WeChat marketing popularity and widespread appeal has been astonishing with 650 million worldwide subscribers and 570 million daily active users.
With its level of security and its amazing features that allow users to send messages, pay bills, order food, buy movie tickets, and even make doctor’s appointments, no wonder brands using WeChat as part of their mobile strategy have become real competitors for those who haven’t.
In this article, we will show you seven brands that have made an amazing impact on their brand presence and growth once they started advertising on WeChat. We will also discuss tips and general key benefits of doing WeChat marketing and some of the challenges that you can anticipate and prepare for in advance.
Quick WeChat overview
WeChat is a mobile messaging app developed by Tencent in January 2011. It was originally called “Weixin”, but was later rebranded to WeChat for the international market. As of 2014, 100 million of its 650 million subscribers are located outside China.
WeChat is available for iOS and Android devices and it can also be accessed on OS X and Windows provided that the user installs the app on a mobile phone first for authentication.
More than the ads, WeChat’s biggest source of revenue is in its payment integrations. In 2014, it opened up its platform so developers can build ecommerce stores and a range of other online services directly on the app.
What makes WeChat powerful in ecommerce is how it successfully compiled the popular features of the largest social media platforms in one package. With its massive resources, brands can roll out marketing campaigns that utilize the different facets of the user’s world.
Instant messaging. Before we explore WeChat for its ecommerce applications, it is first and foremost a messaging app. Brands can communicate with their customers on a one-to-one basis for general customer service or for marketing communications.
App-within-an-app feature. Did you know that developers can create an app inside WeChat? These apps can be used to fulfill different marketing objectives such as games, quizzes, competitions and anything that can engage people to the brands they follow.
Public Account. When you create a public account for your brand, you can push feeds to your subscribers, interact with them and provide information about your products. There are three public accounts available on WeChat – subscription, service and corporate accounts.
Subscription and service accounts are great for marketing, communication and product promotion with one message set per day and one message sent per week respectively. The corporate account is designed for internal communication only and is limited to businesses officially operating in mainland China.
WeChat Pay is a payment feature that can be integrated into the app so users can process payments quickly on their devices. It has Quick Pay, in-app payments, and QR code payments to facilitate the type of settlement the user has in mind. It covers major currencies and for unsupported ones, trade can be made through US dollar settlements.
WeChat Wallet is where users can link their bank accounts and credit cards to their WeChat account to process online and offline purchases. WeChat Wallet is a strong competitor of AliPay, another mobile wallet option.
WeChat Stores allows businesses to build their branded stores inside WeChat. Initially limited to major brands and retailers, small ecommerce businesses can now open up shop on WeChat. This is helpful for businesses looking for a way to build their stores on mobile. As for the payments, all transactions go through the WeChat payments platform.
Moments is WeChat’s social component that functions a lot like a Facebook timeline. Brands can interact with users by sharing photos, sights, texts and links on the app. Users can interact by liking, sharing and commenting on the posts.
City Services allows users to do a variety of activities without leaving the app such as paying for utility bills, splitting restaurant bills with friends, booking a hotel or making a doctor’s appointment. Although it is still limited to 27 cities in China, it can be a game-changing feature once rolled out globally for ecommerce and non-ecommerce entities alike.
Microsites. Since the WeChat platform is open to developers, brands can create their dedicated microsites for any of their campaign activations or use it as a mobile touchpoint for customer engagement and interaction.
WeChat’s sticker market can be a great feature also to add to your mobile marketing strategy. Create custom-made stickers to add life to your branded interactions on the app.
With these relevant WeChat ecommerce features (with more probably on the way), WeChat is not only a “new way to connect”, but also to sell.
Ecommerce brands on WeChat
Since its release in 2011, brands have picked up on the app and started experimenting with it as part of their mobile marketing strategy.
With its variety of features, it is interesting how brands are using these to their advantage. Check out the unique WeChat marketing strategy of each of the following brands and let these inspire you as you eventually put your ecommerce brand on the WeChat map.
Wanting to expand its presence in China, Burberry turned to WeChat in the autumn of 2013 to promote an event they called the “Art of the Trench” campaign. This campaign features photos of people in their Burberry trench coats, which were later published in an online gallery.
It was initially designed as a standalone social media platform. However, fans were commenting, liking and sharing their photos on Facebook, Twitter and email, which led Burberry to adopt more platforms, including WeChat, to expand the campaign and grow their fan base.
This campaign was followed by a runway fashion show attended by celebrities. Fans can follow these celebrities on WeChat, receive updates from the show and request for personalized images.
Burberry also launched a parallel social event to promote the opening of their flagship store in Shanghai. Five days before the opening, they ran a contest on WeChat and gave away tickets to the event. Fans joined the contests and were also treated to interactive panoramic images of the Shanghai and London skylines by shaking, swiping or tapping their devices.
And in celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year in 2016, Burberry created a special WeChat app called “A Lunar New Year Gift” where users can “unwrap” the brand’s products by tapping, swiping or shaking their devices. Personalized Lunar New Year envelopes were also created for the users to send to their loved ones.
