How to Market on Wechat – Entering the Chinese e-Merging Market

How to Market on WeChat

Official Accounts

Official accounts are the most important tool for brand marketing and advertising. They provide an effective channel for government, businesses, media, industry leaders, and famous people to promote themselves or their brands to millions of users. In early 2017, there were approximately 3.5 million monthly active official accounts and 797 million monthly active subscribers, representing an annual growth of 14 percent. According to Stephen Wang, WeChat’s User Growth and Engagement Director, the articles read monthly by the average user equal a novel.

The Three Main Types of Official Accounts

To start marketing on WeChat, the first step is to open an official account for your brand. Currently, there are three main types of official accounts:

Subscription Accounts

Service Accounts

Corporate Accounts

Each of these accounts meets different marketing needs.

Subscription Accounts

Subscription accounts, designed primarily for updates and communication, are the most basic type of official accounts. Their major advantage is that they allow account holders to publish articles or send messages once a day. They can publish up to eight articles each time. This makes them a good choice for media and businesses that are heavily content-based and post content frequently. Bloggers and famous individuals can only open subscription accounts.

Such accounts are listed under the Subscriptions folder on the home page. Users do not receive notifications when new articles or messages are published to minimize disturbance for those who follow several accounts. A red dot appears in the top-right corner of the account’s avatar, indicating an unread message. Users have to click into the folder to check out the latest updates. In the folder, all the accounts the user has subscribed to are displayed according to their last update time.

Service Accounts

This type of accounts offer more advanced features for businesses and organizations. For example, their CRM system is more complex because it integrates booking services, WeChat-affiliated stores, and loyalty programs. Service accounts support more advanced features, such as WeChat Pay, location-based services, and speech–text conversion. Service accounts focus more on customer service and sales, so they only allow account holders to publish four times a month, each time up to eight articles. Unlike subscription accounts, service accounts appear on the chat list on the homepage. Users receive a notification once messages or articles are published, like when they receive messages from their contacts. This ensures greater visibility and a feeling of familiarity. All these elements make service accounts a great tool that companies can use to build their own applications, facilitate interactions with customers, and even establish their own e-shop platform on WeChat.

Corporate Accounts

Corporate accounts—also known as Enterprise Accounts—instead of mass broadcasting to a large audience, are generally used as an internal communication tool within a company. Such accounts simplify the company’s management and communication system. They are mobile office automation systems and are used to record employee attendance, track team projects, form department groups, and send messages to staff. They can even encrypt messages in order to prevent confidential data leakage. Corporate accounts are closed communities, because they can only be accessed with an invitation. For external marketing purposes, it is best to open a subscription account or a service account.

A few tips:

It is best to set up a service account unless you are a media company.

As an international brand, you can register an official WeChat account in three cases:

You have a registered business in China.

You register with a local third-party agent who will be the owner of your account.

You submit an application to WeChat directly and guarantee a minimum expenditure of RMB 200,000.

Key Functions of Official Accounts

Official accounts provide all sorts of functions to help businesses and brands to conduct their marketing campaigns.

Content Broadcasting

The most prominent feature is content broadcasting. Messages and articles are the main way brands share information and communicate with their followers on WeChat. There are five types of content available:

Articles

Text

Images

Audio

Video

Articles are the most common and most sophisticated type of broadcast content. They can be made up of text, images, videos, and audios. An article can be viewed as a webpage. At the bottom of each article, users can click to like it or check out the number of views and comments from other users. Such articles can also be shared on a contact’s Moments page, as well as on external platforms like Qzone or Microsoft OneNote. This means that, even if users have not subscribed to your company’s account, they can still read your articles and share them. As explained earlier, subscription accounts allow account holders to publish once every 24 hours, while the posting frequency of service accounts is much lower—four times per month—independently of the content format. Although you can combine multiple articles and publish up to eight articles each time, they will be presented as a single post on the user interface. Please note that it is not a hard-and-fast rule that you should publish articles every day or that you should post several articles each time. As long as your articles are high quality, you can choose the frequency that suits best your brand strategy and marketing needs. In 2018, WeChat has announced that it will be soon providing a dedicated application for official accounts that will have extended functions and bring additional advantages to vendors.

Comments Under Articles

In addition to liking and sharing articles, users can leave comments under these articles. After users post a comment, it is not displayed immediately. Comments are collected for review by the management backend and can only be displayed when the account holder moves it to the featured comments section. Account holders can reply to users’ comments. Replies are displayed under the original comment and can be seen by everyone. To make users feel appreciated, it is important that you keep a highly conversational tone and use engaging comments in your replies. This encourages users to post more comments and is a great way for official accounts to monitor and control publicly displayed comments.

Automatic Messages

To improve communication and encourage user engagement, official account holders can create automatic messages. Such messages can be sent in the form of text, images, videos, or voice messages. This category includes welcome messages, autoreply messages, and keyword-based autoreplies. Welcome messages are automatically sent from an official account after a user subscribes to it. It can be a long or short text, voice message, or picture. Such messages welcome new subscribers and provide a brief introduction to the account and its basic functions. Autoreply messages are the second category of automatic messages and appear when a user sends an enquiry to the official account. Generally, account holders leverage this function to let users know that their message is well received and will be answered as soon as possible. Finally, the third category of autoreply messages is more sophisticated. Keyword autoreplies are designated replies that appear only after users send a message that contains certain keywords. The rules can be preset by the account holder. This type of messages is very useful for FAQs, as specific rules can be set up, according to the type of question submitted by a user.

One-on-One Communication

Users who follow official accounts may send direct messages to seek help, make enquires, or complaints. One-on-one communication is a channel that companies and brands can use to build a direct rapport with their followers. Chinese users prefer to chat with merchants directly via official accounts, rather than sending e-mails or making phone calls. From an account holder’s perspective, WeChat is essentially a CRM system, allowing them to collect direct feedback from users and deal with their enquiries. To contact a company, users can send private messages to the official account. In addition to autoreplies, merchants also send messages manually for a live chat. It is important to know that messages sent to your official account cannot be replied after 48 hours, which means that new messages must be answered very quickly. On top of this, messages are only retained in the system for no more than five days. Chinese consumers are very demanding. They expect an almost instant reply to their enquiries. Therefore, handling users’ messages in a professional and timely manner plays a key role there.

Custom Menus

A custom menu can be set up at the bottom of an official account page. Each account is allowed to add three main menus and five submenus under each main menu. When users click on different menus, they usually receive various messages or WeChat articles or are directed to external webpages. Custom menus are particularly useful for service accounts, as more complicated CRM systems can be integrated and different menus can be used for advanced functions like bookings, WeChat stores, and loyalty programs.

User and Content Analysis

Thanks to the account management center, account holders can track their content performance, the article reach, and page views, as well as detailed data such as the number of shares and hyperlink clicks.

Tips

1. Publish up to three articles at a time is the optimal frequency for the average official account holder. Prepare engaging articles and list them in order of importance.

2. A custom menu should include some basic information: brand and product introduction, contact details, sales channels, and customer service channels.

3. Link backend user data to the brand’s CRM system or sales conversion tools for better user data tracking and profiling purposes.

