Nearly every week I get asked, "How do I do WeChat marketing?" To many people outside China, marketing in the country sounds like a nearly impossible task, especially for brands that are testing the waters in China and may not have huge budgets allocated for promotions there.
Is it really impossible? According to Ashley Galina Dudarenok, founder of ChoZan, you can still market your brand to nearly 800 million people on WeChat with as little as RMB 10,000 (1,448) per month. Best of all? You can do it in-house.
Here, Dudarenok shares how to grow your fan base and drive sales in China using WeChat.
With a monthly budget of 1,448, it’s impossible to achieve multiple marketing goals at once. Be clear about your primary goal. Is it to grow your fan base? Is it to drive sales? Take time to think about your priorities.
Frequent giveaway campaigns can help you attract followers. However, brands are more cautious about giveaways using money after WeChat introduced bans on such tactics.
The alternative? Turn your Chinese colleagues into brand ambassadors. Encourage them to ask their friends to share your WeChat articles in exchange for a reward. If they have 200 WeChat friends and if each friend also has 200 WeChat connections and each share gets a 10 percent click rate, one article could get around 4,000 pageviews. Some of those viewers could become followers for very little outlay.
This also works in WeChat groups with at least 100-200 members. You can share the article with a group and encourage them to read or share the article. However, before that you must find and join these WeChat groups. Since groups are not searchable on WeChat, the only way to find them is by asking your connections to invite you to their groups.
Some WeChat groups also ban promotions so you should always ask the group admin for permission to post promotional materials.
For many startups and emerging luxury brands, sales are the primary concern. If that’s the case in your business, don’t focus too much on WeChat content creation. Instead, use social media as a supportive channel for sales-driven campaigns or events.
Providing exclusive benefits to WeChat followers, such as discounts or giveaways, are the most common way to drive sales. For example, utilize the function in WeChat Management Center to automatically send a secret code after people follow your WeChat account. The secret code could give them access to exclusive discounts or other benefits that encourage online or offline shopping.
By driving sales through WeChat-exclusive benefits, you can launch different promotions. For instance, cross-promotions with local communities is a cost-effective way. For example, if a brand targets travelers, it could partner with a local travel community or hiking club.
One way to launch a cross-promotion, is purely online, by linking to each other’s social media accounts and announcing your cooperation. As a brand, you can offer the members of the community special benefits and discounts or provide gifts for their campaigns.
Another way to work with a local community is to co-host product showcase events. The brand provides the products and other gifts while the club provides a venue and brings in the people.
During the event, ask participants to scan a QR code and join your official WeChat account or register their product redemption in exchange for a free gift.
These participants generally have a stronger desire to buy your products and are more willing to share the event images on their WeChat Moments, thus creating organic word-of-mouth.
Offline road shows also work. All you need to do is hire promoters and prepare visuals with a QR code directing people to your WeChat account or e-store. You can encourage attendees to scan your QR code to enter instant lucky draws or receive free samples. The new fans can buy the product on the spot through WeChat wallet.
If you continuously provide exclusive benefits to these new fans, they will likely follow your account and potentially become long-term customers. (Note: before launching such a campaign in public areas, make sure you get permission from a local police station.)
In general, WeChat sales-driven campaigns with smaller budgets are best done in conjunction with offline events.
Dudarenok shares some common WeChat marketing mistakes that emerging luxury brands should avoid.
With over 1.3 billion people and 34 provinces, China is a huge and sophisticated market. For brands with limited budgets, it’s impossible to target all of China. Instead, defining specific consumer groups and focusing on one city is more effective.
Tight budgets limit an agency’s performance. On top of budget concerns, managing social media marketing in-house makes it easier to control, evaluate and adjust, as long as your in-house marketing team knows what they’re doing.
This doesn’t mean that content isn’t important. But if you spend too much creating awesome content, you have less money to invest in promoting it. A good rule of thumb is to spend twice as much time and money promoting your content, as you spend creating it. H5 campaigns and video production aren’t recommended for the same reason.
KOL promotion still works on WeChat but spending 50,000 RMB for one high-quality article is not cost-effective for emerging luxury brands. KOLs can still be effective at the lower end of the pay scale.
WeChat has a large, comprehensive database but advertising usually requires a big investment and doesn’t last long, especially WeChat Moments ads. Allocating some advertising budget to giveaway campaigns or other social platforms with small but stable user bases is more effective.
For new or emerging luxury brands, keep your expectations low and realistic. Don’t expect to enhance brand awareness and amass an audience all at the same time. Instead, use your budget to build initial connections with target consumers. Let them know who you are, what you do and help them experience your product or service. Once this is done, there are opportunities for further communication and a deeper understanding of your brand.
This article originally appeared in Forbes. It has been lightly edited.
Joe Escobedo is a contributing writer for Forbes and Huffington Post where he covers the subjects of digital marketing and online PR. He has created and led digital marketing, branding and PR campaigns for everyone from startups to Fortune500 firms. He is known as the "brand builder" and is an award-winning speaker.