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The future of business will depend heavily on a new wave of innovative mobile communication platforms and applications, like China’s cutting-edge mobile platform, WeChat. However, these emerging platforms and applications also add up to a much more complex world for businesses. Smart phones, tablets, hybrid devices such as Windows Surface, and multiple environments including Android, Android China, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple’s iOS, as well as an ever-evolving merry-go-round of features, updates, and apps mean additional levels of multifaceted marketing. So, where should businesses start, and how can they guarantee that their budgets won’t disappear down the digital rabbit hole?

Reaching Out
Going mobile is arguably the closest you can get to the consumer, as no other device provides the opportunity for proximity and immediate reach. In a 2012 survey, Morgan Stanley researchers found that 91 percent of adults have their mobile phone within arm’s reach 24/7. “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,” says Kimberly Whitler of Forbes Magazine. Mobiles are now used for shopping, searching, entertainment, socializing, and brand interaction. And probably most importantly, research shows that 74 percent of smartphone users use their phone to help with shopping, with 79 percent ultimately making a purchase as a result.

Mobile marketing in China

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

Wechat: An eCommerce Facebook?
WeChat (known as Weixin in China) is similar to Whatsapp, the mobile messaging application recently acquired by Facebook for $19 billion USD, which enables users to send instant text and audio messages. However, WeChat also has social media-style features like a newsfeed (Facebook), a focus on short messages (Twitter), video calling (Skype), location-based services (Foursquare), and a payment system. It has also recently added tools enabling users to participate to contests, play mini-games, and issue coupons.

Key business features

Payment services:
Consumers are willing to pay for services and content on their mobile. WeChat is now incorporating payment options allowing users to buy items from official accounts with one-click payment. It’s a feature that could possibly – and quite radically – change the way companies sell to their customers and deliver customer service. For instance, with WeChat users can now buy drinks at discounted prices from dedicated vending machines scattered across Beijing.

Public accounts:
Companies and organizations can create “public accounts”. Similar to Facebook company pages, WeChat users can subscribe to these to access information, coupons, games, and other incentives available to members only.

Look around:
The ‘look-around’ function allows you to scan other people around you that are also on WeChat. It’s a quick, convenient way to connect with other nearby WeChat users during events and tradeshows, and in one ‘shake’ of the handset, it’s possible to connect with everyone around. This is a smarter way of exchanging contact details that I am still waiting for on LinkedIn.

Social gaming:
Mobile games have emerged as a powerful way to attract and retain fans. WeChat’ s social gaming linkage works like Line or KakaoTalk, with supported games allowing you to sign in via WeChat to share scores or challenge friends. Popular games including “TianTian Ai XiaoChu” will soon be available on WeChat.

How can I put WeChat to work for my business?
WeChat uses online-to-offline (O2O) and cross-technology features to change the way 300 million users communicate, socialize, and buy products. O2O functionality, such as loyalty clubs and payments, can be leveraged by companies and brands seeking new ways of finding and retaining customers; it’s also an effective tool for building a proprietary audience, facilitating payments and other after-sales services. And don’t forget that WeChat easily links to Tencent’s other applications like Weibo, Qzone, Pengyou, and QQ, whose user base sent a whopping 13.6 billion messages on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

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 for sending time-sensitive announcements, like a summer sale. Push notifications are also effective when paired with a shopper’s location data. For example, a coffee shop could use push notifications to alert nearby app users about special offers (“free coffee today between 11:00-11:30!”) or to send a digital coupon for in-store redemption.

2. Targeted Product Launch
Chinese customers are actively browsing for ideas, reading reviews, and collecting inspiration on social media sites. Even when they’re not actively looking to buy, they are still open to the idea if it’s 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 for collecting feedback from customers, by engaging them on a one-to-one basis to get their thoughts on your products or give them previews of new products. Mobile surveys are a proven, effective method for gauging customer satisfaction, and can be triggered via push notifications one or two days post-purchase.

4. After-Sales Service
Post-purchase communication presents another opportunity for businesses to deliver outstanding customer service. Simple transactional messages like purchase confirmations and shipping updates are great for managing customer expectations, and again can be accomplished with push notifications. Another way to keep the dialogue open is to encourage customers to share their purchase on WeChat immediately after the transaction.

Mobile can make shopping more complex and unpredictable, and doing business in China requires new tools to remain relevant and retain customers. Multichannel mobile messaging on platforms like WeChat is definitely a golden opportunity to communicate with customers in the right place at the right time and create a proprietary audience that can be engaged with in a personal and meaningful way.

Most companies operating in China are already using Weibo to promote their business, but many brand marketers wondering whether they should abandon it in favor of a 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 for improving brand awareness, broadcasting content, and interacting with followers. While the two platforms have some comparable features, they should be considered complementary. And given their huge subscriber bases within China, I’d say companies should choose to use both.

About the author:
Christian Dougoud is Senior Consultant and Head of digital at EASTWEST Public Relations. He is a digital expert with over 12 years’ experience with positions held in London, Beijing and Lausanne, his home town in Switzerland.

Christian has spent the last six years in China designing PR and digital marketing campaigns in China and across Asia for large multinational organizations such as Philips, Agilent, Morgan Cars, Absciex, the University of York, the University of Reading and Avnet.

He is recognized for his published articles, his frequent speaking engagements to present on trends in digital marketing to various international conferences in Beijing, Moscow, London and Switzerland including the Davos World Communication Forum, The China Britain Business Council, the EUCCC (European Union Chamber of Commerce in China) Marcom, the MBA program of Hamline University, the China Entrepreneur’s Social Media marketing forum in Beijing and London’s Knowledge Engineers, among others.

Twitter: @ChrisDougoud

EASTWEST Public Relations is an independent PR agency based in Singapore, Beijing, London and Bangalore specializing in traditional and digital public relations. Since 1995, EASTWEST has helped over 400 clients become recognized in 12 Asian countries. Interprose has been collaborating closely with EASTWEST PR on global communications campaigns since 2011.

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