Content Strategy

An official account allows businesses to reach their target audience and grow the number of followers by publishing relevant content regularly. The success of any official account is determined by its content and its ability to win the heart of its customers. A well-designed account with valuable content can help a brand stand out and connect with their audience. WeChat articles are generally lengthier and more informative than posts users find on other social media platforms. WeChat users are more likely to share useful content. Emotionally appealing content, offers and discount updates are also very effective. The most popular types of content on WeChat generally fit into the following five categories:

Trending Topics

Hot topics are the most important content type to incorporate into your articles. They can be about a recent movie, a best-selling book, social issues, special occasions, and so on. Plenty of issues are being discussed on social media, so make sure you focus on those that are recent, relevant, and local. Relating an article to hot topics helps grab attention, encourages readership, and stimulates liking and sharing. Most organic followers can find your account after seeing content that has been shared on their friends’ Moments page, so it is extremely important to create unique, shareable articles that add character to your brand profile.

Useful Information

Your subscribers want to know that you are an expert in your field, and that your social media account is a good place to get detailed insights on your industry trends and products. Users like articles that teach them something helpful and are more than willing to share them with their friends and relatives. So, this type of posts usually enjoy a high level of engagement and can bring in a lot of new traffic. For example, tutorials with practical tips or extensive lists are popular on WeChat. Brands often give useful tips on how to use their products. This kind of content also helps brands to show that they are professional and strengthens their credibility.

Interactive Content

Many official accounts interact with their followers by sharing opinions, telling jokes, inviting them to participate in discussions, collecting their opinions on a specific topic, or creating a poll to let them vote. This type of interactive content helps trigger discussion and increases the account’s traffic. However, such content should be created only after the account has secured a few thousand followers. Otherwise, there will not be much interaction.

Sales

Sales promotions are often posted in the form of articles. However, this information should be embedded in articles about more general topics because users can be easily turned-off by a hard sales approach. If the whole article looks more like a dry newsletter or if it focuses solely on product promotion, it will not hit the right notes with your audience. Sales information should always appear together with other types of content. Most articles contain several types of content. They may start with a trending topic, then have some educational information or fun elements followed by sales information at the end. For instance, the article can start with practical tips on how to use the product, end with sales information, and contain other useful content in the middle. QR codes or purchase links can also be added to facilitate sales.

Brand-Related Content

Brand-related content should contain authentic brand stories and news. It is a good idea to produce some articles about both the history of the brand and the company’s latest achievements. This allows Chinese users to get familiar and deepen their understanding of the brand, which, again, leads to enhanced brand loyalty. Companies can also discuss recent product developments to keep their audience intrigued and create anticipation.

Promotion

Launching campaigns on WeChat is the most effective way to increase user engagement. Although WeChat itself does not have a specific function to organize campaigns, companies can still launch their campaigns through articles offering incentives like discounts or giveaways. There are four common campaign types on WeChat that are often combined:

Lucky Draw

Lucky draws are the most popular WeChat campaign on WeChat. Generally, at the end of a WeChat article, a topic is raised for discussion, and readers are encouraged to leave comments or send private messages to the brand’s official account. The account holder can then choose the lucky draw winner(s) from the participant list. Lucky draws are popular among Chinese users and very effective in encouraging user interactions, attracting new followers, and increasing their loyalty.

User-Generated Content Collection

Brands often encourage users to create themed photos of themselves with the brand’s products and submit them through private message to the brand’s account or upload them to a campaign page to win a gift. Also, brands often launch polls for users to vote for their favorite product or pick their favorite products to be displayed in a future advertising campaign. Companies can also cooperate with KOLs (key opinion leaders)—also known as influencers—when launching such campaigns. User-generated content (UGC) is another type of lucky draw. The main difference is that visual UGC is more persuasive than written testimonials or customer reviews. It also helps companies collect original, high-quality content from their followers, which can be used in future marketing campaigns and increases user engagement. It is also good for attracting new subscribers.

H5 Pages and Games

Mobile-friendly webpages made with HTML 5.0—known as H5 pages—have become one of the most popular tools to conduct WeChat campaigns. It is a very popular trend for companies to build H5 pages for event invitations, interactive digital product brochures, branding, and other marketing activities. An H5 page may feature video, audio, complex animation, or 3D effects. Many companies have integrated H5 pages allowing brands to maximize interactivity with their users. A very common practice is to create a mini game for users to play with top players and win gifts. Alternatively, some companies create H5 pages allowing users to create sharable, individualized content. For instance, they can upload photos to their H5 page to view them with special effects or in different formats. H5 pages have proven to be particularly effective when it comes to improving audience engagement and interaction. They have the potential to go viral and can help brands achieve much wider exposure on WeChat.

Sales Campaigns

There are several ways to launch a more sales-driven campaign. Companies can include themed coupons in WeChat articles, which can then be used either online or offline. Before the coupon expires, users usually receive a message reminding them to use it. This establishes two touch points with customers: the moment the coupon is collected and the moment before it expires.

Flash sales campaigns (discounted sales of designated items for a limited time) are another popular tactic among marketers. They sell limited editions as a special prize to boost sales or offer benefits for purchases over a defined amount. This kind of campaigns help drive traffic from official accounts to online stores. People love special offers and discounts, so sales campaigns are another great way to attract new followers and increase brand loyalty.

Tips for Launching a WeChat Campaign

1. Give each campaign a clear focus and objective. Before initiating a campaign, first determine its goal. The goal can be to boost sales, increase brand awareness, or collect user information to build a database.

2. Offering incentives is a key way to achieve higher engagement. The more complex the campaign rules, the better the gifts users expect to be. Offer gifts that are symbolic and related to your brand, industry, or your campaign theme.

3. Plan a suitable duration for the campaign. A WeChat campaign usually lasts for up to one week in order to achieve optimal exposure and generate participation.

4. Launching campaigns for special events or festivals increases exposure and attracts a larger audience. Weekends, holidays, and national festivals are the best time to launch campaigns. To make sure that you do not miss any important dates for promotion, create a marketing calendar highlighting major holidays like the Chinese New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the 11.11 Festival, and so on.

5. When it comes to H5 campaigns, always test them before the official launch and monitor the various stages of the campaign for possible technical issues or bugs that might allow cheating, especially for campaigns offering special prizes and incentives.

6. Regulations for WeChat campaigns are quite strict. For example, companies cannot launch any campaigns that ask people to follow certain WeChat accounts in return for incentives.

Cooperation with KOLs and Influencers

Engaging influencers and KOLs is one of the fastest and most effective ways to promote an official account on WeChat, post content, or launch WeChat campaigns. KOLs have their own crowd of followers and subscribers who view their opinions and suggestions as credible and influential. Many influencers excel in driving online sales, sharing brand information, offering code discounts, or launching the whole campaign by themselves. Collaborating with bloggers can help raise brand awareness, increase the brand’s follower base, and contribute to the brand’s credibility. Unlike bloggers in other parts of the world, Chinese bloggers do not engage in direct sales. With the expansion of official WeChat accounts, their followers continue to grow, increasing the influence, value, and income of KOLs. Compared with other advertising options, KOL promotion is often, but not always, less costly. The price of WeChat KOL cooperation differs primarily based on their industry, content quality, interest category, follower base, and popularity. The larger the fan base, the higher the content quality and the higher the cost of a contract.

Types of KOLs on WeChat

Most KOLs have subscription accounts, and these can be found by searching within WeChat. There are naturally different categories of KOLs and influencers. They have official accounts that can be divided into two broad categories: individual accounts and agency-managed accounts. Micro-KOLs on WeChat typically have less than 10,000 views per post. Mid-size KOLs average around 50,000 views, while top KOLs have more than 100,000 views per post.

