiers want to review their leasing terms and look for suitable adjustment plans. These can be terminating, downsizing, expanding, relocating or transferring from a traditional to an agile workplace. This is when marketing comes into play to match our customers' needs and expectations with our services and research insights.

A strong content plan using data-driven and digital marketing is also essential to feed the right information to the right people via the right channels. We used to do a lot of events and seminars to communicate with clients face-to-face, but we had to quickly move our plans from offline to online, i.e. hosting live-streaming events or virtual roundtables. As we are in the B2B space, the leads or purchasing signals we track online are fewer than those of the B2C and consumer industries, but we could still capture our clients’ "decision-making" moments through their actions online and provide them with matching solutions.

In terms of how to instil public confidence in real estate, it differs from city to city. We need to share the most accurate data because that’s why people trust us, and we always explain the reason and provide solutions for the relevant parties. After a few tech giants had announced that they would allow employees to work from home forever, we saw that office leasing had become vulnerable. After surveys and research, we understood the demand for offices would stay strong, so “office is here to stay” became our key message and we got it delivered through media channels to instil public confidence, especially for landlords.

Finally, what's one thing in the commercial real estate space that people should pay attention to?
After COVID-19, people should take their well-being, sustainability and safety into consideration when carrying out office renovations, relocations or expansions.

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