More than 80 per cent of Chinese netizens now access the internet from their mobile phones, much more than from desktop and laptop. Arguably the most important mobile platform for marketers, Tencent’s WeChat has become a force in the daily lives of Chinese consumers, with over 600 million registered accounts and 396 million monthly active users, most of whom open the app at least 5 times daily. Some heavy users even check their WeChat over 100 times a day.
With an opportunity to leverage such a huge platform for free, native apps are taking a backseat as brands scramble to develop content and experiences for WeChat and the mobile web.
In the past few months WeChat has grown beyond its humble origins as a chat app to incorporate gaming, social feeds, e-commerce, mobile wallet, and a built-in browser. Imagine Line, Path, Tinder, Paypal and Safari all rolled up into one and you get some idea of how powerful and multi-purpose WeChat has become.
But as an entirely opt-in social network, based on your phone contacts, WeChat’s core functionality is built around closed circles of friends engaging in private and invite only group conversations. To WeChat’s credit, they have restricted the ways in which brands can integrate into the platform, protecting the user experience from becoming too commercial.
There are no display ads. Instead, brands are given a choice of opening a service account or a subscription account. A service account allows brands to have their own brand channel with tabs that can house educational content or useful tools, and send up to 4 push notifications a month. Many brands have chosen to extend their existing CRM and loyalty programmes via a WeChat service account. A subscription account on the other hand, allows brands to publish messages daily, but updates are nested within a subscriptions folder and there are no pop-up alerts to annoy users.
Early adopters of WeChat have generated a lot of earned media. China Southern Airlines pioneered flight and seat booking via their Wechat Service account. Pacific Coffee allows customers to pay for their coffee via WeChat’s mobile payment system.
For the FIFA world cup in Brazil, Budweiser launched a WeChat activation that challenged fans to predict match winners, and compete with their friends. The entire experience was built in HTML5, which launched within the WeChat browser, providing a seamless, app-like experience
Burberry similarly launched its 'London in Shanghai' event with a HTML5 site that went beyond simple touch and swipe gestures to use the gyroscope function of the phone to progress the storyline.
While it’s easy to get caught up in mobile hype and the latest technical gimmick, the guiding principle is that technology should empower greater intimacy between brand and consumer. For the launch of Michael Kors Jetset in China, JWT and our production partner Mobile Now, put together a war room of photo retouchers and social copywriters to do live coverage of the event on WeChat and Instagram (which is not blocked in China). A purpose built HTML5 site housed all the curated images and user generated photos from the event, acting as a hub for social sharing. We also released an app with an immersive 360 degree video giving fans a chance to re-live the Jetset show as if they were seated next to Michael Kors himself.
The rapid rise of WeChat has spurred marketers in China to move faster and invest in content and services specifically designed for mobile. Correspondingly, as an agency, we are training our creative to design for the mobile screen first, ensure the experience is simple, fast to download, compelling to use, easy to navigate, and designed for big thumbs!
Interactive and responsive web design for the small screen presents a steep learning curve for traditional creatives, and mobile developers are in short supply. To stay relevant, agencies need to move fast to build mobile capability, and go beyond campaigns to help clients develop new mobile products and services.
Eugene Chew is chief digital officer at JWT Shanghai