Advertising Technology

How to use China’s Most Powerful Mobile App for Business

Christian-Dougoud_3733_MODChristian Dougoud is currently the Director and Head of Digital at Eastwest Public Relations, consulting on a wide range of communication and marketing campaigns across diverse industries in Europe, USA and Asia. Dougoud  has spent the last 6 years in China designing PR and digital marketing campaigns  for over 50 international firms and Universities 

“Consumer media habits are rapidly changing – the penetration of mobile smartphones has skyrocketed and it is clear that Mobile has proven to be effective in successfully achieving a variety of marketing goals.”[i]

Tomorrow’s new way of doing business will include mobile communication. In China, this is made possible by cutting edge mobile platforms like Wechat. In this short article, I will try to answer two questions: “why should we use mobile marketing?” and “How to do it in China?”

Why mobile marketing?

Figures to indisputably show that every business should invest in developing their mobile marketing. Today there are over 6.8 billion people on the planet. 4 billion of them use a mobile phone (1/4 is Chinese).  1 billion are smartphones and people are spending more time on their mobile phones and tablets than ever before.

But mobile is a new and complex new world for businesses. Smart phones, tablets, hybrid devices like the Windows Surface – which is both a computer and a tablet – in addition to several environments including Android, Android China, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, and a daily evolving arsenal of features, updates and new apps all add new levels of complexity for companies to market their products. Where should businesses start and how to guarantee that the budget will not disappear in a digital maze?

Immediate reach:

Mobile is arguably the closest you can get to the consumer.  In a survey, Morgan Stanley researchers show that 91% of adults have their mobile phone within arm’s reach 24/7. There is no other device that provides the opportunity for proximity and immediate reach.

“The power (in the future) to determine that a target consumer is driving in the proximity of your restaurant and then feed them an immediate message or coupon is unprecedented.”

                      Kimberly Whitler, Forbes Magazine

Mobile are used for shopping, searching, entertainment, socializing and brand interaction:

Researches show that 74% of smartphone users use their phone to help with shopping, with 79% ultimately making a purchase as a result.  “Mobile will truly enable marketers to connect at the right time, in the right place, with the right individual (…). As marketers, we are supposed to ‘go where the consumers are and get there first’ and consumers are looking to their mobile device for shopping, searching, entertainment, socializing and brand interaction.”[ii]

Mobile marketing in China

China is the world’s largest mobile phone market with over million 900 subscribers. Two-thirds subscribers are held by China Mobile the other one-third split between Unicom and Telecom.

Wechat, an eCommerce Facebook?

WeChat (known as Weixin in China) is similar to Whatsapp , a mobile messaging application popular in Western countries that enables users to send free messages. However, WeChat also has features that are similar to social media platforms, such as a newsfeed (Facebook), a focus on short messages (Twitter), video calling (Skype), and location-based services (Foursquare) and a payment system. It has recently added tools that enable users to participate to contests, play mini-games and issue coupons.

Wechat was created by Tencent Holdings, China’s largest Internet company and it was adopted by over 300 million users in only 3 years. It is a home-grown app from China but it is also aggressively marketed in other non-Chinese speaking communities in Southeast Asia and India. The app is already available in eight other languages, including English, Russian, Indonesian, Portuguese and Thai.

Key business features

  • Payment services:

Consumers are willing to pay for services and content on their mobile. Wechat is now incorporating payment options that allow users to buy items from official accounts with one-click payment. This feature has the potential to radically change the way companies sell to their customers and deliver customer service. For instance, users can already buy drinks using WeChat  from dedicated vending machines located across Beijing at a discounted price.

  • Public accounts:
    Companies and organizations can create “public accounts”, which are similar to Facebook company pages. WeChat users can subscribe to these to access information, coupons, games and other incentive available to members only.
  • Look around:
    The ‘look-around’ function allow you to scan other people around you that are also using WeChat. It is a convenient and quick way to connect with other WeChat users in the room during events and tradeshows. In one ‘shake’ of the handset, it is possible to connect with everyone around. A smarter way to exchange contact details that I am still waiting for from LinkedIn.
  • Social gaming: Mobile games are a powerful way to attract and retain fans. WeChat’ s social gaming linkage works  like Line or KakaoTalk, with supported games letting you sign in via WeChat to share scores or challenge friends. Famous game like “TianTian Ai XiaoChu” will  be available on WeChat.

How can I use WeChat for my business?

WeChat is using online-to-offline (020) and cross-technology features to change the way 300 millions users communicate and socialize.  Ultimately, WeChat changes how people buy products. Online-to-offline functionalities such as loyalty clubs and payment can be used by companies to find and retain customers. It is also an effective tool to build an audience, facilitate payments and after sales service. Remember that WeChat can also very easily link to Tencent’s other applications like Weibo, Qzone, Pengyou and QQ, which has 1 billion users!

Let’s explore a few practical ways companies use WeChat for business:

1. Sales promotion

Push notifications, delivered directly to your subscribers’ mobile phone via WeChat, are a powerful marketing channel to send time-sensitive announcements, like a summer sales.

Push notifications are also effective when paired with a shopper’s location data. For example, a coffee shop could use push notifications to alert app users about special offers when in close proximity of the coffee shop (“free coffee today between 11:00-11:30”). Sending coupons via WeChat for in-store redemption is also very effective.

2. Targeted Product Launch

Chinese customers are actively browsing for ideas, reading reviews and collecting inspiration on social media sites. While they are not actively looking to buy, they are open to the idea if it is well targeted. As you have access to your subscribers’ details, you can invite targeted subscribers for product launches, according to their location or browsing history.

3. Collect Customer Feedback

WeChat is a great platform to collect feedback from your customers. You can engage with them on a 1-to-1 basis to get their thoughts on your products or give them previews of new products. These mobile surveys are an effective way to gauge customer satisfaction, and can be triggered via push notifications one or two days post-purchase.

4. After-sales service
Post-purchase communication is another  opportunity for businesses to deliver customer service. Simple transactional messages like purchase confirmations and shipping updates are great for managing customer expectations again via push notifications.  Another way to keep the dialogue open is to ask customers to share their purchase on WeChat immediately after the transaction.



Mobile makes shopping more complex and unpredictable. Doing businesses in China require new tools to stay relevant and retain customers. Multi-channel mobile messaging on platform like WeChat is definitely today’s opportunity to communicate with customers in the right place at the right time and create a proprietary audience to engage with in a personal way.

Most companies operating in China are already using Weibo to promote their business and a lot of brand marketers are feeling they should abandon Weibo and move to WeChat. WeChat is a great platform to bridge your customers between the offline and online world, or to manage customer-relationship, whereas Weibo is an effective media platform to improve brand awareness, broadcast content and interact with followers. While the two platforms have some comparable features, they should be considered complementary. Given their huge subscriber bases within China, companies should choose to use both.

[i] Mobile Marketing Association, “MXS: Mobile’s X% Solution, A Marketing Evolution Whitepaper”

[ii], “Why Should Marketers Care About Mobile Marketing?”