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Marketing, Social, Tech

A Saucy Tale

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Hello again from Aim2D real time, 24/7 #ChinaBusinessMarketing, Tech and Social Media News Portal of Bic Brands based in sunny Shunyi. Tuesdays we look at business, marketing, tech or social news in and around China. Friday is image gallery where we examine a place, topic or subject giving you greater insight, background to life in China, and of course, your Chinese consumer.

Today we are looking at what something as simple, and basic (in China) as soy sauce, can teach us about PR in China.

We’ve written about how not to handle a brand crisis in China around 4 years ago. Or, come to think of it, anywhere for that matter. Seems it’s worth refreshing..

Reminds us of a quote from Alibaba’s founder during a public appearance several years ago. Asked about his love of tai chi he began a spontaneous demonstration. When questioned about it later he simply replied:

The market was asking, I delivered

Jack Ma

Don’t put YOUR ego ahead of brand survival

In brief, today’s story revolves around one of China’s more famous, top brands of soy sauce who enjoy an enviable market position and share. Or maybe, did. Their problems began when one eagle eyed Chinese consumer noticed a bottle of the brands soy sauce sold in Japan contained less ingredients than the domestic version. Notably, the chemical additives were missing form the Japanese sauce.

The company’s response was clumsy, we link to the actual story at the end of this article.

What long term damage this has done to the brand is unknown at this point. But it illustrates how not to handle a crisis when one is caught with one’s pants down. This is a time to remember the old adage:
Customer is Queen” or King as it is today.

Rather than denial or attempting justification, a good model to follow is that which hostage negotiators and suicide prevention counsellors use. Thinking outside the square, this is not so radical as your brand runs the risk of effectively being held hostage by the protesters.

In both instances, the aim is to defuse the situation, listen more, talk less and create a non threatening, non confrontational, “safe” environment where grievances can be aired without fear. Fear leads to aggression, which leads to escalation.

A good start is to admit the problem and concerns then solicit the antagonists views for a resolution. This shows a willingness for the brand to listen, engage, take the other sides view seriously. This usually goes a long way in defusing any situation and cooling the temperature. When heads are cool, logic, non emotional based conversation ensues and positive decisions can be made.

State your position and beliefs, again in a non confrontation, non aggressive or non argumentative frame. Stick to facts and keep it brief. Don’t try to belittle or destroy theirs or claim the moral high ground.

Offer a compromise to work together to achieve an amicable, win win outcome. Too often brands are focused on a winner take all mentality- but that win is likely only short term. The taste of victory may be sweet today but will certainly sour in a few months as sales and market share slumps.

Turn a foe into a friend and avid brand supporter


Take a few moments to think and realise the complainants are obviously, energised, active, motivated, passionate people.
If you can win their respect and convert them to your camp, they will become exceedingly loyal brand ambassadors. If you continue the rhetoric you will only alienate them more, risking further brand damage.

In our view, every organisation should, along with its business, marketing, financial, HR plans and strategies also develop a solid crisis intervention plan.

Every employee from the toilet cleaner down to the managing director should know and understand it. Ideally it should be part of the induction process for very new employee. That way all the team are holding fire hoses, there aren’t one or two uninformed individuals unintentionally pouring petrol on the blaze.

Much the same as an emergency fire, earthquake or natural disaster evacuation plan. Review it regularly to ensure it is fit for purpose. Again, in our view, too many do not have a well thought out plan, it is created on the hoof, made up as they go along. A recipe for disaster leading to panic mode instead.

Haitian has launched a number of zero-additive products in China, several are even cheaper than those containing additives.

Sixth Tone

Had the sauce brand listened, acknowledged the complaint and pointed out that they also offered several non additive brands, maybe the issue could have been solved amicably.

As it is, it made billion views viral status on China’s social media and was picked up by many local media outlets.
We sourced an English version from our friends at Sixth Tone:

Soy Sauce ‘Double Standards’ Stir Massive Controversy in China

A controversy over food additives has generated billions of views on Chinese social media — and thrust an unsuspecting condiment maker into the spotlight.

This is a case where any publicity is good publicity is not true.

If you like Jack Ma quotes, you will enjoy this page.

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