Individual Accounts

As the names suggests, individual accounts are created and managed by individuals. WeChat does not verify accounts opened by individuals. Individual accounts help brands to maintain a good rapport with their followers. Individual account holders are considered reliable authorities when they make product recommendations. These bloggers have stricter standards when choosing brands to cooperate with because they need to maintain their content quality and reputation. When brands cooperate with established individual account bloggers, they can attract a sizeable audience and increase customer loyalty.

Agency-Managed Accounts

As the name suggests, agency-managed accounts are managed by a company or an agency that is listed on their profile page. This type of accounts are verified, and oftentimes, there are several verified accounts under the same name. WeChat allows a maximum of 50 official accounts to be verified under one brand name. These accounts are open to advertising and are more likely to engage with hard sales and marketing approaches. If an agency has several official accounts, companies can consider advertising on more than one account. Agencies usually offer discounts if companies choose to advertise through more than one of their accounts.

KOL Prices and Payment

WeChat KOLs are generally more expensive to hire than Weibo KOLs. Micro-KOLs normally charge between 3,000 RMB and 15,000 RMB per post per article. Mid-tier KOLs’ prices range from 15,000 RMB to 80,000 RMB. Asking KOLs to create themselves text or visual content or place the brand’s post in a prominent position naturally requires higher prices. The majority of KOLs and their agencies accept payments through Alipay. Bank transfers are also accepted, though not preferred, as they often take a longer time to clear. Most bloggers in China require 100 percent prepayment and will only begin promoting your posts after full payment has been received. For smaller businesses, with a contracted amount that is below 15,000 RMB, KOLs rarely sign official agreements. The usual procedure is to negotiate the terms and pay the full amount prior to the work commencing. Please note that most individual bloggers do not issue legal receipts—called fapiao in Mandarin—unless you request one. A legal receipt costs about 10 percent on top of the contract amount.

Finding WeChat KOLs

While WeChat does not have a section where all bloggers are listed, there are three main ways to search for KOLs on WeChat:

WeChat’s Native Search

You can type keywords in the search bar and choose to display only results for official accounts. Then, you will see a list of official accounts based on the keyword search.

KOL Search Engines

There are various KOL search engines such as Sougou, Search Engine for WeChat, NeeRank, Robin8, gsdata.cn. Users can search for KOLs by using keywords and categories. Filters are provided to help further narrow the search. These databases allow users to get the latest data on the total article views, the number of followers, as well as other important statistics. Sometimes, the price range of these KOLs is displayed there too. An alternative platform is PARKLU, which is a KOL matchmaking platform where companies can post information on the campaigns they wish to launch, available budget, and timeline, then select from the list of the KOLs who have applied for collaboration.

KOL Agencies

There are three main KOL agencies in China.

Louis Communication

Gushan Culture

Yaxian Advertising

In addition to these agencies, there is a plethora of companies managing KOL databases. Users can select KOLs by interest category, industry, and promotion budget. They can also check their number of followers and subscribers and get service quotes. After you have identified matching KOLs, it is important that you check their online reputation, previous posts, and articles to see the number of views, likes, and comments. You can also ask KOLs to provide screenshots of their account performance statistics from their account management page to get a better idea of their audience and potential reach, in case you choose to work with them. When working with KOLs, it is easy to decide which promotional method works best to maximize exposure. There are five common methods companies use when working with KOLs on WeChat: product placement, product reviews, sponsored campaigns, WeChat advertising, and Moments ads.

Product Placement and Advertorials

Native advertising—also known under the term advertorial—is the most common way for brands to work with WeChat KOLs. In this case, KOLs prepare an article about a topic in their usual style that features the product or use images featuring the product in the article. Because the articles are original and engaging, readers are less likely to click away. For a sales campaign, brands usually ask KOLs to insert a sales link at the end of the article. Companies integrate different tracking codes in the purchase links distributed to various KOLs to measure their effectiveness and calculate the final commission based on a PPC (pay per click) pricing model.

Product Reviews

For companies, product reviews are the most effective way to introduce their services and products. As many KOLs are experts in their field, they can produce reliable and informative product reviews and compare similar products. Their product reviews are often paired with tutorials and giveaway campaigns or links to the product’s online sales page. Companies that partner with WeChat KOLs who like their products can reach a larger audience and see a noticeable increase in sales.

Sponsored Campaigns and Co-Branding

Brands sponsoring influencers to launch campaigns is another popular practice. KOLs introduce the campaign and offer gifts sponsored by the brand. They can drive traffic to the brand’s official account by integrating the brand’s official account QR code at the bottom of the article. It is important to work together with Chinese KOLs. They retain their style, voice, and approach while engaging in promotional activities.

Sometimes, brands co-create a product with a famous blogger or a KOL and sell it as a limited edition. An example of this is the co-branding between Givenchy and Mr. Bags (a famous WeChat KOL) in early 2017. About 80 limited edition bags worth 1.2 million RMB sold out in 12 minutes. After this successful campaign, Mr. Bags followed up with similar cross-over promotions, working with other luxury brands such as Chloé and Burberry. A growing number of fashion KOLs have their own WeChat stores or mini programs for e-commerce purposes. Companies can offer special editions of their products in the KOL’s WeChat e-shop. It is a good strategy to work with various KOLs for your first campaign in China in order to establish a baseline for results. Choose the best-performing KOLs for your next campaign. Repeat this process until you are left with three to five bloggers who you are happy to work with regularly. It is best to have a long-term cooperation with quality KOLs. If you work with them on a regular basis, their followers will get used to your brand and will be more responsive to promotions.

WeChat Advertising

Thanks to the personalization of digital advertising in China, consumers are twice as likely to click on an ad, compared to the global average. This huge number of active users has made WeChat a battlefield where marketers and advertisers promote their products. However, advertising is not open to all official accounts, neither to all industries. Only companies with verified official accounts in specific industries can apply for advertising campaigns on WeChat.

Currently, WeChat offers two major advertising options: Moments ads and account ads. A new advertising option for mini programs is currently being tested.

Moments Ads

As explained earlier, WeChat’s Moments page is similar to Facebook’s wall and news feed. Users use this space to share their status updates, articles, photos, and so on. WeChat ads look like normal Moments posts with an additional sponsored tag in the upper-right corner. Moments ads can be used to promote an official account, publicize a campaign, or encourage users to download an application, distribute coupons, or launch location-based promotions. For Moments ads, marketers can define their target audience by industry, location, gender, educational level, marital status, and so on.

Display Formats

Starting from 2017, Moments ads have two new formats. One is a card format with a larger space where visual elements are displayed. This enlarges the ad, making it more appealing and eye-catching and also enables it to convey more information on the featured product. Clicking on the card directs viewers to an H5 page or a native advertising page. The second format is an advanced ad format with two buttons, which enables advertisers to showcase two sets of advertising materials in one single ad. Users can click on either button to view different advertisements. Moments ads allow mutual interactions between brands and followers because the latter can like and comment under the ad.

Pricing

Moments ads use the CPM (pay per mille) pricing model. Advertisers are charged per 1,000 views. There are two main purchasing schemes: scheduling and auction.

Scheduling

Auction

Ensures a certain amount of exposure is based on the allocated budget.

This scheme is suitable for advertisers who need flexibility in terms of advertising time and constant ad customization.

