Telum Talks To... Louis Ma, Head of Marketing and Communications APAC, Mintel

Telum Talks To... Louis Ma, Head of Marketing and Communications APAC, Mintel

Telum caught up with Louis Ma, who heads up Mintel's marketing and communications in the APAC region, as he discusses how the market intelligence firm has been conducting its research about consumer behaviour and market trends against the backdrop of the pandemic to provide strategic guidance for brands to make business decisions.

With social distancing laws and travel restrictions imposed in most countries around the world, how has Mintel been conducting its research?
COVID-19 has changed the way people communicate and do business, and Mintel is no exception. Before the pandemic, many of our teams and departments had already been working remotely across different time zones. Then, due to the outbreak, we took a decision to adopt an online methodology for our consumer research, where we primarily use a face-to-face collection method. It removed the need for close interaction between the interviewers and the public, allowing all parties involved to comply with social distancing measures. We also hosted several webinars about beauty and personal care, food and drink, corporate social responsibility, food ingredients, consumer confidence and overall impacts over local economies.

During this time of uncertainty, our local and global expert analyst team from 34 markets also interacted globally and shared knowledge to ensure that all critical insights, strategies and recommendations are provided to our clients to thrive in these challenging times. Our Global COVID-19 Consumer tracker is an apt example of this. In February, before WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, we realised that COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on businesses over brands in Mainland China, so we quickly started conducting research and sharing insights via thought pieces on our blog, exclusive insight reports and COVID-19 sessions for our clients in Mainland China, APAC and globally in order to monitor shifts in consumer sentiment and behaviour as well as help provide any insights or guidance for their brand repositioning, product innovation or market opportunities.

Greater China is one of the first economies in the world to emerge from the pandemic. Over the past months, what are the biggest and most surprising changes or trends you've seen appear in the region?
COVID-19 has brought many changes to Chinese consumer behaviours and markets, but with the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases decreasing recently, economic activities have resumed. In early May 88 per cent of people reported working at their usual office location, increasing from 56 per cent in early March. At the very beginning of the outbreak, the industries impacted the most were travel, leisure and hospitality. But with the pandemic under gradual control and people starting going back to work, we saw a slight increase in the travel and hospitality industries.

In the short-term, this is a temporary setback mainly associated with financial pressure, and industries are likely to recover as personal financial circumstances improve. In the long-term, we expect to see the definition of luxury evolve and become a state of mind, rather than an ownership of things. In general, we predict "mindful consumption" will emerge as a notable trend that will see more consumers turn away from indulgent spending and review what matters in life.

Technology is on everyone’s side, so the digitalisation of communication became faster during the pandemic, and it’s safe to say that the digitalisation of the economy in Mainland China has become more mature. Short video and live streaming have seen a dramatic increase in almost every aspect of, the younger generation and retired senior citizens are all relying heavily on their smart phones for daily life necessities, we now use Zoom for meetings, students use DingTalk for online classes, the rise of smart furniture etc. Our ecosystem also finally "got a break", as we could be more environment-friendly as we don’t need to drive to work.

In light of the pandemic, how has Mintel changed its way of communicating with stakeholders?
For internal stakeholders, frequent, fast and transparent communications are key to calming down your employees and building confidence in your team. COVID-19 has a deep impact over the global economy and most of us have experienced slow-downs of company business, so it is natural that people feel scared, unsafe and worried. As PR professionals, helping your leadership to convey messages to all employees is very important to help calm their team, focus on their business and face the challenges together. At Mintel we started working from home for three days every week even after the lockdown policy was released, as we thought this was more efficient for employee productivity and it is always our top priority to keep our employees safe. We also hosted town hall meetings via Zoom every three weeks to keep our employees informed about our business updates.

For external stakeholders, during the pandemic, we enriched our social media matrix, diversified our stories and format, hosted dozens of webinars and launched a series of vlogs discussing the pandemic's impact over the economy and consumer behaviours. We've made these content publicly available for free on our website, WeChat and other social media platforms. We share our resources, including data about consumer behaviours and reports on the most recent trends in various sectors, to help companies adjust their business decisions and thrive in the crisis. 

What are the biggest changes in the consumer mindset and habits that brands need to be aware of?
The latest research from Mintel reveals that nutrition and fitness have become significantly important for consumers across the Asia Pacific region. Furthermore, social experiences top consumers' wish lists once all restrictions are relaxed.

It also reveals that when it comes to spending priorities, consumers are reassessing what’s important for them. Desire for luxury products and services have dampened after COVID-19, with around one-third saying that luxuries are less desirable. 

As renewed consumer interest in health emerges, brands should help consumers achieve their holistic health goals, which also include strong mental health. Brands should focus on ingredients and products that help consumers relax and cope with stress and anxiety. As the drive for social experiences remains among consumers, they will continue to seek new ways to find fulfilment, placing a greater emphasis on experiences over things and the value of the human connection. Our Top Trends report in June analyses changing consumer preferences and how brands can explore ways to meet these changing needs.

Mintel recently launched "Global Consumers Trends 2030", a report that explores how consumers spending will evolve over the next 10 years and how the pandemic has accelerated these predictions. Download the report for free here

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