If you ever toyed with the idea of expanding your business to China, then you’re likely aware of the many challenges that pertain to marketing in China. The digital tools and platforms that we often rely on – Google AdWords, Google Analytics, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter – are completely blocked in China.
So how can you reach Chinese customers online?
Luckily for all of us, China has its own set of digital channels that can deliver stellar marketing results and expedite your growth, if you play your cards right.
Among the dozen of social media apps that are currently popular in China, the clear favorite is WeChat. At a quick glance, WeChat appears to be a simple messaging app but it is actually packed full of features that help businesses connect with Chinese consumers. Some of these include:
— Official Account (similar to Facebook Page) with customizable menus
— Advertising platform that supports a range of promotional capabilities
— Content management system that lets you create exceptional multimedia content experiences
— Audience management that lets you do cool stuff like audience segmentation
— eCommece capability that makes it easy to run a store within WeChat
— Analytics that provides detailed reporting on followers, social posts and ad performances
WeChat has developed a digital ecosystem of its own and for that reason it is absolutely dominating the mobile Internet. With 846 million monthly active users as of the third quarter of 2016, WeChat only trails behind Facebook as the second leading social network worldwide.
That’s a lot of people you could potentially target.
But how will you be able to effectively reach them?
You can start by creating a WeChat Official Account, which functions like a cross between a Facebook Page and a mini-site: you have a lot of control over your own brand messaging, as well as a lot of flexibility in terms of customizing your WeChat Official Account to suit your needs.
Benefits of WeChat as a Marketing Tool
1. Superb content experience
Chinese consumers tend to respond positively to personable and light-hearted content from brands, especially if the headlines are infused with Internet slangs and catchphrases. WeChat’s visually appealing and versatile content layout perfectly complements that communications style and allows brands to showcase their unique personalities.
WeChat allows Official Accounts to share text, images, audios and videos to their followers. Each type of content presents another opportunity for you to deliver a great content experience that keeps your audience hooked.
— Text: text is the backbone of all communications, and a clear, informative yet cleverly crafted post goes a long way towards amping up that virality factor as people like to share amusing content with their WeChat friends.
— Audio: putting a voice behind an otherwise bland corporate entity gives the latter a more vivid personality while winning hearts and minds of potential clients.
— Images: images definitely appeal to the Chinese audience. They especially enjoy meme-like emojis and images that are humorous and relatable. If you want your articles to be read from the beginning to the end, sprinkle a few fun and relevant images in to break the monotony.
— Videos: video is another type of content that can be quickly consumed. Short and funny videos (if done right) often generate a lot of shares among WeChat users, and there’s nothing wrong with mixing entertainment and product messaging!
2. Huge user base
Apart from China, WeChat is growing rapidly in other Asian countries as well (growth rate as high as 1774.3%). Because of WeChat’s high market penetration and large user base, many companies – from Fortune 500 companies to local mom and pop shops – have already built a fanbase through WeChat.
It’s safe to say that the competition is quite fierce at the moment, but don’t let that deter you from using WeChat as a marketing funnel. It’s still possible to break through the noise and achieve your marketing goals with flying colors, if you put in the work.
While we’re on the subject, WeChat employs the real-name system which is straightly enforced and each individual account is linked to a phone number. This is definitely a plus for many businesses that wish to build real connections with their clients.
Running a WeChat Official Account is absolutely free (although applying for account verification requires 300 Chinese Yuan or roughly 45 US dollars). The only real cost is the time and effort you will put into customizing your Account page, and the day-to-day management of your Account.
While Facebook lets you create and manage tabs within your Page, WeChat is even more customizable. In addition to all the Facebook-esque features that you’re familiar with, each WeChat Official Account comes equipped with a two-tier menu that floats at the bottom of the mobile screen, which you can customize to your heart’s content. There’s a whole guide dedicated to creating custom-defined menu within WeChat here.
This level of customization allows you to engage with your customers in a way that is tailored to your business objectives.
For companies that don’t have the resources to build their own mobile app, a WeChat Official Account could be the next best thing:
Retailers could integrate the store locator function within their Official Account and let people find the nearest store on the go.
If you run a media company, you can let people browse and subscribe to your magazines directly within WeChat.
Just starting out and want to gather feedback? Launch a survey on WeChat!
Or you might just want to link to important parts of your website.
It is entirely up to you what you want to do with your Official Account and the possibilities are endless.
ZTE, a Chinese telecom company, took it to another level by adding gamification to the mix. Following the launch of their latest smartphones, they made it possible for their followers to enter raffles directly within WeChat to win big prizes (including the latest ZTE smartphone), and play games to obtain discount coupons that can be used towards the purchase of ZTE products.
The WeChat Marketing Process
Contrary to most social networks, WeChat comes in handy in every stage of the buyer’s journey. Here’s how.
Phase 1: Awareness
To better illustrate this, let’s use an example.