CPM pricing model.

 

Price is location-based: first-tier cities, second-tier cities, and third-tier and smaller cities.

RMB 50–150/M for text and image ads.

RMB 60–180/M for video and audio ads.

Price is location-based: first-tier cities, second-tier cities, and third-tier and smaller cities.

RMB 30–300/M for text, video, and audio ads.

Minimum budget:
50,000 RMB per campaign.

Minimum budget:
1,000 RMB per day.

Source: China Internet Watch, 2018.

Account Ads

WeChat offers an alternative advertising channel: account ads. Currently, there are three main types of account ads:

Footer ads

Video ads

Exchange ads

Like Moments ads, account ads can be used to promote an official account or a campaign, encourage users to download an application, or distribute coupons. Account ads also allow brands to advertise products from their WeChat store so that users can find out more or directly purchase the item by clicking on the ad.

Display Formats

Pricing

Mini Program Ads

WeChat has recently released a new feature for its mini programs: allowing advertisers to bid for ad space in the Mini Programs Nearby section. It is, however, under internal testing, and WeChat has not yet officially announced detailed pricing, neither its specific procedures. When WeChat users open the Mini Programs Nearby list, they can see a list of mini programs based on their current location. These mini program ads also appear when people use the search function. For example, when users search for keywords like Thai restaurant or hotel, related mini programs appear. WeChat’s advertising options allow marketers to choose the option that suits best their budget and promotion goals and to showcase their products to target audiences. They also offer an effective way to increase brand exposure and accumulate new subscribers.

How to Start Selling on WeChat

As mentioned before, each WeChat user has a personal WeChat Wallet that is linked to their actual bank account. With their WeChat Wallet, users can engage in the following types of transactions:

Money Transfers

The most common use of the digital wallet is to transfer money to other WeChat users or send red packets. Money can be transferred to a seller’s account or to family and friends’ accounts. As explained earlier, red packets are a Chinese tradition that consists in offering small amounts of money in red envelopes to friends and family at Chinese New Year. It is the equivalent of gift-giving at Christmas in the West. WeChat was the first to make this tradition virtual in 2014. This helped increase the number of WeChat users by millions. WeChat red packets have evolved and are now sent on various kinds of special occasions, such as family celebrations and birthdays, or as a quick way to transfer small sums to friends. In 2017, Chinese users sent on average 28 red packets or 580 RMB per month. Users also sent 46 billion red packets during the Chinese New Year festival, while more than 6.4 billion were sent during the Mid-Autumn Festival of the same year. Companies can leverage this function, as official accounts with a WeChat Pay account can send red packets to their followers on special occasions.

Daily Tasks

Apart from money transfers and red packets, WeChat Pay provides a wide range of payment services. For instance, users can use WeChat Wallet to repay credit card debts, purchase financial services, and donate to charities. Utility bills—electricity, phone, water, TV, and so on—can also be paid using WeChat Pay; it can also be used for parking and traffic tickets. It can also be used to pay for city services such as settling tax bills or making medical appointments.

Third-Party Operators

In WeChat Wallet, there is a section at the bottom that says powered by third-party operator. This section features major tourism, hospitality, transportation, and e-commerce brands. These are Tencent partners, and this section brings them traffic and also offers users a streamlined payment option. For example, JD.com has its own section that allows users to access their online store from within the wallet. Other well-known brands featured there include popular taxi-hailing services, online food delivery platforms, train and flight booking services, and leading online travel agencies, which offer group-buying services and other business services. By partnering up with these brands, WeChat has successfully established a solid service network and cemented its presence in the daily life of Chinese users. Since late 2016, WeChat has moved beyond partnerships, investors, and stockholders. They created a separate section called Limited Time Promotion where brands are featured for a short period of time. Starbucks was the first company to benefit. Since 2016, customers can pay through WeChat in more than 2,400 Starbucks stores across China. In 2017, Starbucks and WeChat co-organized an O2O (online to offline) campaign called Say it with Starbucks. Customers could buy gift cards by clicking a Starbucks icon displayed in their wallet and could also send them to friends through a message. The cards granted holders a free coffee in any Starbucks store in Mainland China. Recently, Mobike, a stationless bike-sharing system, has also partnered up with WeChat. The Mobike button in the digital wallet is linked to its mini program, thus helping users find bikes nearby. Scanning the QR code on the bike unlocks it automatically. Mobike conducted a 30-day free-ride campaign when the promotion launched so that users could get familiar with this service and share free rides with their WeChat friends.

WeChat Pay for Companies and Merchants

This novel payment method is safe, quick, and simple and has revolutionized shopping and consumer interactions in China. Merchants and brands can use their WeChat Pay account for online and offline transactions. Especially for offline transactions, payments are usually made by scanning QR codes provided by merchants. WeChat Pay offers four major features for brands and merchants:

WeChat Pay Merchant Functions

1. In-app Web-based Payments

This function is available for service accounts, government, and corporate accounts. When brands or merchants broadcast promotions or product messages to their followers through their official WeChat account, they have their WeChat Pay enabled, and followers can purchase the products on the company’s WeChat e-shop instantly. When users purchase directly within WeChat, they can complete the payment without leaving the app. In-app web-based payments are suitable for payments within official accounts, on Moments pages, and on chat pages. Customers can pay with their wallet balance or directly from their linked bank card. After confirming the payment amount using their password or fingerprint recognition, they receive a payment notification. They are then directed back to the merchant’s homepage and receive more detailed payment information later.

2. In-app Payments

Merchants can use WeChat Pay’s software development kit to integrate WeChat Pay into their applications. For example, if users make a purchase on an external e-commerce platform application on their mobile device, they can choose to pay through WeChat once on the payment page. WeChat processes the payment and directs the user to the previous app.

3. QR Code Payments

QR codes can be created for different items. After scanning these codes, users can access product information and choose different payment options. QR code payments can also be used for payments on desktop and laptop sites. After being directed to the payment page and choosing to pay via WeChat, a special QR payment code will be generated by the vendor for users to scan. Note that this feature is available for corporate accounts, service accounts, media, as well as government accounts.

To complete transactions quickly, merchants can scan the payment code shown by customers on the Quick Pay page. In offline stores, for instance, users show the payment code in their WeChat Wallet for vendors to scan, in which case, the payment is processed automatically. Quick Pay is equally convenient for offline vendors like convenience stores or supermarkets where payment is processed face to face.

4. Weixin Checkout

WeChat helps vendors generate QR codes, which they can print and place to their stores. This allows customers to scan those codes when making purchases. Weixin Checkout is a great tool for vendors who do not possess programming skills. After scanning the QR code, customers confirm the amount with the merchant and input it in the interface. They then confirm that amount and complete the payment. A message with transaction details is later received by the merchant.

The follow after payment setting allows merchants to direct their offline traffic to their online account. This is a default setting for Quick Pay. However, this feature is not automatic, and the settings for different payment methods are different. The follow after payment feature can only be activated when the amount is above five RMB (0.80 U.S. dollars), and it is only available to established brands when the in-app payment option is being used. Subscription accounts cannot access the follow after payment setting. Service accounts with over 500,000 followers can benefit from this feature. WeChat Pay vendors are normally charged a commission that varies, based on the industry and product category.

