WeChat in 2020: Blueprint for Global Brands

The importance of WeChat in terms of a brand’s presence in China, is something that business leaders are now well aware of. Unfortunately, many brands are still not unlocking the full potential of WeChat and don’t understand how to best utilize the platform. The chaos of COVID-19 has helped to widen the gulf in terms of competitiveness between local and overseas brands in China. It is now more essential than ever for global players to nail down their WeChat strategy.

Re-Hub sat down with Tom Kruger of Chatly to discuss best WeChat practices for global brands during the time of the Corona-virus and 2020 in general. Chatly is the premier WeChat marketing automation and social CRM platform and has offices in New York, Chennai, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Can you introduce Chatly and your role there?

My name is Tom Kruger, and I am the Managing Director of the Shanghai office of Chatly. I oversee client strategy, client success and then business development for Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Southeast Asia and Japan.

Chatly is an international company founded 3 years ago. Last year we moved from an agency to a Saas based platform, for Wechat for overseas brands. This was before mini-programs and there was no option for brands outside of official accounts. 

We started as a social CRM plugin for marketing automation and have evolved into a full suite of services covering marketing sales and e-commerce. So basically, we have tools for customer service, marketing automation, sales and clienteling. All can be used as standalone solutions or as an all-in-one suite. 

chatly customer experience
Chatly gives tools for companies to run customers service, commerce, marketing automation and clienteling in WeChat

Our focus is on international brands and we make it possible that overseas brands can run their WeChat business without any presence in China. In fact, several of our brands don’t have a business entity or presence in China.

On the China retail side we work with names like Shisheido, Estee Lauder, Amore Pacific. We also work with brands who are in the States like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Additionally, we deal with a number of hotels like Grand Hyatt and Hilton and finance companies like TD Ameritrade. 

With people not going out, the last three months have been difficult for global brands in China. Taking sportswear as an example, Adidas have reported a drop in sales of $1.1 billion USD for Q1 in Greater China. Over this period, can you cite any examples that you have witnessed of global brands using WeChat in innovative ways to soften the blow of the crisis?

I can think of a few standout examples over this period.

The first would be Nike. I love what they did at the height of the crisis, offering a host of different workout exercises that you could do at home. They also  had a lot of content being posted in their apps and mini-programs. So even though you were not able to visit their physical stores, there was a whole suite of WeChat experiences that led you eventually to make digital purchases. The volume of content was just really impressive, especially while their competitors were sheltering in place

Nike at peak of virus wechat livestream and miniprogram
At the peak on the COVID crisis, Nike used its WeChat miniprograms and official accounts to provide users with free fitness classes over livestream

Another brand that comes to mind is one that we work with, De Beers, the jewelers. They have a very large presence in China that is focused on the traditional physical experience and a lot of their purchases come in-store. During the height of the crisis they released a mini-program, with a full selection of products. Fans of the brand were able to browse and purchase expensive jewelry from within WeChat.

debeers miniprogram wechat
De Beers WeChat miniprogram

Where do you see overseas brands going wrong in their WeChat strategy?

The biggest mistakes that overseas brands make is that they view WeChat as just another form of social media. We wouldn’t really apply the term social media to WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, because those channels are really chat-focused. 

So because they only view it as a form of social media, we see a lot of the time brands only using it for really ad hoc content strategies where they only post content once a week. This is usually part of an ongoing advertising campaign and doesn’t really tap into the full potential of the WeChat ecosystem. 

A service account on WeChat is not nested away in a menu, it is situated in your chat contacts, together with friends, colleagues and acquaintances. The brands that do best on WeChat are those that really treat customers as friends, so you become a friend with Urban Outfitters or Zara. To do that you need more than the simple content pushes that many brands focus on. You need to open up the chat capabilities of WeChat, which means having someone who is there to chat and providing rich auto-responders to questions.

So what would be your key advice to these brands to build these friend style relationships with customers?

I think they need to look at the kind of customer journeys that they build out and how people access their account. There’s a unique API that Tencent has called the ‘48 Hour Window’. That 48 hour window is a period of time when someone either follows your account or they click on a menu bar or they send a message to your account or they scan a QR code. If the user engages in one of those four actions, there’s a window where for 48 hours, you as the brand can send as much content to the user as you want. And I think in terms of building that friendship, that 48 hour period is the most important time to give exposure to your content and brand. Moreover, it’s the most important time to show value in terms of why they should continue to subscribe to your brand. So it’s really important they get the first 48 hours right.

official accounts in WeChat
Official Accounts need to use the no content limit “48 hr Window” to build relationships with consumers.

Beyond that, it’s very similar to how you treat other channels globally, but you need to have a rich strategy to follow up. You need to offer them touchpoints like WeChat pay, e-commerce options through mini programs, customer support, customer service and basically every touchpoint you can leverage. 

One other thing I might add is, instead of redeploying existing Web sites that you have, major international brands need to ask themselves, “Does this optimize well for WeChat?”. Tencent has a ‘One-Click API’ which can collect a user’s phone number, shopping address and details in one click. 

Brands also need to optimize their UI for WeChat, because the Chinese user experience is completely different than that for the Western market. WeChat has best in class guidelines that developers need to adhere to. 

China looks to be over the peak of its crisis now, but consumption hasn’t completely rebounded. How can global brands best use WeChat to navigate a tough 2020?

Sure, I would like to give a three part answer to that one:

  1. Try to target Chinese citizens overseas. In New York for example, there’s a huge Chinese population, whether that’s students or residents, which is often overlooked. Brands can utilize WeChat as a channel of communication in order to reach out to them, give them updates on your brand, opening hours of stores etc. They have a really unique chance to go after those consumers and build relationships with the ones that did stay overseas. We have had success helping clients like Saks Fifth Avenue use WeChat to interact with Chinese residents and tourists in this way
  2. Build a cross-border product strategy. I’m talking about allowing Chinese customers to purchase your products from overseas.
  3. Focus on clienteling activities and build relationships with existing contacts.This is especially for luxury and jewelry brands, who are experiencing a downturn in foot traffic. If you have an existing contact base, you have the resources. I think a lot of brand ambassadors and retail associates are not super busy at the moment. So they have time to take that existing contact information and use a tool like WeChat Work for clienteling. They should proactively reach out to those the V.I.P client and build the relationship and dialogue. 
Overseas Chinese are often overlooked in brands WeChat strategies

WeChat Work has a native platform function where your brand ambassadors can add external contacts.Most brand ambassadors(BA) have their clients details on their personal WeChat account. If they leave, the brand loses the contact. With WeChat Work the company keeps the contact details and conversations to pass onto another BA.

It also opens channels,  where your brand ambassadors based in London, Paris, New York or Boston can add existing contacts or repeat purchasers and maybe schedule appointments for when things get better and they can travel again.

Key Takeaways

  • Brands need to understand that WeChat is a chat focused platform rather than traditional socia; media and build their WeChat strategy around the purpose of creating authentic friendships with customers. Don’t bombard them with uniform content blasts, but think about personalizing the experience for the individual customer.
  • Make use of the 48 hours window to set the tone of this relationship with customers. Ensure your on-boarding content in this 48 hours is optimized.
  • WeChat Work is the optimum platform for clienteling, especially for luxury and higher end brands. Even if brands are not able to get customers to make purchases during the COVID-19 downturn, they still should be looking to strengthen and build relationships, especially with V.I.P’s
  • Overseas Chinese consumers are overlooked and untapped by many brands. A large number of Chinese are stuck overseas and brands can use WeChat to bring them to their stores outside of China.