Not too long after New Year festivities ended, 跳一跳 (Jump, Jump), a mobile game by Tencent, attracted 400 million players in three days. This feat quickly crowned Jump Jump as China’s most popular mobile game.
Unlike the majority of mobile games, Jump, Jump isn’t played through a mobile app. Instead, it’s played through a WeChat Mini-Program.
WeChat Mini-Programs are best described as ‘mini-apps’. They exist in Tencent’s WeChat ecosystem, and allow applications smaller than 10 megabytes to run instantly in WeChat. This removes the need to download and install an app from Apple’s App Store or Google Play.
It may sound small, but applications smaller than 10 megabytes can achieve a lot. You can use an application under 10 megabytes to order a taxi, have take-out delivered to your door, rent a sharebike and watch your favourite vlogger’s livestream.
For this reason, Mini-Programs represent a significant innovation. They run seamlessly on both iOS and Android devices, and don’t require additional memory to use.
In January this year, Tencent marked Mini-Programs’ one-year anniversary. Hu Renjie, Program Director, announced the following key figures:
- 170 million monthly users
- Over 500,000 Mini-Programs in use
- 1 million Mini-Program developers
- Mini-Programs across retail, e-commerce, mobile gaming and government services
Looks pretty impressive, right? It is, but there’s a slight catch.
Take another squiz at Mini-Programs’ monthly users. 170 million monthly users is less than a fifth of WeChat’s 960 million monthly users across Chinese and international versions.
The 170 million monthly user figure is also a little deceptive, because it takes into account third-party Mini-Programs that are accessed through WeChat Pay. I’d estimate that these third-party Mini-Programs account for 70% to 80% of Mini-Program traffic.
On that estimation, there’s still a way to go for Mini-Programs to become as widely-used as WeChat’s chat, video and payment functions.
So where can WeChat Mini-Programs be deployed, and how can their effectiveness be maximised?
Brands would be wise to first consider what elements of the brands’ online and offline ecosystems can be optimised through WeChat. Brands need to deconstruct and interrogate the online and offline customer experience to ascertain where WeChat can and can’t play a role.
Here are three examples of good practice:
- Michael Kors used a Mini-Program to introduce an improved after-sale customer service experience. Customers use the Mini-Program to review their in-store experience, apply for after-sales service and receive future in-store offers.
- Longchamp used a Mini-Program to reshape the store location experience. Rather than directing users to its official website or a third-party mapping services, Longchamp housed a store locator in a Mini-Program.
- Gucci used a Mini-Program to create user-generated content. Users enter the Mini-Program to select and customise photo stickers, which they can add to their existing photos and share to their WeChat Moments.
In all of these examples, brands made an intuitive connection between the current online or offline customer experience and WeChat.
Next, brands need to consider how to drive traffic to Mini-Programs. Most brands have struggled to leverage existing offline and online channels to direct traffic to Mini-Programs. Many brands adopt a ‘build it and they will come mentality’. However, brands can’t expect their WeChat Official Account subscribers to automatically flock to Mini-Programs. Content, push notifications, existing advertising and in-store signage needs to be leveraged and deployed.
Early Mini-Program adopters, such as Starbucks, McDonalds, Tesla, Longchamp and Dior are now operating multiple Mini-Programs. Store locators, loyalty programs, gift cards and campaign-related Mini-Programs sit alongside the brand’s WeChat Official Account. Depending on the success of these deployments, the time may come when hard choices are made to rationalise digital channels, both in and outside the WeChat ecosystem.
This, however, is still a way off. For most brands, the challenge is creating a compelling Mini-Program through deconstruction of the online and offline experience. The tech is in place, it’s now a matter of execution.
Michael Norris is a research manager at Resonance China.