WeChat E-Commerce: WeChat Stores

A WeChat e-commerce presence is becoming the norm for all companies. However, it is particularly useful for brands that do not have yet a physical presence in China, as WeChat enables cross-border purchases through WeChat payments. People tend to think that it is not possible for foreign companies outside China to set up a WeChat store. It is! WeChat stores do not get organic traffic though. They need to be promoted. After a company establishes their store on WeChat, they can link it to their official account menu. To buy a product, users can click the custom menu linked to the store to view and choose products using WeChat Pay. The whole purchasing process can be done within WeChat, so the conversion rates increase. Vendors can attract customers with discounts and special offers.

Types of Online Stores on WeChat

There are four main types of WeChat stores:

1. Official WeChat Stores

Verified WeChat service accounts can create this type of platform on their account management page for free.

2. Stores Hosted by a Third Party

There are service providers that enable integration within WeChat. Brands build their store on these platforms and link it to their official account. Most subscription account holders use this platform to build their online stores as the official store function is not available to them. You can usually build the online store for free, but WeChat often charges a deposit and/or management fees. Well-known third-party platforms include Youzhan, WalktheChat, Weidian, and Weimob.

3. Stores on External E-Commerce Platforms

This type of stores include mainstream platforms like JD.com. Taobao, and Tmall stores. These cannot be integrated into WeChat, as they belong to Tencent’s main rival, Alibaba. A company can link to its own official e-commerce platform, but the major drawback is that this takes more time, effort, and financial resources to develop and maintain.

4. Mini-Program Online Stores

With the rise of mini programs, companies now have another option to build their online stores. The WeChat Shop Mini Program is available on the account management page to all official accounts. Advantages include simple procedures, low development costs, perfect integration with WeChat Pay, and access to the Cards and Offers function. Because mini programs are a built-in function in WeChat, a good traffic flow is ensured. This type of store can be linked to official accounts. Companies can broadcast articles with sales information and launch campaigns encouraging users to visit their stores. Customers can also pay via WeChat Pay, which is always there to smooth out the conversion of user traffic into actual sales.

Cooperating with KOLs and Distributors

Brands can normally launch their online stores to sell their products directly to customers. Alternatively, as sales on WeChat are heavily supported by social media and KOLs, brands can cooperate with distributors and KOLs who have already established their own stores on WeChat. Companies can offer special products for sale or launch flash sales campaigns on their stores.

Cards and Coupons

This feature plays a supporting role in the Chinese e-commerce ecosystem. The Cards and Coupons function allows brands with verified official accounts to distribute cards and coupons to their customers. This includes membership cards, vouchers, and prepaid cards. These are distributed by an instant message, as well as through articles, automatic messages, H5 pages, offline QR codes, and via WeChat Shake. Users can store their cards in the Cards and Offers section after collecting them on their personal WeChat page on WeChat. They can use them when they shop offline or online and receive a notification before unused coupons expire. Some coupons and cards can be shared with friends and contacts, thus creating viral spread potential.

WeChat Brand Zone

WeChat launched Brand Zone in late 2017. It is a new search function. Some international luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Cartier, Longchamp, and Michael Kors have already made use of it. Users can access the Discover section, click on Search, and put a brand name as the search keyword. At the top of the search results is the Brand Zone where users can see two tabs. The top tab is connected to an online store and also showcases the brand’s latest collection, while the second tab usually goes to the brand’s official account. This feature allows brands to get extra exposure from organic search and drive user traffic from one section to another. Users’ ever-growing dependence on WeChat Pay signals a great opportunity and an urgent need for change. Both offline and online retailers need to enable consumers to pay via WeChat and help them adapt to a changing e-commerce landscape based on WeChat as the leading social platform.

CRM with WeChat

Brands need to approach WeChat from a CRM and service innovation perspective; otherwise, their WeChat account will not be anything more than a spam box. Companies want to map their WeChat followers to a CRM system of their own. There is no one solution fits all approach when it comes to CRM—especially China CRM!—which is why customizable and integration-friendly CRM solutions are the way to go. Having social media CRM in place will help you understand your customers and followers much better and get familiar with their digital trail, which, again, will help you provide a better and more personalized service and content. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, the method used by WeChat does not allow brands to identify who users are outside of WeChat. The need to link a user’s open ID to an e-mail address or mobile phone is generally the starting point for moving CRM off of WeChat. Also, each WeChat user is limited to a 100 unique tags. If you are looking for a scalable way to manipulate tags, this is not the WeChat backend. Once you have done a good job tagging your followers and subscribers, the primary value is for targeted outbound marketing segmentation, which usually requires a third party.

As WeChat enables brands and companies to communicate directly through official accounts, it can be used as an effective CRM tool that companies can use to communicate. WeChat allows companies to collect and analyze customer data, preferences, and consumption trends. There are plenty of third-party CRM tools offering all sorts of advanced functions. Integrated with those systems, such as WeChat Now, WeixinHost, Capillary, and others, WeChat can help brands and merchants manage inquiries from users and provide better, more customized services. A multi-customer solutions tool allows several staff members to talk to different customers at the same time, so that they do not have to wait long to have their questions answered.

Loyalty Programs

Loyalty programs are the most common type of CRM service. Having a loyalty program integrated into a brand’s official WeChat account, users can sign up for membership, log in to accumulate credit, collect coupons, purchase discounted items, and enjoy other members-only privileges. These programs are widely used by retailers, hotels, and food and beverage brands. There is, however, a lot more that CRM tools can do for brands. Users can, for example, order food using a brand’s online delivery official account. For tourism, customers can check out the available dates and make bookings in advance. Location-based services can also be enabled to further assist their search. For instance, users can share their current location with an official account and receive recommendations for nearby stores and e-map navigation directions. There are lots of options available merchants can use to manage customer relationships in addition to basic monitoring and interactions. Rather than responding to customers in a passive way, make good use of powerful third-party tools to collect the data that you need and use it to better understand your customers. Customers demand timely communication and open conversations with companies, but that is not everything. Improving your products and services should be a key goal, especially when there are great tools that can help you better understand your customers’ needs.

Mini Programs Overview

Mini programs are embedded cloud-based applications that operate within the WeChat system. They are apps within the app. WeChat aims to become a full, independent operating system. In addition to messaging, social media feeds, mobile payments, and games, it has developed its own built-in web browser, and now, through the mini programs function it launched in late 2016, its own sub-apps. In fact, mini programs have been one of the biggest disruptors in Chinese social media and China’s e-commerce industry since their creation. When Tencent officially launched the mini program platform in late 2016, it was considered a turning point for WeChat and a milestone for mobile operating systems. Industry experts predict that WeChat will soon compete with Android and iOS as another major mobile operating system. Although they are more limited compared with full-function applications, mini programs remain very valuable for brands; they can be used to nurture virtual communities, launch creative campaigns, and promote their physical stores. Also, mini programs are much easier to develop than more complex applications. They can be used to test market viability and gather feedback without the need for heavy investment. Their huge user base and sharing features ensure considerable usage.

The term app is avoided to differentiate them from Android and Apple products. Because mini programs are built inside WeChat’s massive ecosystem, they offer great convenience to consumers who are able to access and use these programs, without leaving the main WeChat application. Using those mini apps means that users do not have to download other applications, saving phone storage and optimizing their overall user experience. Within months, mini programs have cemented their place in China’s online ecosystem, leaving many industry insiders surprised by how fast they are growing. According to a new report released in June 2018, there are currently a total of one million mini programs, that is, nearly double compared with the 580,000 in January 2018. In addition to that, the number of daily active users has reached 280 million and keeps growing. Upon hearing these incredible figures, companies might feel rushed to build a mini program. It is, however, important to understand the fundamental trends and traits and what these can mean specifically for their brand, their products, and whether they truly serve their China market strategy.

