The Rise and Rise of WeChat

With 600 million monthly active users, no-one can be in any doubt that Tencent’s WeChat is a big deal in China. Its innovative transformation into becoming one of China’s leading communications platforms makes it a must have asset for any China digital strategy, not to mention, as a consideration for other regional markets as the platform expands globally.

The World of WeChat

To understand the WeChat universe, it is important to take a look at its underlying product philosophy. It’s all about one word – ‘connect’. WeChat wants to connect to everything – similar to a USB stick which you plug in to your computer that seamlessly acts as part of the machine no matter whether you’re on a CRM platform or a ticketing system, it wants to plug into the user’s life, whenever and wherever possible.

It’s a smart concept which saves time, effort and prevents developers from reinventing the wheel each time they come up with a new idea. Here are some examples:

WeChat Wallet: WeChat’s payment system partnered with PICC, one of the largest insurance companies based in China, to insure users against fraud and theft. This move has made it easier for subscribers of WeChat to feel confident in transacting so that they can now confidently pay gas and other utility bills, buy items and services and even book taxis without leaving the app. The ability to make these types of micro-payments is a very smart strategy for WeChat domestically as well as internationally. WeChat Wallet will especially open up interest for the application in markets where credit cards are not widely used, connecting users with retail offerings more seamlessly.

Retail Platforms: Verified, official WeChat brand accounts can set up shop within the app – this means big players such as Nike can sell to customers without directing them outside the app, provided they have signed up to the payments API.

Stickers: The ability to send friends and family animated GIFs as ‘stickers’ has long been a favorite function among WeChat users, who can either use the app’s extensive library or create their own custom versions. These stickers have something of a cult following, with hundreds of websites dedicated to them.

QR Codes: WeChat allows users and brands to set up their own personal QR codes so that they can connect with each other without the need to save them as a contact first – another way that makes it incredibly easy to facilitate interaction and communication within the app. QR codes in Asia, especially in China, are very popular, and are an effective way for driving the promotion of a brand’s WeChat account be it on their brand website, through online-to-offline in-store to cross-social channel promotion. The key reason for this is WeChat has integrated them so seamlessly into the connecting piece of their offering.

iBeacons: To facilitate its ‘connectivity’, WeChat works hard on introducing the latest technologies such as iBeacons into its eco-system, giving industry experts broad scope for creating new opportunities for engagement, product promotion and brand recognition. For example, retailers are using the platform’s features to create an enhanced in-store experience – visiting customers can shake the WeChat app to receive a coupon which they can store in their virtual membership card. They can also pay their bills via smartphone and collect products in-store by showing a QR code to the staff – the opportunities in this industry are boundless. Using similar tools, developers can create unique experiences for other industries including leisure, automotive and health and travel and tourism.

The Chat Inn in Hangzhou is one example of a WeChat Smart Hotel. Its WeChat experience effectively reduces the operational costs of the hotel. Customers can book a room and order meals at a discounted rate. On arrival, guests can connect to the Internet and use their WeChat account to even unlock the door. Requests, such as a blow-dryer, can be logged via a notification that will be pushed to the hotel staff’s WeChat account. Checkout can be done with the tapping of a single button and customers can also request an invoice – all through the WeChat application.

LINQ hotel in Las Vegas is also using WeChat to assist its Chinese visitors. Watch this video to see how.

Competition

WeChat’s product philosophy highlights the differences between it and other services like WhatsApp, and Weibo. Weibo has more of a ‘closed loop’ approach (browse, interest, order, payment, share) focused on driving users towards Alibaba’s Alipay rather than connecting with their lives the way WeChat does. As it stands, WeChat’s story will be much more interesting than its rivals; how will it survive, for example, as it expands into international markets without compromising its native Chinese design?

Its recent investment of US$50 million into Canadian communication app Kik messenger is a positive step towards more significant recognition on the international stage. In fact, Kik is now being called the ‘WeChat of the West’ – something which Kik has long been trying to achieve on its own merits.

Most recently, WeChat opened its Moments to general advertisers – a strategic move that has the potential to revolutionize the Chinese advertising market. The next chapter in its development will be fascinating to follow.

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