Starbucks created a WeChat account in 2012, making it one of the first few brands to make their presence felt on the platform. To generate interest, they ran a month-long campaign where they asked fans about their current moods using any of the 26 emoticons on WeChat. Starbucks, in return, replied with a song that corresponds to the emoticon. At the end of the month, Starbucks attracted 62,000 fans with an average of 22,000 received messages per day.
In 2014, Starbucks once again tapped WeChat for its Refresha launch, a line of iced tea drinks. To demonstrate the refreshing aspect of the beverages, Starbucks packaged every Refresha drink with a refreshing song.
They put together a Refresha Band, a band that created songs non-stop over the campaign period. The mechanics were simple. Fans just need to scan the QR code on their cups to join, and similar to their month-long launch campaign in 2012, fans simply need to send in an emoticon and in return, the Refresha Band will play a song that will match it.
Over 50 songs were created during the campaign period. With zero media investment and all word-of-mouth, a total of 270,000 more WeChat fans were added to Starbucks’ fan base. More than 427,000 emoticons were shared and rewarded with songs. The free media exposure was estimated to be worth more than 1 million RMB.
Mulberry uses WeChat as an online product catalogue. It also uses the platform to share their digital content such as updates on new arrivals, campaigns, behind-the-scenes images, style guides and brand stories. All of these content are exclusive to the app.
As a brand with a rich heritage and sophistication, WeChat acts as a platform where followers can create their own journey through the brand story.
It officially launched its presence on WeChat in 2014 with their Autumn / Winter campaign advertisements. Through WeChat, they released behind-the-scenes footages of the campaign through a microsite and a video.
Also via WeChat, Mulberry communicates with their Chinese consumers and guides them as they move towards understated luxury leather items. They are able to do this through customer service and branded interactions on the app.
Otte is another Western brand that found its presence on WeChat. It is a small fashion boutique chain in New York City that opened up its first store in Shanghai in 2015.
Otte isn’t exactly a popular fashion brand among Americans, but what drove the brand to open up a store in China is the fact that over 50% of its online customers are Chinese living in the US or in China and its 16-year old retailer is extremely active on WeChat and Sina Weibo, the equivalent of Twitter in China.
Under the handle ‘Otte Girl’, the brand personally responds to private messages and poses a lot of poll-like questions to engage followers, give them a venue to voice out their opinions and generate consumer insights.
This highlights the big untapped potential in Chinese social media and the way information is consumed in China, which is predominantly through mobile devices. It does not matter too that Otte lacked a physical presence in China to be successful because many Chinese consumers do their shopping outside the country anyway.
Uniqlo, one of Asia’s biggest apparel companies, understands that in China, the population is not only mobile-first, but mobile-only. Majority are accessing the internet with their devices with some not owning a computer at all. There becomes a challenge for brands to integrate online and offline campaigns together, and Uniqlo was able to successfully address this through their “Style Your Life” Project.
This campaign helped Uniqlo double its number of WeChat followers from 400,000 at the time they started the campaign to 1 million at the end of the six-month duration. The campaign worked via in-store monitors where people tried on outfits in front of it and backgrounds featuring different sights of London and Tokyo appeared.
The monitors sent the photos on WeChat where people could share it on their own accounts. Approximately one-third of those who received their photos shared them on WeChat or on the web.
This campaign also worked without the in-store monitors, which included people who were aware of Uniqlo, but does not have a store in their area. All they had to do was to take a selfie and share it on their WeChat accounts to participate. Aside from the increase in followers, Uniqlo was also able to increase the sale of their key items by 30%.
In celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival in 2014, Kate Spade launched a sky lantern-flying game where users can celebrate the Chinese tradition virtually by choosing the color of their lanterns, writing their well-wishes and greetings, encouraging friends to fly their own via QR code scanning, and finally releasing the lanterns into the night sky.
On top of the symbolic celebration, participants were also encouraged to leave their personal information for a chance to win gifts from Kate Spade.
Similar to Burberry, Kate Spade also celebrated the Chinese New Year in 2016 with digital red envelopes where followers have to shake their devices to see what’s inside. The nine tiles in the home screen are three spades, representing the brand, and the remaining six features the brand’s Chinese New Year collection. Followers can tap on the tiles to see the items from the collection.
By adopting unique Chinese traditions in their WeChat marketing strategy, Kate Spade was able to connect followers to the brand and develop stronger brand awareness.
On its WeChat mini website, Sephora dedicated a page for its loyalty program, rewarding customers with discounts, exclusive access to promos, points and rewards. Customers can send their points balance and benefits, update their information to stay updated with the latest offers and link back to Sephora’s official account on WeChat.
In 2013, Chinese social media was all about Bobbie, a purple teddy bear stuffed with Tasmanian lavender that turns into a virtual hot-water bottle with the help of a microwave.