1. Sharing is the number one way users enter and discover mini programs

WeChat being a closed ecosystem—just as it is often difficult for users to discover official accounts—can be equally challenging to draw users to your mini program. To address this problem, WeChat has been continuously adding new gateways for users to discover and access their mini programs. Yet, despite all these options, from January to June 2018, the most common way to enter a mini program was through a mini program card shared in a chat group or on WeChat Moments—with 34.6 percent of users accessing official accounts in this manner.

Traditional WeChat vs mini program usage during a day

Source: Jisu app’s survey of 50,000 mini program.

2. Retention rates are increasing

Once users have discovered your mini program, you need to keep them coming back, and unfortunately, this is not easy to do. The good news is that, as of June 2018, average user retention rates were significantly higher than in 2017, with next-day retention rates increasing from 13.2 percent to 25.5 percent, and seven-day retention rates increasing from 3.1 percent in 2017 to 13.5 percent in 2018. It is important to keep in mind that, although retention rates keep increasing, they still remain quite low. When it comes to mini program-based e-commerce, companies need to find ways to encourage user engagement. This includes launching loyalty programs and selling limited edition items exclusively on mini programs, as well as adding new merchandise and consistently updating content.

E-commerce mini-programs industry distribution

Source: Jisu app’s survey of 50,000 mini program.

Only 3% of users will come back to mini programs after the first week

Source: Jisu App’s survey of 50,000 Mini Program

Time spent using Mini Programs in 2017 (Minutes per day)

Source: Jisu app’s survey of 50,000 mini program.

How many times do users open Mini Programs in a week?

Source: Jisu app’s survey of 50,000 mini program.

3. Mini program user demographics

According to a recent report, the average age of mini programs users is 29 years old. However, this number might soon increase, considering that the most noticeable change between 2017 and 2018 was the increase in mini program users from the 18–24 years age group, from 17 percent in 2017 to 24 percent in 2018. The largest number of mini program users is currently represented by the 31–35 years age group. When it comes to total usage, the male to female ratio is almost even, 49 percent and 51 percent, respectively. For specific types of mini programs though, the gender ratio is significantly skewed. Most importantly, e-commerce mini program users are predominantly female, accounting for 67 percent of users. When gender ratios are further broken down into specific types of merchants and product categories, the most dramatic imbalance occurs for vertical retailers, that is, brands selling their own products and whose mini program customers are 95 percent female and only 5 percent male. When it comes to users’ educational level, 68 percent hold a bachelor’s or a higher degree.

The top five cities with the greatest number of mini program users are: Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Chengdu. Independently of industry, company type, and product category, the percentage of mini program users coming from first-tier coastal cities remain the highest. Therefore, at an average of age of 29 years, with a relatively high educational level and living in first-tier cities, mini program users are an excellent target group for foreign brands selling high-end goods. Also, companies targeting female users will very likely witness a bigger success.

Source: Jisu App Survey of 50,000 mini program users, Walk the Chat.

Top 10 cities using mini programs

Source: Statista, 2018.

Source: Jisu App Survey of 50,000 mini program users, Walk the Chat.

Source: Jisu App Survey of 50,000 mini program users, Walk the Chat.

Mini Programs for Business

From an instant messaging app, WeChat has evolved into China’s most widely used platform. But, that is not all. Tencent has expressed its commitment to making WeChat the only platform users will need on their smartphones. WeChat is working to achieve this goal with their mini programs, that is, by creating apps within the app. Mini programs were introduced in 2017 and more than 580,0000 mini programs have been developed since, with 170 million monthly active users. These programs cover 20 industries and more than 200 sub-categories. International brands like KFC, Tesla, and Coach have already launched their own mini programs. The format is changing incredibly fast. These numbers are growing very rapidly, so anything that is currently being said and written about mini programs will be quickly out of date. Mini programs are the future of WeChat, so it is important to understand how they work. China’s mobile ecosystem being in constant flux and Tencent being a very dynamic and adaptive company, it is clear that the direction of this format is still evolving. Even the WeChat team themselves cannot fully predict where things will be in a year’s time.

How to Use Mini Programs for E-Commerce

E-commerce is by far the hottest mini program category. The WeChat team has worked to produce a framework so that brands can easily build e-commerce stores that actually duplicate the sort of shopping experience that Chinese users are comfortable with from years of using Taobao and Tmall. Many companies have streamlined the checkout process in detail and supercharged mini programs in a variety of ways, which, when added together, make sales conversion easier through mini programs than through standard web stores.

Gaining Access and Using Mini Programs

There is no mini program page or button. There are several ways to find mini programs to use for the first time. Users can find these programs by searching using keywords, through mini program cards, by scanning special mini program QR codes, or by clicking on links embedded in WeChat articles. Users first have to start using a mini program to activate them on the Discovery page. Mini program codes are quite special. They use an exclusive, independent QR code format that can only be created on WeChat, ensuring control and keeping them within the WeChat ecosystem. The codes can be posted to WeChat Moments or sent to friends. They can be opened by long pressing the code or by scanning it. To access mini programs, you can also use WeChat’s search bar or get a QR code or mini program card from a friend or group via chat. Official accounts often link to mini programs, and subscribers receive a notification and can access it by clicking on the message or by clicking on it on the official account’s profile page. Users can also access them by clicking on mini program cards that usually can be found in WeChat articles.

Mini programs have accumulated a growing user base and tremendous popularity in less than a year. They can replace a large selection of lightly used apps or can be used as light versions of current apps. Mini programs can also be used as trial versions of full apps and lead to purchases and more downloads. When it comes to mini program access, the top three ways users entered them were through sharing (33.5 percent), official accounts (31 percent), and through the quick access pull-down at the top of the WeChat app homepage (20 percent).

How do users access mini programs?

Source: Jisu app’s survey of 50,000 mini programs.

Remember that official accounts are one of the most popular entry points because a large number of e-commerce mini programs are operated by big brands, WeChat KOLs, and WeMedia (WeChat-operated media). Official accounts enjoy a large existing follower base, which they can use to drive traffic to their mini program stores.

It is important to keep in mind that, unlike with social networks and game-based mini programs, users are not naturally inclined to share e-commerce mini programs. However, sharing being the most popular way, users discover and join mini programs, incorporating incentives for sharing them is key for all brands. In addition to sharing, having a large follower base plays a huge role in a company’s ability to drive traffic to their mini programs. Brands with smaller numbers of followers need to focus heavily on user retention and shareability.

Likehood of sharing mini programs by mini program type

Source: IT Consultis

Daily Necessity Tools

Mini programs are the most popular type and cover most daily needs such as translation, geo-location, transportation, polls, and time management. For example, users can use different mini programs to book tickets and check bus and train schedules.

Information and Entertainment

For entertainment-related services, users can check movie reviews and buy theater tickets directly through the mini programs. There is a large number of mini programs for games. Mini programs also allow users to access useful information such as stock market and exchange rates information.