In this example, let’s pretend for a moment that you’re in the business of selling fitness trackers. You have your WeChat Official Account set up and you’ve been running it successfully for a while. Mr. Li is a fitness enthusiast, and naturally, a potential customer. He has just found your Official Account by searching for “Fitness” on WeChat. He has never heard of your company before, but after browsing your archived posts, he decides to follow you.
But despite his interest in your content, he is far from becoming a customer at this point.
What can you do to entice him into eventually becoming one?
You can certainly start by giving him what he wants: workout tips, muscle-building recipes, supplements reviews, etc. If he sees something he likes, he would likely share your content with his circle of WeChat friends, exposing your brand to a larger audience and generating more awareness for your brand in the process.
Currently, you only can upload 1 post per day on WeChat if you have a Subscription Account, or 4 per month if you have a Service Account. With this restriction in place, you want to make sure that every post serves a pre-defined purpose.
Now you might be wondering, what are Subscription Accounts and Service Accounts, and more importantly, how are they different from one another? Please see table below.
But I digress.
Phase 2: Nurturing & Engagement
Remember Mr. Li the fitness lover? By now several months has passed since he first subscribed, he is still following your company on WeChat and finds your content tremendously helpful. He has definitely developed an affinity towards your brand and regularly checks your account for new content.
Now that Mr. Li has shown a deeper level of interest, it’s time to take things to the next level.
There are 2 ways to engage with followers on WeChat:
1. Be responsive
Because followers can initiate chat conversations with any Official Accounts that they follow, responding to fans’ messages promptly and professionally is the natural way to retain and build long-lasting relationships with them. The frequency with which fans interact with you is highly indicative of their interest in your brand.
If it’s not possible to have a person ready to respond at all times, make sure to put your contact information within WeChat so people can connect with you elsewhere.
2. Customize your account menu
Building and customizing your Official Account menu puts you in charge of your marketing. As I have previously mentioned, you can boost engagement and stickiness through the creative customization of your WeChat menu.
Here’s an example of Coca-Cola using WeChat’s custom menu to promote their “Open the Cap to Win” event.
The menu links to these 2 pages:
Left image: the page where users can enter to win by typing in the 11-digit code found inside Coca-Cola bottle caps
Right image: the page where people can check their winning history by entering their phone number
By capitalizing on people’s desire to win prizes, it is easy to see how this event could have boosted sales while further reinforcing the brand image that Coca-Cola is all about fun and happiness.
Phase 3: Transaction
Wouldn’t it be nice to sell more products?
I have great news for you: you can sell directly within WeChat. WeChat’s built-in billing system gives you a convenient way to handle payments while simultaneously providing a seamless check-out process for your customers.
Mr. Li, our make-believe customer, is now ready to buy a fitness tracker. He has been following your Official Account and reading both of your curated and branded content for a while. By engaging with your WeChat account over an extended period of time, Mr. Li has inadvertently learned enough about your products and their outstanding features that becoming your customer is a no brainer as soon as he decided to add a tracker to his fitness arsenal. Of course, the fact that Mr. Li can check out through a one-click payment system within WeChat helps making the purchase a hassle-free experience for him.
On the back-end, once you have a verified WeChat service account, you can upload product details, manage orders, and even setting discounts. Use the WeChat’s eCommerce feature to its fullest extent by keeping your store active and your fans up-to-date about the latest promotions.
H&M, the affordable Swedish fashion brand, exemplified m-commerce effectiveness with their WeChat shop — created to highlight their latest collections and the products that are on sale.
Phase 4: Customer Service
After placing his order, Mr. Li happily awaited the arrival of his fitness tracker. However the estimated delivery date came and went but the product had not been delivered as promised. So he reached out via WeChat to inquire about the shipping status of his order.
After investigating and explaining the situation to Mr. Li, you made sure to resolve this issue to the customer’s satisfaction.
Another major asset of WeChat marketing is its customer support features. WeChat provides official account admins access to Message API so they can manage incoming messages and set up automatic replies. The importance of digital customer service can’t be stressed enough.
Louis Vuitton takes advantage of the message API by setting up a welcome message that specifies the hours that they would be available to assist customers on WeChat. Even more impressively, different automated responses are given out depending on the keywords included in the original inqueries. This allows LV to provide quick and relevant replies in an instant.
Another great example is KLM, an airline company based in the Netherlands, who went as far as integrating its WeChat customer service queries into its Salesforce CRM platform which significantly speeds up the response time.
As you can see in this screenshot below, KLM had replied to my message within 30 minutes with a courteous message (that translates to “Hello, please to meet you. How can we help you?”) which attests to the quality of their customer service.
WeChat is the hottest social media platform in China right now with a significantly large user base and a whole suite of features that can help businesses reach and engage with users. A lot of companies big and small have already jumped on the WeChat marketing bandwagon, and if you intend to expand your business to China, you’d be missing out if you brush it off.
Just like with all social media platforms, there are no “shortcuts” to getting the attention of your potential customers and winning their hearts, but sharing great content and creating meaningful interactions with people will never go out of style, and that’s definitely the case on a crowded platform like WeChat.