If you are aiming to use digital channels to reach a target group in China, then you can’t do without WeChat (微信; Wēixìn). The unbelievably varied range of functions offered by this Chinese platform represents great potential for marketing and e-commerce.
And what about Facebook?
In December 2015 Facebook recorded 144 million MAU (monthly active users) and is therefore undisputedly the world’s most widely-used social network. However, despite the enormity of these numbers, the network giant only plays a minor role in many of the Asian countries. WeChat is the strongest platform in China with an impressive coverage of 650 million MAU (Source: Statista).
WeChat’s users are not only located in China. The platform is steadily increasing its numbers of active users in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines (Source: walkthechat). In addition to Asia, WeChat is gaining followers in Africa. It is estimated that there are already 5 million WeChat users in South Africa and this number should be further increased through the joint venture “WeChat Africa" (Source: qz).
Mobile first and only
In contrast to other social media networks, WeChat was initially designed to be used on smartphones and this focus has been maintained. This is almost certainly one of the reasons why the App has been so successful on the African continent, since in many regions connection to the internet is made via smartphones and not via laptops or desktop PCs. The developers of WeChat proved to have a good nose for what social media users want and in the meantime even the classic social media platforms, such as Facebook and Google+, are attempting to imitate WeChat’s functions and service offering.
For Chinese users WeChat has meanwhile become a one-stop app with which almost all daily concerns can be handled: from shopping, money transfers, buying tickets for events or booking flights, even to arranging the collection of dirty washing by the laundry. All this can be done via a smartphone using the service pages that were especially developed for this interface.
QR-Codes – the Gateway to the WeChat World
The app’s focus on the smartphone has meant that QR codes have become popular – something which has not really been seen in the rest of the world. WeChatter uses codes to avoid the time-consuming job of typing in URLs; after scanning the user is automatically forwarded to the relevant page. The search for accounts is also made easy with this code – every account, even those of private persons, has its own code which enables it to be easily found.
As the QR code scanner is an integral part of the app, handling is easy since nothing extra has to be downloaded or opened. This simple connection between the offline and online world presents many advantages for both user and marketing specialists.
For example, the interface is especially useful for marketing events. The event can be advertised via QR codes, the tickets can of course be made available with QR codes and with them further interaction can be stimulated, thereby enlivening interest in the event – all of which will increase the organiser’s data account.
Shops, cafés, bars and many other businesses offer rebates if the customer scans their QR code. Subsequently, a call to action often encourages the user to take further steps. The customer gets his discount and the business acquires shares, followers and a whole load of data. QR codes can also be used for advertising purposes in social media networks, newsletters, print campaigns and on product packaging.
These square signposts are also very popular in Korea and Japan. From Korea comes an original idea of how to motivate people to shop in their lunch hour – a time when consumer activity is usually low. The Korean supermarket Emart erected a sculpture which threw a shadow in the form of a QR code only when the sun was at a particular angle between 12 noon and 1 pm. Customers who scanned this QR code were offered special discounts on their online purchases. (Video: Emart Sunny Sale Campaign).
The Four Pillars of WeChat
In the strictest sense, WeChat is more of a life management system than a conventional platform which maintains contact via postings. In order to fully understand the WeChat phenomenon, to know which features are interesting from a marketing perspective and how to be well prepared, it is worth taking a moment to look more closely at the underlying structure of WeChat.
Instant Chatting: one needs a private account in order to utilise this function. It is limited to 5,000 personal contacts. The text message function is the most popular and is used regularly by 83% of users. WeChat of course also offers many other means of direct communication. For example,
Public Accounts: these are accounts for commercial businesses, media, non-governmental bodies and people in the public sphere. There are 8.5 million accounts of this type and 41.5% of all users follow such an account. knudsen&co).
There are two types of public account: the Service and the Subscription Account. The interface of both types of account is the same; however, the range of functions is very different.
Both options are suitable for online marketing, according to the specific focus of the campaign and the target group. The Subscription Account can also be used by persons in the public sphere whilst the Service Account is only available to commercial businesses. The advantage of the Subscription Account is that a message can be sent to followers daily, whereas the Service Account only allows four messages per month. The Subscription Account is therefore an attractive option for those users who wish to distribute information on a regular basis. In contrast, however, the Service Account has a considerably larger range of functions: push messages, geo-targeting, voice recognition, several QR codes, the capture of user data and the provision of apps (e.g. for e-commerce). With the API development box the user is free to choose from a variety of app functions
The two accounts also differ greatly with regard to their visibility:
Company Accounts: This account can be used for internal corporate organisation (communications, management, project coordination), in the same way as an intranet. The data is only visible to employees who are allocated the appropriate access rights by the company.
WeChat Moments: this area is for interaction between “friends” and can be compared to conventional platforms such as Facebook or Google+. This is where content and public accounts can be shared. Messages from public accounts that are subscribed to, shares and posts from friends all appear in the news stream. External content can also be posted here.
This is a Platform with great Marketing Poetential
There are many ways that this portal can be used for online marketing. In general it is suitable for marketing communications, for the maintenance and administration of good customer relations, for customer support and it is also especially worthwhile for event marketing – both online and offline.
In addition to the standard features, the app has a wide offering of advertising formats with which target groups can be defined by locality, interests, age, gender, device and provider. We will shortly post a sequel blog in which we will show you exactly what the advertising formats look like, what the cost is and how they can be applied.
Although just 5 years old, WeChat currently seems to be leading the field. It remains to be seen whether other platforms will follow suit and can maintain their market share, or whether WeChat can establish itself in the rest of the world as the one-stop app.
The successful use of WeChat:
In our case study The Timo Boll – KR AGILUS Duel Heard ‘Round the World, you can read how we used WeChat for the promotion of a KUKA event and how the accompanying video went viral.