E-Commerce

Brands are now offered the possibility to develop their own e-commerce platform by using mini programs. This option combines low development costs with convenient integration using WeChat Pay and the Cards and Offers feature. Given that mini programs are a built-in function in WeChat, stable user traffic is ensured. Mini programs can also be used to launch giveaways, special offers, as well as user-generated content (UGC) collection campaigns to increase brand awareness, interactivity, and help boost sales. As WeChat gradually allows developers to add more multimedia content in their mini programs, and also considering the popularity of live streaming in China, some merchants have even started doing live streaming on mini programs to boost sales. For example, fashion brands launch flash sales campaigns and live streams to showcase the clothes they sell. If viewers are interested, they can select the items, place an instant order, and complete the payment within the mini program.

WeChat-Related Services

Mini programs offer convenience for those who work closely with official accounts. For example, the Official Account Assistant mini program shows the latest account statistics and followers’ reviews and comments. This feature offers the account holder the possibility to constantly log in to the desktop version. The Weixin Checkout mini program allows merchants to easily access transaction details. Another useful mini program is WeChat Index. It measures the popularity of designated keywords based on their search volume, their appearance in general articles, and their appearance in shared articles on users’ Moments pages. Account holders can input keywords and track their popularity over the last 7, 30, or 90 days. This index is a valuable indicator for companies and social media managers because of the platform’s huge base of prime demographic users. It can help companies identify emerging trends and decide whether to incorporate them into their social media content, while it also reveals the popularity of a brand or a specific product.

Mini Programs as an O2O Facilitator

Many new features have been added in order to encourage more people to use mini programs. There are two special programs designed to help companies and merchants promote their physical stores and function as O2O (online to offline) facilitators: Store Mini Programs and Mini Programs Nearby.

Store Mini Programs

In early 2017, WeChat launched a new feature called the Store Mini Program, which works pretty much like a virtual business card, showing users the basic information about an offline store. Despite its name, it is not currently a mini program, but a feature related to mini programs. Mini programs offered by stores are an effective online-to-offline channel for brands, especially when they want to boost sales in their brick-and-mortar stores. This feature allows brands and merchants holding official accounts to set up store mini programs in a fast and convenient way by simply using their account management page without need for further programming. Basic store information, including the store name, address, contact details, and store photos, is displayed there. It is best to upload photos of the latest products and campaign posters to give customers a quick clear product reference. Membership cards, coupons, and vouchers can also be distributed through store mini programs. Same chain branches are considered different stores and can distribute different cards and coupons from other branches. Account managers can add an interface that allows customers to collect vouchers and membership cards via store mini programs.

Mini Programs Nearby

Imagine this scene: a customer is in a large shopping mall in the center of Shanghai. She stops and takes out her smartphone to check where she can buy a dress for a special occasion. Instead of launching a map, she opens WeChat and goes directly to the Mini Programs Nearby section. Before she decides which store to visit, she can look through all the mini programs nearby list and check out their products, offers of the day, and campaign information.

In early 2017, WeChat launched the Mini Programs Nearby feature that allows brands with offline locations to display their mini programs. When users are near the brand’s location, mini programs of nearby businesses automatically show up. This feature enables sellers to reach more potential customers in real time and plays a crucial role in connecting online customers with their offline stores.

The Future of Mini Programs

Mini program features provide new opportunities for brands and merchants and can lead to a win–win situation for both vendors and customers. For companies and merchants, mini programs provide an alternative O2O conversion channel, by connecting online users with offline stores. Unlike offline stores, where many customers leave immediately without leaving any trace, mini programs offer valuable user statistics that can be used by brands for future reference. Mini programs are also a very convenient platform for customers. Based on what we can see today, the future of WeChat will revolve around further developing and improving mini programs. It is no exaggeration to say that mini programs are the future of WeChat. The main question is how far mini programs will go on to impact the rest of China’s mobile ecosystem. Many industry reports on the growth of mini programs in the second half of 2018 predict that:

There will be three million mini programs.

The number of daily active users will reach 400 million.

Retention rates will continue to increase.

Tencent will continue making it easier for WeChat users to discover and access mini programs.

Mini program stores will become the new standard for e-commerce in China.

There is a common misconception that every brand that has entered China must have its own official account on WeChat. This is not entirely so. For instance, WeChat is not really for B2B companies. The target audience of such brands is really niche, and the type of information they need to communicate is less interesting for general users. Another false assumption is that brands can rely solely on WeChat, and that their WeChat presence alone can bring them everything they want. WeChat, being a semi-closed platform, maintains a rather intimate relationship between brands and users, which means that, at the initial stage, it might not be the ideal platform to grow followers and gain popularity.

In the beginning of this book, three categories of brands were discussed, based on their China market entry strategy. These were international brands already in China, brands engaging in cross-border e-commerce, and overseas brands serving Chinese customers abroad. Now, we will see how these three company types can use WeChat and discuss the most relevant features and tools for each company type.

International Brands Already Operating in China

This company type is already legally established in China. They possess brick-and-mortar and/or online stores in Mainland China. They employ local staff and are familiar with Chinese consumers and well-adapted to the local e-commerce ecosystem. Many such brands are already known to a large number of Chinese consumers.

1. Official Account and WeChat Articles

For this type of brands, it makes practical sense to have their own official WeChat account. As already explained, however, brands need to think first who their target audience is and whether they can leverage WeChat’s features for maximum benefit. Posting on a regular basis is essential to keep the audience engaged. Articles are the most important content type on WeChat so far. Most subscription accounts post up to three articles a day, while service accounts normally post four to five articles per week. These articles are very important for interactive campaigns because brands can encourage users to leave a comment under an article if they want to participate in lucky draws. They usually ask them to share these articles with their contacts or post them on their Moments page in exchange of a prize or a discount.

2. Custom Menu Bar for CRM

WeChat is a great tool for CRM. A big number of third-party CRM tools can be integrated within WeChat as well. Brands can make full use of these features to create a powerful communication channel through one-on-one messaging, loyalty programs, and other services. The platform helps companies collect very valuable user data and helps them build a database for analysis, so that they can better understand customer needs. These CRM-related functions can be incorporated in the custom menu bar, thus allowing users to find the service they are looking for easily when they enter the official account interface.

3. WeChat Stores and the Coupons and Cards Feature

WeChat is very well-suited when it comes to driving sales conversions. Brands can embed links to external e-commerce platforms, with the exception of Taobao and Tmall, which belong to the rival, Alibaba. These links can be added at the end of articles, thus allowing interested readers to buy their preferred products. As an alternative, brands can open their own WeChat stores, which can be done using a mini program. Customers can easily access the store and use membership cards and coupons that they have collected virtually. Full compatibility of WeChat stores with the application itself makes the whole process fast and seamless.

Tencent and Alibaba: key areas of competition

Infographic courtesy of China Channel

4. WeChat Pay

Given that Chinese consumers are accustomed to mobile payments, companies operating in China need to support mobile payment methods for their virtual and physical stores. Taking into account the growing popularity of WeChat Pay, incorporating it has become a must.

5. Wi-Fi Through WeChat

This special WeChat feature can be activated by merchants and brands that own physical stores and hold official WeChat accounts. It can be accessed through a company’s onsite services, usually at the top of the WeChat interface. Users must follow the brand’s official account in order to connect with Wi-Fi. This way, offline users are attracted at zero cost, while merchants can get valuable user data.

Companies Engaging in Cross-Border E-Commerce

This company type sells their products through suppliers and international retailers. They have not officially entered China yet and use an intermediary business entity or online sales outlets in China. It is more useful for them to engage KOLs for their initial promotions than setting up official accounts on large platforms.

