Andrew Tong
Jun 1, 2017

Business transformation in China: Opportunity or risk to overseas brands?

Perspectives and tips for brands without a physical presence in China that wish to use WeChat to reach Chinese consumers.

A WeChat Min-Program delivering coupons for McDonald's.
A WeChat Min-Program delivering coupons for McDonald's.

China’s mobile and social commerce have dominated the recent retail sales charts. The shift to this new future of retail is all about customer-centered experience that integrates online and offline commerce seamlessly.

Consumption happens anytime, anywhere, and now we are being asked a new question: would you like to take it with you or have it delivered to your home? And with mobile transactions accounting for over 82 percent of all transactions during 2016’s Singles Day on Tmall, does this signify the end of shopping in a retail store?

When you take a deeper dive into the best sellers, you’ll find that most of them offer physical retail stores that help build and deliver a long-lasting brand experience to consumers. In these scenarios, consumers are aware of the brand and the size of the clothing or shoe they should order when they make a purchase online. This trend prompts a new term: 'scenario marketing'. It fully integrates the online and offline shopping experience that puts your store in the consumers’ pocket, which is “always” open.

On the busiest streets today, you’ll notice a long line of customers waiting to experience these popup stores that host brands for a limited time. Creating the scenario where the customer is immersed into the lifestyle a brand represents. This has been seen to be far more effective than a store with rows and shelves of every color and size. This clutter clouds the message a brand wants you to remember.

Gadgets like VR, AR, AI and video recognition, coupled with big data, will help build scenario marketing, which in turn provides an exclusive and personalised experience to the consumer, whilst simultaneously creating a stepping stone from which to transform your business model.

WeChat can roll out scenario marketing

WeChat, the all-in-one mobile app from China, has grown to contain various features to support the needs of retailers. For consumers, it can bring brands closer to them online through private conversation. For brands, it’s an ecosystem that can offer customer acquisition, retention, engagement, purchasing and loyalty online and offline.

Numerous brands have opened WeChat official accounts, but very few of them are aware of its capability to integrate with the offline retail experience, which kicks off the scenario marketing. While there are lots of opportunities in leveraging WeChat to transform your retail business, there are new problems to deal with, such as trademark protection.

Health check for your brand account status

Fake brand accounts can appear when consumers type a brand name into a search box. Multiple similarly named accounts could pop up, and some may even have the gold checkmark that says "verified" and are given prioritised ranking.

Some of these verified WeChat accounts could be authorised resellers, but often they misrepresent the brand’s image. Then, you have the accounts without the verified logos that are mostly abusing the popular name to sell counterfeit products or profit from the traffic.

In March, Tencent launched WeChat Index, a tool to indicate the brand-related keywords’ search and browsing behavior data on WeChat. Anyone can track a brand’s popularity on WeChat over seven, 30 or 90 days. Marketers can identify hot topic trends and find out how their events or campaigns influence the search volume and keyword mentions in WeChat, which could be used as an indicator for brand activity.

L-R: WeChat stats for Burberry, YSL, Chanel

WeChat recognises growing appetite for overseas products

WeChat used to only allow companies with a Chinese corporation certificate to register for these official accounts. The Chinese population’s demand to consume overseas products continues to surge and is expected to grow at a stunning 50 percent for the next two years. Now, there’s a new program called WeChat GO that allows overseas brands to register for an official account while never setting foot into China. This allows brands to meet the needs of over 800 million monthly active users’ whose appetite for overseas products, lifestyles and brands is booming.

The statistics speak for themselves. Brands who are serious about tapping into the Chinese market need to get on board with the app.

So, without further ado, here are my top three WeChat tips for brands.

1) Get authenticated

If you're a non-China brand, get authenticated by WeChat GO or by WeChat GO-approved agencies.
This will allow for a smooth and effective adoption program, minimising risk and maximising your ability to capitalise on the app and its enormous reach.

2) Develop a mini-program

Develop a Mini-Program, which which will allow your brand to rank first when searched by the same name. Instead of a fixed, boring look and feel with limited features, the Mini-Program allows a fully customisable interface that can look and function like a normal mobile app. It loads up without pre-installing, so it's just a click to share with friends. A Mini-Program can also be initiated by scanning QR codes.

3) Hire an experienced agency

Hire an experienced agency to post daily or weekly content, so users are made aware this account is active and can provide quality customer service to answer users questions.

Andrew Tong is China CEO of Mirum


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