Successful WeChat Marketing: A Step Beyond Weibos Or Facebook



It seems you can’t walk ten paces anywhere in a Chinese urban area without being assailed by promotional materials, billboards, and even the sides of buildings festooned with QR codes which ask you to scan them and add that brand’s WeChat account on your mobile device. With more than 600 million subscribers, WeChat is quickly becoming one of Asia’s primary social networks with a massive presence not only in China but also India, Thailand and Malaysia. In fact, fully 150 million WeChatters are outside China. As a digital print technology and consumables marketer, you need to be well aware of how your brand can reach an audience of about as many customers as the entire population of the United States twice over through WeChat.

Multiple languages & platforms supported

WeChat was first released by Tencent in January of 2011 and quickly grew by leaps and bounds. The service gradually added platforms until it is now supported by iOS, Android, Symbian, Windows Phone and BlackBerry on Wi-Fi and every network between 2G and 4G, and it is also available in a number of languages including English, Indonesian, Korean, Hindi, Thai, Vietnamese, Malay, Japanese, Turkish, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Polish, Russian, and of course traditional and simplified Chinese. The penetration rate of WeChat in China is massive, with over 90 percent of all smartphones in the nation using it, often with daily activity, which can only be called intensive.

WeChat branding is centered around QR codes

WeChat users apply various social plugins which are location-based in order to connect with existing and new friends through functions such as Look Around, Drift Bottle, and Shake. In a manner similar to the popular Weibos, a brand can open a Verified Account on the service and then proceed to post a myriad of media content to engage consumers. As in every other social media on Earth, you need followers in order to be successful. Where WeChat differs from many other social networks is that the service’s users will usually not be able to find you directly through a search, as WeChat brands rely strongly on QR codes. Once you have created your WeChat QR any quick scan will take the user right to your presence.

WeChat Payment successfully competes with Alipay

WeChat tested a wide variety of B2C accounts in their efforts to compete with the major Chinese-based payment services, such as Alipay, and finally launched WeChat Payment in a manner that is fully integrated into the user’s experience, helping to drive traffic to the thousands of online shops. Consumers can use WeChat Payment to link their bank cards, receive special offers and benefits, as well as reduce the number of clicks necessary to checkout and pay.

Users are accustomed to prompt & personalized brand responses

A successful WeChat brand campaign is generally noted by the fact that the business goes well beyond the traditional broadcast-type model of brand marketing by enhancement of the one-on-one customer relationship, usually via exclusive content which the brand reserves for their followers. Brand marketers need to treat WeChat as a customer service platform, not only as a marketing communications campaign tool. WeChat users are accustomed to receiving authoritative, personalized, and prompt responses from the brands that they follow on the network, therefore unless your company is capable of providing that level of service you might be well advised to hold off on embracing WeChat until you achieve the critical mass in your manpower department.

Chinese users shifting their stickiness from Sina Weibo to WeChat

While there is growing evidence that Chinese users are starting to shift their “stickiness” from Sina Weibo to WeChat, digital print technology and consumables marketers would be wise not to confuse WeChat with Sina or any of the other Weibos. While a Weibo is essentially a form of Twitter, WeChat is a much more organic conversation-based service. The one-on-one basis of WeChat is the key difference between it and the microblog model, as WeChat takes the bilateral conversational aspect much further than a network such as Sina Weibo or Twitter, where both followers and the general public can read the same public messages that are sent out by brands in a one-way, primarily-outbound communication paradigm.

Emoticons have enormous value in an ideogram-based culture

Starbucks was one of the first major brands to fully embrace WeChat and they seem to have established some of the basic norms which are now being followed by most other large brands on the social network. Scanning the omnipresent QR code allows the user to add Starbucks as a contact, then they can consent to receiving messages from the brand by sending an emoticon. Digital print technology and consumables marketers should pay close attention to the enormous integral value of emoticons as, in a culture such as China which is accustomed to ideograms rather than alphabetized language, the expression of a user’s intent through these various smiley-type faces is generally preferred to the filling out of a form.

Starbucks sends out songs matching an emoticon’s mood

Once the emoticon is sent to Starbucks, the first bit of content sent to the user is a short music video which promotes one of the coffee chain’s popular beverage products, and then the floodgates are opened for the continuation of the marketing messaging, including coupons, as messages. Emoticons are leveraged in various ways by Starbucks including a campaign where they ask the user “How are you feeling today?” and when the relevant emoticon is received, a song that is specifically intended to match the emoticon’s mood is sent to that user. One of the most popular campaigns Starbucks has engaged in is the China Breakfast promotion where the My Starbucks Rewards program integrated a Breakfast Alarm add-on which functions as an alarm clock app with the extra added incentive that if the user visits a Starbucks location within one hour from the alarm going off, they will receive half off any breakfast.  

Durex, Intel & Nike are among the most innovative WeChat marketers

Other brands have also derived innovative applications for the WeChat social network:

Durex - Condom manufacturer Durex relies on WeChat to engage consumers in a conversation about a subject which is not commonly discussed in Chinese public arenas. Followers who have questions about sex and relationships can obtain a personal response from a real person 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Durex compiles a compendium of that week’s most interesting questions and answers and sends it out to its WeChat following as a newsletter.

Intel – Computer chip giant Intel hired celebrity hosts to provide updates for the London Olympics three times a day, summarizing the day’s events and running a contest where they would ask a question related to the Olympics or the Intel brand, and then announcing the winners in the next update.

Nike – Sports apparel label Nike held a Festival of Sport where thousands of followers could sample a variety of activities, and featured a badge collection process which replaced a paper passport with the WeChat QR code scanning system. Followers who accumulated enough badges could win a chance to meet sports superstars such as LeBron James.

Tencent, the mother company of WeChat, has astoundingly deep pockets, boasting a market capitalization of well over $80 billion, placing it far ahead of Facebook. With that huge stash of cash, Tencent is aiming to expand its WeChat social network well beyond its Chinese roots and even take it far abroad from Asia itself. Tencent has its eye on the lucrative European and American markets, and as they work hard to expand the service and gain hundreds of millions of additional subscribers, digital print technology and consumables marketers can benefit from WeChat’s expansion by consequently attracting more customers.

Curt Keller is CEO of Benchmark Email (, a leading, global email marketing and event management service with clients in Asia, the United States, and beyond.


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