I’ve been back and forth between China and the USA for a good many years and in that time many things have changed on how I have been able to communicate between the 2 countries. It used to be the good old wired landline (and lots of long distance charges!), then to Microsoft MSN Messenger (is that around any more?), then to Skype and now the last couple of years it is using Wechat. Wechat is an mobile phone based instant messaging App like none other. One of the leading Apps in China at 750 million users it has a plethora of features from online banking, video calling, instant messaging etc etc. But just like any other powerful tool, it also has some interesting unintended uses that are just being discovered and explored. In fact, a friend leveraged a Wechat feature to meet new people and in a short 30 days was married!
So what are the secrets of Wechat marketing? Lets take a look at how to use some of the features that are being used today to reach customers:
- People NearBy: this is a location awareness feature that allows you to browse people that are nearby you. If you are in the mood to chat or send some interesting information then this is the way you can do it. In the US, there are many established dating apps like eHarmony, PlentyOfFish, match.com and new entrants like Tinder, League Dating app etc. Putting together Wechcat with more robust “dating funnel” features from these other Apps would certainly be an interesting “habit forming” feature.
- QR Code scanning: walking down a road in Shanghai I noticed a table where there were a bunch of excited people looking at their phone playing with an App and eating oranges. It turns out distribution of Apps in China is not typically done online (like the App stores or through online ads) but actually is physically done by setting up a table and giving away food to people in exchange for downloading the App. The QR scanner feature on Wechat allows App developers to easily get peoples’ account information quickly and also allows the user to be exposed instantly to the App in exchange for some goodies. Win-win!
- Company Groups: online business communication and group communication is now primarily done through Wechat. These group chats allow people to seamlessly communicate on any issue instantly. It also allows companies to setup their own private group, which people to subscribe to and get updates from the business. I’ve personally seen dozens of such groups setup on people’s accounts.
With all the marketing noise in China it is a never ending battle to capture the attention of the Chinese consumer. Wechat is certainly a key marketing platform to any business trying to grab a piece of that attention.
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In March 2016, the largest gathering of Buddhist Monks since the Qing Dynasty reigned over 2000 years ago took place in a small mountain town of WuTaiSha, China. With my family having roots in Sri Lankan Buddhism and my wife who was a newly minted “Master Administrator” of one of the many Buddhist temple groups in China, we took the long voyage to participate in this gathering. It was a live 3-day spectacular gathering of people and monks showing their devotion to the Buddhist way of life. As intensive and social as this event was, there also is a very heavy use by Chinese Buddhist Temples to spread their teachings through the online environment. Wechat groups which aggregate hundreds of followers and managed by volunteers help to keep the community vibrant and alive. What is surprising though is that it just maybe the subtle features of Wechat that keep the community alive rather than the actual teachings of Buddhism.
One such innovative feature on Wechat is called “Red Packets” which allows a member of a group to send any amount of money at any time to other members of the group. The brilliant (and habit forming) part of this feature is that people don’t know how much is actually being sent. A typical example is: Bill sends a red packet of $10 to the group. The people on the group gets notified via the App that someone has sent a packet of money which is an unknown amount. People then have the option to accept and whoever accepts splits the money. At one point, my wife had asked her Buddhist group to send in some information on how many times they had done something. No response from the group. She then decided to send $1 as a “red packet” to see if people were actually online. Virtually everyone responded and accepted the packet! The power of small monetary awards in China can go a long way!
Another China App that brilliantly tapped into their members motivation was Didi Dache, which is the largest taxi based App service in China. Because of the large demand for Taxi services during peak hours it can be very difficult to get a Taxi in any reasonable amount of time. In this case, the taxi drivers had all the control and would be able to accept or deny rides at their discretion. Some clever passengers decided to use the “voice chat” feature to not only tell the taxi driver where they were located but to make the messages funny and enticing for the driver to choose them over others. The drivers actually benefitted the most, giving them some humour and power of their otherwise dreary driving day on the congested streets of China. By adding a little bit of mystery to every ride request, the Didi Dache App added some fun to their driving day.
Basketball is gaining a lot of traction in China as a sport. Michael Jordan to this day is still an icon in Chinese culture even after retiring 13 years go. This is no more evident in the shoes that bear his name and that Nike sells as an exclusive product every couple of months. These exclusive deals are typically sold out online in seconds. People would literally by waiting online at the precise moment of the opening of the web page to get on the list. Because of the overwhelming demand, even if you get on the list there is still a random selection process that happens afterward. The list is constantly being updated which causes consumers to continually monitor the Nike App to get the latest information. By adding randomness, exclusivity and time pressure the Nike App cleverly retains the attention of those shoe addicts for the duration of the deal!
Thanks to the work of Nir Eyal (author of Hooked) and research at Harvard, habit forming tactics are now an integral part of the design of the best Apps in the world. China Apps have certainly embraced their own unique twist on it.
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