January 7, 2013

2013 Outlook: Premium Brands In China Can’t Ignore WeChat

Behavior Of Netizens Has Changed: It’s Now Mobile, Tailor-made & Geolocalized

WeChat currently has over 300 million users

By the end of this year, China will have several hundred million smartphone users, able to receive directly tailor-made content, offers and services, make purchases via integrated payment systems, and instantly share news, insights and interests with their personal networks. Currently boasting over 300 million users in China, the leading mobile group messaging app WeChat (weixin, 微信) now reaches 70 percent of China’s 3G mobile phones and continues to catch on in China as well as throughout Asia.

As netizens in China spend less time on PCs, increasingly using tablets and smartphones for communication, games, news-gathering and commerce, WeChat is perhaps the best way to reach this young and crucial audience.

Rather than going into the one-on-one communication aspects of WeChat or its C-to-C functionality, in this article I’ll focus on the app’s B-to-C aspects and recent corporate account activities. For premium brands, mobile is now the key to reaching China’s tech-savvy, young consumer: not only to boost CRM and brand awareness and develop O2O (Online to Offline) strategies, but also to create tailor-made marketing and sales campaigns that are geolocalized to reach the right audience.

Individual vs. Corporate WeChat accounts

Understanding WeChat’s Corporate Accounts

1. How Do I Follow a Corporate Account? 

There are two main ways to follow a corporate account on WeChat: Scan its QR code (in a store, online shop or print ad), or get a member of your WeChat network to share the account with you. The brands themselves can’t reach the end-user — it’s the individual user who has to reach the brand. This is one the most important aspects of WeChat: it’s meant for users to work on their relationships with social groups, and to let him or her choose who or what he or she wants to follow. For brands, quality and creative content are key to attracting followers.

Sharing a brand's "Name Card" with a friend

2.) What is a Verified Account?

Like an online magazine, Verified accounts offer a brand or company the ability to post “rich media content” (video, text, audio messages, photos) to their WeChat stream. Brands who post this type of content — among them Louis Vuitton, Coach, Watsons and Forbes — tend to do so once or twice per week, building brand awareness by exposing their audience to more immersive mobile content.

"Mini-article" posted by Forbes on WeChat

3.) What is a Membership Account?

WeChat’s Membership function helps build a bridge between Online and Offline activities and convert “followers” into “members.” This function creates a membership card for users, which can be thought of as a “Loyalty Program 2.0.” Individuals can use their membership cards — which are geolocalized and paired to the user by their phone number and WeChat ID — offline and/or online.

WeChat’s Membership function lets brands adapt their marketing content and pinpoint sales promotions to a certain subset of consumers, meaning one specific offer can be directed to users in Beijing, while a completely different offer can hit users in Wuhan. For example, a winter cosmetic cream can be launched and promoted in icy Harbin in September then balmy Guangzhou in December, geolocalizing the debut based on the very different climates of north and south China.

Membership Account for convenience store Watsons

Technical Developments and Next Steps in 2013

In the year ahead, WeChat has a number of technical developments in the pipeline, which are already being explored by corporations and premium brands. Among these developments are the ability to connect two CRM systems, online booking systems (Pod Inn, Air China), increasing sales via offline promotions (Herborist), and everything from loyalty programs to e-commerce functionality. Some of the earliest next steps will be the integration of a payment system (Tenpay) and a new version of the WeChat app itself that will improve the visibility of C-to-C and B-to-C channels.

WeChat is filling the gap between Online and Offline and is a perfect gateway for building greater brand awareness and CRM. In the year ahead, premium brands will expand strongly into mobile marketing and e-commerce, and for many of them, WeChat is already a must-have.

Alexis Bonhomme is the Beijing-based general manager for Groupon-Tencent China (Groupnet), in charge of international premium brands and their digital strategies in marketing/advertising/social media/e-commerce/insights. Bonhomme works with three groups of clients: brands currently operating in China, brands planning to enter China, and brands targeting Chinese tourists.

(Opinions expressed by Jing Daily columnists do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Jing Daily editorial team.)

Beauty & Health / Business & Finance / Investment / Marketing & Branding / Mobile / Services / Social Media / Tech
Tag: app, branding, china, china luxury... , More
  • Arthur HAMON GAUJAL

    Hi Alexis,
    For Premium brands they seem quite ready for it. Regarding luxury brands, how many of them, do you think, will dare going beyond just “being there” ? How many will really use all the potential of WeChat ? Luxury brand website are ususaly a good example of this : they tend to focus on being in line with the brand design and esthetic but they fail in providing a correct experience by being extremely slow to load on your screen or just not compliant with your browser…
    And when you pinpoint this kind of issue to the brand teams in China, you get the typical : “this is a global decision and our headquarter in New York (or Geneva, or Paris or…wherever) is working on it !”.

    Therefore I hope that this new year will see more global brand managers visiting China and that they will be paying more attention to their local Internet teams and the specificities of this extraordinary and fast evolving market !
    Happy new year !

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