Could WeChat beat WhatsApp in its own backyard?

In a world inundated by messaging apps, WeChat stands uniquely poised for world domination. Chinese company Tencent launched WeChat in 2011, and it rapidly became the go-to app throughout the country. Six hundred million people around the world used the service as of August 2015, and that number will continue to grow as WeChat’s features expand.

WeChat is an all-in-one mobile system. The app allows users to request taxis, pay bills, and book flights without ever leaving the interface. WeChat offers text and voice messages, group chats, a Walkie Talkie option, and even Friend Radar for finding and connecting with new people in your vicinity. Its Shake function allows users to connect with new people and helps marketers promote brand events based on customers’ locations. WeChat Wallet connects to users’ bank accounts to facilitate purchases and money transfers.

WeChat’s sprawling functionality makes it a gold mine for marketers. Brand and media pages make up nearly 74% of the official accounts users follow, which speaks to the limitless possibilities of marketing through the app.

Burberry, the luxury clothing retailer, collaborated with WeChat to great success when it opened its flagship Shanghai store in 2014. Burberry’s WeChat followers were treated to a visual of the London skyline transforming into Shanghai, and they explored videos from the store launch using WeChat’s 360-degree exploration tool. By using the app’s Shake, swipe, and tap functionalities, Burberry inspired users to engage avidly with the brand.

WeChat in the US

Up to this point, WeChat’s greatest success has been in the Chinese market. The app hasn’t gained momentum in the US because much of the content is written in Chinese, and attractive features such as the WeChat Wallet don’t translate well to US systems yet. The app’s features also need to be adapted for the US audience — for example, Chinese users like the hold-to-talk function, while Americans aren’t as keen.

But WeChat will eventually gain influence in the US. Tencent established an office in San Francisco in 2013 to develop American partnerships, and it collaborated with Google the following year to expand WeChat’s brand awareness. The mobile ecosystem WeChat perfects in mainland China will differentiate it globally in the future.

American brands with global interests should be using WeChat’s CRM platform now. Chinese consumers represent massive sales opportunities, and WeChat’s reach extends to many other countries, with services in more than 20 languages. The gamification and customer survey features are especially powerful for engaging consumers and gathering feedback. Here are four areas in which brands can leverage WeChat’s potential:

  1. Awareness: Major brands should create official accounts and post engaging content for their followers. Smaller companies that don’t have public accounts can partner with key influencers, such as power bloggers, to integrate brand mentions into their content and increase their visibility.
  2. Interest: Marketers can develop content strategies around WeChat users’ consumption patterns. WeChat’s 2015 Q2 data report indicated that 41% of its customers rely on the app to get information, and roughly 37% use it for lifestyle purposes. This creates limitless opportunities to get in front of millions of consumers every day.
  3. Desire: WeChat’s platform for official accounts enables marketers to develop unique user experiences that highlight their products, define their brands’ voices, and intrigue prospective customers. Geotracking helps marketers push content that is relevant to users’ locations. Such tactics enhance the customer experience and generate buzz for the brand.

    Uniqlo’s “Style Your Life” campaign invited Chinese customers to try on different outfits in front of in-store photo monitors, then upload the images to their WeChat pages for feedback. The company saw a 30% increase in sales and now has more than 2 million followers on WeChat. The campaign created the desire and publicity to draw more people to the brand.

  4. Action: WeChat’s payment support system complements brands’ calls to action, allowing them to draw customers all the way through the sales funnel directly in the app. For instance, hotels can set up a room-booking function in their public accounts to incentivize customers to complete their reservations instantly.

WeChat empowers brands to trigger one-to-one interactions with their audiences and provide personalized customer service. Initiatives such as Burberry’s Shanghai campaign and Uniqlo’s “Style Your Life” amplify brands’ voices and draw new users into the sales funnel. WeChat is turning into a marketing machine, and it’s only a matter of time before it arrives to take on the West.

This article was co-authored by Nancy Huang, media planner and buyer at Gravity.



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Memeburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.