Sephora latched on to this stuffed toy sensation and launched a campaign, “Sweet BFFs, Pink Messages” on WeChat where they gave away pink-talking teddy bears. Participants need to take photos with their BFFs, decorate it with pink elements using the app, and share them on WeChat’s Moments for a chance to win pink teddy bears and Sephora discounts.
WeChat Marketing Tips and Benefits
Despite the many features WeChat offers, it is all up to brands how to creatively use it to their advantage. You need to figure out the best way to engage with your customers and hopefully these tips can lead you to the right answers.
It’s not enough to just have a WeChat presence
Unless you already have an existing customer base that you can migrate to another platform, marketing on WeChat is a tricky business. You need to optimize your account for search and apply SEO principles to ensure your organic presence.
There are tech companies that register company names on WeChat only to sell it to the right business owners for a price. Avoid fake accounts by verifying your account as soon as you register it. The sealed sign should be an assurance for your followers that yours is legitimate. Aside from the security, a WeChat account with a sealed sign will always appear on top of search engines.
If you happen to have a physical store for your brand, make sure that your QR code is featured in all your point of purchase materials. This allows you to convert fans to your WeChat account through various means including offline. When someone scans your QR code, they instantly become connected to your account and follow all the content you are sharing.
Be careful with redirects
Unless your existing ecommerce site is mobile-friendly, you have to be careful where you redirect your followers from WeChat. Otherwise, it may compromise what already seems to be a smooth experience of your brand on mobile.
Try to keep your followers within WeChat. With the platform’s flexibility and ecosystem of interrelated services and functions that can be integrated directly within WeChat, you can build an account that offers the same interaction on your ecommerce site and other social media accounts.
Always be innovating
It’s one thing to get inspiration from brands that are already advertising on WeChat and another to set a marketing trend that others will follow. There’s more to WeChat than instant messaging and that should pave the way for greater things.
On WeChat, everything is possible. Taking advantage of its ‘app-within-an-app’ feature, you can create branded WeChat apps to fulfill different marketing objectives – create loyalty programs, give out incentives and coupons, launch seasonal campaigns, display product catalogues, and more.
And with mini sites, you can use these to build better brand experiences for your followers. Great content is still the currency whether for your WeChat marketing strategy or not.
Invest on conversations
Seize every opportunity to start conversations with your followers. Sending them a quick thank you note for following your brand is the beginning of wonderful interactions that can translate into brand affinity, more sales and loyalty.
Be creative and ask your followers questions to get their insights. Interact with text and voice messages, walkie talkie, stickers, articles, music and more. And the same way you manage your communities on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, foster your own new community on WeChat by having a dedicated social media manager or by taking care of the conversations yourself.
Challenges on the app
Unlike Facebook where setting up accounts is relatively easy to do, WeChat requires some level of technical know-how for accounts to be properly created. You also need to choose wisely between a subscription and service account before setting up any account.
And given the density on WeChat, it can be challenging for newcomers to break through the clutter. If you are unaccustomed to how WeChat works, you might lag behind in garnering attention as the app requires brands to act much like its users and not separate themselves as marketers. You need to be competitive and creative with your campaigns and communications on the app.
If you want to include ads in your overall WeChat marketing strategy, it might be a little tough compared to Facebook ads. In fact, majority of marketers do not recommend it primarily because of its price where service ads called WeChat Moments have an initial cost of $800,000. Targeting options are also limited to age, location, gender and device type, which are not enough given the millions of users on WeChat.
Ads on WeChat also have generally low click through rates. For instance, for subscription accounts, ads are limited to banner-like placements positioned at the bottom messages, which cause poor user interactions.
Since ads on WeChat are not as big and helpful as ads on Facebook are, it raises another challenge where brands need to strategize on ways to increase their followers and keep them engaged all organically without the assistance of paid efforts.
To grow their community on WeChat, brands need to be always updated on what is popular among its followers, create fun and relevant content to engage with them and just know what sticks in their daily lives.
More importantly, the current WeChat analytic tools could do well if it can provide more in-depth information. The current analytic tools can only provide few demographic information and data are so far limited to number of views, shares, favorites and duration of stay. More robust analytic tools are needed to match the competitiveness of the app.
Given the benefits, tips and challenges of doing WeChat marketing, will you still consider it for your ecommerce business?
Keep in mind the following before and even during your campaigns on WeChat:
- Always define its role in your overall marketing strategy
- Make your QR codes ubiquitous so anyone can instantly connect to your WeChat account
- Be extra careful when you’re taking your customers outside of the app. At the very least, let your followers interact with your brand without leaving the app.
- Do not stop innovating. Keep on creating unique and creative campaigns to keep your followers engaged. Maximize the different features and integrations for your WeChat ecommerce presence.
- Keep the conversations alive and great content always on top of your strategy.
All marketing platforms do have its pros and cons, but seeing how WeChat can give your business a boost alongside the other campaigns you are already running and platforms you are already using, this growing social media platform might be all you need to finally bring your numbers higher and your brand presence more felt than ever.