Marketing through WeChat in China might seem scary when you just arrive on this overwhelming chatting platform. When you just register and you have no contacts whatsoever, panic might be your first reaction. But have not fear as we cover some of the basics with this first article! Welcome to cre·long’s Cre·ative Corner!
For starters, I have my marketing agency in Beijing, China (cre·long media) that is slowly taking off. Thanks to this beautiful project, I got to learn a lot about how marketing works in China. I normally take care of outbound strategies, but I have recently got in touch with local marketers and freelancers to start doing inbound strategies as well. And I also took the time to study and better understand the tools a company must use to advertise itself in China. Obviously, WeChat comes top-of-mind when you think about Chinese apps and marketing tools. So here’s a couple of things you need to know about how to use it, the limits of it and what other options you have.
Using WeChat as a Marketing Tool
Using WeChat is common sense when it comes to marketing, because of how interactions are structured on it. It’s literally the go-to place for brands to connect with consumers. Well, it was, but more on that later.
First off, if you think about China as a market potential for products and services and you don’t know about WeChat, you have a problem. Originally a chat platform, it quickly became a place where groups form based on interest (Need an Apartment in Beijing Anyone?). Add to that the potential for companies to have an “Official Account” to drive traffic and even sell products. And add even more to that the existence of mini-programs that can track fidelity. Yes, WeChat is used as a paying platform for everything. From the supermarket to the local dumpling joint. Even the random street vendor selling pineapples on the street, you pay with WeChat.
So how does one company use WeChat to reach its consumers? If you have a local address and officially registered your company in Mainland China, you can create an official account. A good friend gives a couple of tips on how to grow your WeChat fanbase. Worth a read to get the basics.
Leveraging Your Personal Brand on WeChat
Now if you do not have a Chinese ID and you are basically starting out, you have other options. As mentioned, WeChat is formed of multiple groups based on interests. One can join such groups to connect with the desired audiences and be helpful to them, therefore promoting your personal brand. Yes, not your company’s brand, but your personal brand. You need to understand that China values a lot relationships and connections. Hence the reason WeChat works so well.
If people trust you, they trust the company you work for. But if the company you work for deceives people, you will see your hard-earned trust go out the window. Get it? I know some amazing people here that have a lot of connections. These people are smart enough not share these precious contacts with random strangers. You need to also become trustworthy, because your failure will end up staining their personal brand. It’s constant work!
So, you join such groups and you will find there’s a lot of people selling stuff, renting apartments and offering teaching jobs. Quality of groups vary. But you have higher quality groups where people have discussions and your expertise might be useful in such conversations. That’s how you start building a network of people that vouch for you, your quality and the services you can offer. Like everything else, it does take time.
When WeChat isn’t Enough
Now is WeChat your only option? Of course not! In fact, the number of published articles on WeChat is decreasing. According to CNNIC statistics, a notable drop of 24% happened in 2017. Companies saw the drop in organic reach on the platform and favored leveraging other options to paid traffic. Also, the time people spend reading such articles has decreased because of Douyin (you guys know it as Tik Tok) and new upcoming platforms.
If you are planning on using WeChat as your main platform to reach your target consumer, know this: It’s very hard to do without paid traffic or investing in KOL (Key Online Leaders). Heck, the influencers are probably the best option. And you should definitely look into how to take advantage of the mini-programs WeChat can offer to help you stay relevant.
If WeChat isn’t for you, there’s no lack of other options from Toutiao, QQ (Chinese Twitter), Weibo, Youku (Chinese YouTube), Baidu, Dianping (Chinese Yelp), Taobao (Chinese Amazon), JD (Chinese Amazon, but less fakes) or Xiaohongshu (Cross Boarder e-commerce). Each come with their own strategy… So, it’s a big challenge and I would honestly recommend working with the right people for this, unless you have time and money available to experiment it yourself.