Alice Hu
Sep 17, 2014

Mobile is a must to reach China’s hyper-connected consumers

In a country where most people only access the internet via mobile devices, marketers need to incorporate that and act on mobile-first thinking. Now chatting means connecting with Chinese consumers and playing a role in their mobile lives.

Hu: WeChat's biggest appeal is real-time information
Hu: WeChat's biggest appeal is real-time information

Chinese consumers want information in the moment. And that often means people are searching for something on their smartphone or tablet (maybe both). They want to know the nearest store or opening times or want to purchase a new jacket while they’re commuting to work. That is why the mobile component of a marketing-communications strategy should weave throughout the plan as an essential fibre, not just an add-on. People are already engaged on the mobile internet, so talk to them where they live.

The mobile app of the moment for doing that, with over 400 million active users, is WeChat. It is changing how people communicate and how brands can bring value to consumers. It pushes the social-media envelope and incorporates entertainment, e-commerce, mobile payments, news, and more all into one venue with mobile at the core.

With 3.5 million official accounts, and parent company Tencent constantly adding features, WeChat continues to prove its relevance to users as well as its potential for brands. Official accounts range from celebrities or media outlets to companies, all trying to connect with the chat platform’s large user base. But it takes more than just presence on the platform. You need relevant content and services to keep users interested.

People keep using WeChat because they get information in real-time (through automated responses prompted by keywords) and can complete important tasks quickly.

  • Through China Southern Airlines’ WeChat account, users can book plane tickets, select seats and more all within the app.
  • DHL’s account lets users track packages and check news. It also provides a unique service for overseas students, offering study-abroad tips and showing them where they can pick-up packages.
  • Last fall, device maker Xiaomi sold 150,000 smartphones within 10 minutes all via WeChat.

The platform has important features of a standalone app and gives users the ease of doing many things inside one application. WeChat started out as a simple chat application and has evolved into a social network centered on one-to-one relationships. Fans who connect with brands on the platform therefore become more valuable than “followers” on other social media because they have accepted the brand into their “inner circles.” The advantage for brands is they can hold a position on a user’s interface that is on par with friends and family. Brands can reach consumers in the space where they spend most of their time socialising digitally.

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Operating on WeChat gives brands another digital touchpoint but it also adds a social CRM system. With a service account, companies can address user needs in real-time via automated responses. For example, a person looking for a shoe store can ask the official account about store openings, seasonal promotions, store information, etc. The official account can then generate automated responses. Integrating loyalty programs and payments via WeChat adds a tracking dimension for in-store interactions and shopping habits. All this information can be organised to improve business processes and sales.

Segmenting users into different groups, according to location, tags, etc, is another way brands can manage WeChat fans. Whether it is media or a VIP stakeholder, each individual person’s WeChat experience with the same brand can be different and tailored.

If a reporter is only interested in menswear, a clothing brand could tag this person and send relevant menswear news. Brands can manage the tactic through the WeChat official accounts platform as well as third party platforms.

Although WeChat came from humble chat beginnings, it is emerging as a key platform for mobile engagement in China. It gives consumers that in-the-moment experience they demand and opens the door for brands to play a role in mobile lives. To reach China’s consumers today, brands need mobile-to-the-core strategies. While new regulations about registered accounts in China first made brands and users more cautious, the net effect has been barely a blip. WeChat still puts communication innovations within grasp for brands and the CRM potential may be the most powerful aspect.

Alice Hu is manager, social and digital Asia at MSLGroup

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