WeChat’s Transformative Role for Beauty Brands in China

Both beauty and luxury fashion brands in China have been utilizing WeChat—Chinese consumers’ all-in-one mobile app—to promote brand awareness and interact with their audiences. A new finding on audience engagement with beauty brands on WeChat in 2016 challenges the traditional role of the app as a content-producing platform. The emerging trend seems to suggest that content is no longer as important as it used to be, leading beauty brands to use a number of alternative methods to drive engagement. From a one-sided, brand-directed conversation to a more interactive, one-on-one communication tool, the change of users’ preference along with the evolving platform itself has shaped the app’s new identity—a central hub that encompasses customer relationship management (CRM), commerce, online-to-offline (O2O), content, and more.

L2's "Beauty China 2017" report finds that the number of post-viewings by beauty brands on WeChat plummeted in 2016.

L2’s “Beauty China 2017” report finds that the number of post-viewings by beauty brands on WeChat plummeted in 2016.

In the latest “Beauty China 2017” report that studies the Digital IQ Index of 98 beauty brands in China, digital intelligence firm L2 found there was a dramatic drop in viewership of WeChat posts by these brands. Statistics show 84 percent of all posts accumulated less than 25,000 views. In previous years, posts by well-known brands, including Shiseido and Lancôme, could easily generate more than 50,000 views. These brands accordingly decreased the frequency of their posts from 2.78 times per week in Q4 2015 to 1.73 in Q3 2016. In spite of the dramatic drop in post viewership, the overall level of engagement between brands and customers on the app was still able to increase slightly from the year before.

A basic interpretation of the figures suggests that followers of these beauty brands on WeChat seemed to lose interest in reading posts in 2016. Indexed brands thus recognized the lackluster response early on and pushed out a number of alternative ways to interact with their audience so that the overall level of engagement was not largely affected. According to the report, brands that have performed well digitally have used diverse ways to prevent a sharp drop in audience engagement due to decreasing interest in blog posts last year. The methods range from sampling campaigns and live-streaming events, to daily check-ins, loyalty programs, and gamification.

Ever since WeChat became one of the most powerful communication platforms in China, blog posting has been frequently used by brands to interact with their audience. This one-sided, content-dominated method of communication helps many brands grow their number of followers and raise brand awareness among Chinese consumers when they’re starting out.

However, late last year, digital marketing agency Curiosity China noted that the value of WeChat had shifted away from “pushing as many messages as we can to an underdetermined audience.”

Danielle Bailey, the main author of the report and L2’s APAC research director said they advise brands “not to lead with content strategy on WeChat as this content is seen on average by just 16,658 users for beauty brands and 12,728 users for luxury brands in 2017.”

As the "sole genius" brand in L2's Digital IQ Index, premium cosmetic producer Estée Lauder has found a way to use WeChat as a CRM and social commerce platform.

As the “sole genius” brand in L2’s Digital IQ Index, premium cosmetic producer Estée Lauder has found a way to use WeChat as a CRM and social commerce platform.

In a content-saturated media world, Chinese WeChat followers expect to receive more value-added services and experiences from brands. A close look at the digital strategy of premium cosmetic brand Estée Lauder, the “sole genius” brand in L2’s 2016 Digital IQ Index, can provide insights into what Chinese customers like. On WeChat, the brand offers a wide range of customer-centered services. For example, followers can easily enroll in its loyalty program simply by providing their phone number. The second image above shows how users can receive customized beauty solutions. By clicking on the page, users will be automatically directed to a list of questions that require them to provide information on their age, skin condition, sleep quality, and more. When they’re finished answering the questions, they will see product suggestions that can be shared to their Moments feed and purchased on the platform.

Estée Lauder also enables in-store appointments on WeChat that assists in integrating an O2O customer experience. The fourth image features a Moment-like page within the brand’s account that lists interesting articles related to cosmetics and skincare. The last one is an interactive game that gives users an opportunity to win a signature eye serum from the brand.

The evolving role of WeChat from a content-heavy platform to one that is more dynamic is not restricted to beauty brands, but also evident among luxury brands. For example, L2 cites how Chanel saw a successful launch of its new version of its signature N°5 scent last year by turning WeChat into a social commerce site.

In 2017, if beauty and luxury brands hope to continue to benefit from WeChat, it is time for them to recognize “(the app) is not a mass communication platform, but instead ideal for one-on-one communication,” Bailey said. “Instead of being a content-driven platform, for brands it is ideal for CRM and commerce.”

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