WeChat Articles on a KOL’s Official Account

It is common to hire the services of KOLs to help newcomer brands gain recognition with Chinese consumers and test their product offerings before committing to a larger investment. KOLs contribute comprehensive articles, introducing the brand through product reviews and recommendations. Links to major online sales platforms or a flagship store already set up by the brand should be included in these articles.

WeChat Stores and the Coupons and Cards Feature

Brands can choose to offer only specific products for sale on a KOL’s WeChat store. Some KOL WeChat stores offer a range of overseas products. Customers can buy onsite and receive product updates at the same time. Coupons and vouchers can also be distributed to boost sales.

Official Accounts and WeChat Articles

After the brand has gained some customers, they can open an official account and begin posting regular and relevant content to further promote their products or services.

Overseas Brands Serving Chinese Customers

These companies are physically located outside China. Their aim is not to sell their products to consumers living in Mainland China. Instead, their goal is to attract Chinese tourists and visitors and convince them to use their services when they travel abroad. Such brands often operate in the hospitality industry and include hotels, restaurants, or even private education institutions that want to attract international students from China. Such brands are likely unknown to the average Chinese consumer, and their biggest challenge is to stand out and get noticed by Chinese travelers.

Official Account

Holding an official account is a prerequisite to take advantage of most of the features described earlier. Therefore, these brands need to register for one. Outbound Chinese travelers use Weixin. Always remember the difference between Weixin and WeChat’s international version explained earlier. Otherwise, you will never reach your target audience.

Overseas Moments Ads

Since 2017, WeChat allows overseas brands to launch Moments ads in specific regions or countries. Note that, as it is still at the open beta stage, it is not available to everyone. It is only available in certain regions. This feature allows companies and merchants located overseas to access outbound Chinese travelers or Chinese expatriates living abroad. Overseas Moments ads target users that log in to WeChat in a specific region or country. So far, however, no city-level targeting is available. At the time of printing, WeChat overseas advertising was open for 16 countries and regions including Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The minimum budget varies based on the target country and region and also depends on the ad format.

The Coupons and Cards Feature

Overseas brands can give away digital vouchers and coupons through WeChat Shake or articles. Users can turn on their phone’s Bluetooth, open WeChat Shake, and choose Nearby. They can shake their device to receive vouchers, coupons, and other special offers from nearby stores. Coupons must have wide validity dates so that users can collect them before their trip and use them overseas later. This feature is also a great way to drive traffic to offline merchants and businesses, especially hotels, restaurants, and retail stores.

WeChat Pay

WeChat Pay has conquered China and is now expanding to a number of overseas regions and countries. With the number of outbound Chinese tourists increasing rapidly, it has become a rigid demand for overseas merchants to support Chinese digital payment methods in order to offer convenience, address customers’ needs, and encourage Chinese customers to spend more. WeChat Pay accounts can now be linked to foreign credit cards in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macao, and this can also be done by foreigners living in Mainland China. The major advantage of enabling WeChat Pay is that outbound Chinese visitors can shop overseas in RMB, based on real-time exchange rates, while WeChat Pay settles each transaction with overseas merchants based on local currency prices. Transactions can also be made in U.S. dollars. Major foreign currencies so far include, but are not limited to, USD, EUR, HKD, JPY, GBP, CAD, AUD, NZD, KRW, and so on.

WeChat Main Functions: Connect and Share

WeChat users can send messages, text, voice message, pictures, or videos to their contacts and groups. They can also make audio or video calls. Link from other apps (QQ music, Weibo, Zhihu, and so on) can also be shared with WeChat friends either directly or through a group chat.

WeChat Shake

This particularly interesting and fun feature allows users to connect with others by shaking their phones at the same time. After that, they can add each other as friends and chat. Offline merchants like hotels and supermarkets can also use WeChat Shake to make special offers. When users arrive at a designated location, they can open WeChat and shake their phones to get red envelopes, promotional codes, or coupons. TV stations have widely used this function to attract audiences and interact with them on a real-time basis. When people watch a TV program, the WeChat Shake logo often appears at the corner of the TV screen to remind viewers to open WeChat and shake for red envelopes, gifts, lucky draws, or special offers.

People Nearby

Just as its name implies, this function helps people find other users nearby. They can then add each other as friends and chat if they are looking for friends or someone to date. This function works based on users’ real-time location.

Moments

Moments is a major social networking function within WeChat. For general users, it works as a semi-closed platform where they can share all types of content: text, pictures, videos, articles, and even external links. These posts can only be seen by selected users. Moments is also a significant channel for brands to promote themselves and increase their follower base through ads and other types of content.

WeChat for Business Communication

WeChat is widely used at the workplace and has developed a number of features, such as easy file sharing and conference calling options, to streamline it for work. As a result, it is widely used for intranet communication. Enterprise accounts are used more and more for things like applying for leave, tracking projects, and submitting reimbursement forms. As most Chinese users use WeChat heavily anyway, it saves everyone’s time and money. It is also increasingly common for colleagues and business professionals to scan each other’s WeChat QR codes instead of exchanging business cards.

Digital Wallet

WeChat Wallet: Red Envelopes and Paying Bills

Red envelopes with lucky money are a Chinese tradition on special occasions, but they have now evolved into a digital form. Now with WeChat, red packets can be offered with one’s WeChat Wallet balance or through account-linked bank cards. WeChat Wallet can also be used to settle bills by scanning a QR code or having one’s own QR codes scanned by merchants. Users can also transfer money directly to each other easily. There is even a Go Dutch function that makes it easier to pay for group activities such as team lunches.

Third-party Applications and Mini Programs

WeChat is also a platform for third-party applications, and there are mini programs for services such as paying for taxi services, shared bikes, paying utility bills, and much more. Mini programs even allow users to shop online, so they do not have to leave WeChat to use online shopping websites or applications. Third-party applications for booking flights and hotels also work within the app.

A Finger on the Pulse

Official Accounts

A variety of official accounts established by brands, media, or even individuals are available for users to subscribe to. They produce articles, news, stories, product reviews, and more. They update daily, so people can get a lot of information through official account subscriptions. WeChat has announced that, in the near future, they will be launching a special app for official accounts that is expected to provide expanded marketing opportunities for brands.

Information Mini Programs

If users have already a favorite magazine or newspaper, they can check for their mini program so that they can receive regular updates without leaving WeChat or switching to other media sources.

Search

Now that WeChat is improving its search function, information is becoming easier to find. You can search for any type of content such as articles published by official accounts, mini programs, content published by friends and fellow group members, conversation history, stickers, and so forth. Users can also do research on products they want to buy or find news on certain topics from the media, the public, and their friends, all within WeChat.

Necessary Steps to an Effective Social Marketing Campaign

Your company’s social media pages should be updated on a weekly, if not daily basis. Make sure that your posts link back to your company’s website to drive more traffic.

Direct communication is a key element for an effective digital marketing campaign targeting Chinese users. Make sure that you use social media platforms in a way that inspires dialogue in order to keep your followers engaged.

Interested customers should be given available options for directly asking questions related to your product or service. Make sure your response to inquiries is always prompt
and personal.

It is crucial that you understand fully the needs and preferences of your targeted consumers. This will allow you to tailor your offering to local tastes, and it is a necessary step to building a unique value proposition.