More than just an app, companies are increasingly testing Tencent's emerging social mobile platform.
Tencent's WeChat, also known as Weixin in China, is an instant messaging app that is fast evolving into a social mobile platform for brands to tap into its burgeoning 300 million user base for promotions, CRM, and e-commerce.
Pacific Coffee, usually an early adopter on emerging mobile platforms, had an International Women's Day promotion on WeChat last Friday. Female Facebook fans were treated to a 20 percent discount when they purchased dessert at the chain.
WeChat gains momentum for SaSa.com
Cosmetic retailer SaSa.com has seen initial success using WeChat for February's Valentine's Day social campaign.
It gave away very attractive prizes - a pair of diamond rings worth $HK40,000 to three winners for its photo contests that also ran simultaneously on Facebook and Weibo.
While Vincent Lau, director of e-commerce at Sa Sa International did not reveal the number of WeChat followers for the brand, he says its WeChat page for the campaign attracted high engagement that drove traffic and stickiness to Sa Sa's e-commerce site.
Sa Sa was invited to open a WeChat enterprise account last August, which allows multiple users from the marketing team to log in to the app's content management tool via their desktops.
Due to the mobile nature of WeChat, updates are limited to two or three times a week to avoid spamming users, compared to Weibo, which Sa Sa's social media team updates once every hour. It currently uses WeChat to drive loyalty to the beauty brand.
Although Sa Sa has its own branded mobile apps and mobile commerce websites, it's early days to be leveraging WeChat for conversions, says Lau.
Charles Chan, managing director of CLEARgo, a Hong Kong based e-business consultancy, echoes the same sentiment.
"It is better for brands to invest in their own mobile friendly e-commerce sites or apps first," he notes.
However, WeChat could be a useful voice-enabled customer service channel for e-commerce due to a stronger emphasis on one-to-one conversations compared to Weibo.
In China, it is common for online shoppers to engage in live "chats" with customer service teams through Taobao's AliWangWang, Chan explains.
WeChat as an O2O platform - Starbucks China
For retailers with physical stores, WeChat's QR code feature provides a compelling online to offline (O2O) platform to connect with customers.
Xiaofeng Wang, interactive marketing analyst at Forrester Research, says marketers can publish QR codes that make it convenient for users to scan for rewards or discounts.
For example, Starbucks China printed QR codes on coffee cups and near the cashier in its stores to encourage customers to subscribe to its official WeChat account to receive updates such as coupons.
WeChat's corporate accounts already provide several features from one-to-one or group text messaging to automated response by getting users to press for options, but Tencent allows brands to customize features for their campaigns.
Starbucks China partnered with WeChat to roll out a radio channel that interacted with followers by playing different songs or videos based on a user's input.
Earning Nike+ fuel points through WeChat
To promote the Festival of Sport event in 2012, Nike China integrated gamification elements into WeChat through a points-based badge collecting game. Participants could scan QR codes through WeChat for Nike+ Fuel points and play hidden missions.
Nike's agency AKQA developed an online platform for participants to synchronize and display their achievements measured by virtual badges on Nike Fuelstream and WeChat Moments, a feature that displays a user's status update similar to Facebook news feeds.
WeChat may be new and its features are continually evolving, but there's no doubt that more and more brands will invest in this platform.
"So far I don't see scalable marketing budget on WeChat yet but I can see more and more marketers and brands want to learn how they can use it more effectively," Wang, the China-based Forrester Research analyst notes.
Her advice: WeChat is a new tool but all the marketing principles are not that new. Don't overwhelm or harass followers by lots of push news. Just like traditional email marketing you cannot send a lot of spam, so marketers need to customize posts to meet users' needs.
WeChat is often compared to Weibo but e-business consultant Chan warns that it is different in many ways and marketers should not manage their social marketing activities like they are accustomed to on the microblogging network.
"Brands should take advantage of the behavioral differences and uniqueness of Weixin," he adds.
More on WeChat:
WeChat announced it has 300 million users worldwide as of January with high presence in Southeast Asia markets.
The company has been proactive in expanding presence outside of China in recent months.
WeChat is building an office in the U.S. headed by VP Zhang Xiaolong with responsibilities to grow user base and customer relations department.
Tencent recently sealed a partnership with Indonesian media company, PT Media Nusantara Citra (MNC) early this month to launch WeChat into the market.
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Adaline Lau, ClickZ Asia editor, oversees day-to-day editorial operations covering digital marketing from search to social media, mobile to analytics in the region. Before ClickZ, she was senior reporter at Marketing Magazine and has worked as a journalist for The Singapore Marketer and Asia Pacific Broadcasting. Connect with her @adalinelau or Google+.
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