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The pull of WeChat personalization: lessons western marketers should learn from China's superapp

Blake Stone Banks

Blake Stone-Banks

April 19, 2024

Since leaving China a year ago, one of the pleasures I miss most is WeChat, China’s celebrated superapp. As a user, I miss the level of control over experiences WeChat granted me, nearly ad-free interactions with people in my community and engagements with brands and services that put me in charge. As a marketer, I miss WeChat for its focus on pull strategies via its incredible social commerce, sCRM and O2O toolkits, which stand in stark contrast to Western digital channels’ incessant push. 

Boasting an impressive 1.3 billion monthly active users, WeChat should be thought of as an operating system rather than an app. Over the past decade, WeChat’s vast user base has positioned its parent company Tencent at the forefront of China’s two major ecosystem economies. The other, Alibaba (which remains the better known globally), has fallen to nearly half of Tencent’s value. If you aren’t familiar with the platform, I encourage you to watch this NY Times video from a few years ago, which I often play for international marketers and CMOs tackling China to explain why WeChat should be thought of first as a medium for user-led experiences rather than a channel for Western-style promotion.  

Launched in 2011 as a WhatsApp clone, WeChat quickly evolved far beyond its initial functionality to deliver personalized experiences with unmatched precision. Its approach to personalization is unique and powerful due to its extensive user data across a multitude of digital services. WeChat's evolution extends its reach from an instant messaging service to a comprehensive social media, mobile payment and professional platform. It supports daily communications and social networking, as well as a range of personalized services, mobile-commerce and loyalty platforms via mini-programs. This spectrum of services solidifies WeChat as a “super app” and enriches its user data, enabling unparalleled personalization in both social and professional spheres.  

WeChat's Personalization Tactics: A Mirror to RAPP's Approach  

The methodologies employed by WeChat reflect RAPP's ethos on personalization and opt-in strategies, particularly in how they align with RAPP's five key customer value levers: control, choice, community, clarity, and convenience.  

  1. Control

In WeChat, almost every interaction is opt-in, giving users a high degree of control over their experience. This respect for user preferences highlights the value placed on personal data, which users willingly share for the benefits it brings. This approach respects user privacy and enhances trust to forge stronger relationships between the brands and users on the app. There is minimal display advertising, so users have opted in to almost all brand content they engage with. 

  1. Choice

The depth of data and personalization on WeChat empowers users to navigate their options effectively. These insights further inform how brands tailor content and offers to support users in fluently navigating between their most relevant options. When it comes to navigating choice, WeChat users have an added benefit in that branded subscription content is separated into a “subscription” folder in their feeds, so that users can easily choose when they want to navigate that brand content and when they want to remain with the WeChat groups and channels they have prioritized for regular interaction. 

  1. Community

In China, WeChat is the digital nexus that binds together communities, offering a platform for engagement and closed sharing within private groups. This aspect of community building is central to WeChat's strategy, making it a powerful space for marketers to engage and deeply understand the perspectives and behaviors of their audiences. Through brand-run communities, such as Tesla’s private owner communities for example, WeChat facilitates a positive sense of belonging and engagement crucial for cultivating loyalty and advocacy.  

  1. Clarity

Despite its vast functionalities, WeChat’s user-led approach maintains clarity across the user experience. The app’s design, which nests hundreds of thousands of services into one platform empowered by automation and personalization, makes navigation intuitive. This streamlined approach reduces the cognitive overload of WeChat’s scale and empowers users to quickly identify the digital experiences they seek to engage with.  

  1. Convenience

WeChat focuses on convenient customer-centric experiences and has adopted a strategy that eschews interruption, traditional display and mobile advertising. Instead, brands are empowered to deliver relevant content informed by past interactions and contextual data. Automation driven by contextual data streamlines user experiences making it fundamental to how brands set up their WeChat experiences. This convenience extends to transactions, where WeChat's integrated payment system facilitates seamless commerce via QR or direct mobile payment.  

Personalized WeChat Experiences in Action: A Case Study  

In 2020, RAPP China developed Audi’s experience strategy for the China market, which included shifting brand perceptions via community engagements on topics close to the Audi brand, including electronic music and design. Over the next years, as Covid policies allowed, Audi engaged RAPP to develop social and digital strategies for offline events, such as the Design China exhibition, which alone would not have had sufficient attendance to achieve targeted reach and ROI. In 2021, RAPP developed a precision WeChat-based solution to maximize reach and ROI for the Audi brand booth at Design China while collecting leads and engaging attendees as brand advocates. 

  • Rapp developed a WeChat mini-app for Audi to tease Audi’s Design China exhibition content. In the run-up to the event, the mini-app integrated invitation and RSVP functions for Audi brand, local dealers, and their networks, as well as vibrant social content and social CRM functions for one-to-one communication. 
  • On site at Design China, booth visitors were encouraged to scan a QR code to download the mini-app for access to exclusive Audi and Design China content. 
  • The mini-app featured a photo filter to generate social selfies with a special Audi design and the tagline #FutureIsMyAttitude to showcase attendees’ participation at the Audi booth. When a user shared the selfie in their WeChat moments, they received an invitation into an exclusive Audi VIP space. 
  • Of the estimated 20,000 visitors to the Audi booth at Design China, 18% downloaded the mini-app and opted-in to the social CRM platform. 85% of the mini-app members then generated a social-selfie and 80% of those shared their Audi selfie on their own WeChat moments channels, converting well over two-thousand attendees into advocates of Audi at Design China. 
  • 3,250 on-site visitors with strong target audience fit registered in the WeChat mini-app, sharing contact for one-to-one engagements with local sales teams.  
  • Finally social shares expanded Audi’s reach at Design China from foot traffic of 20,000 visitors to an estimated reach of 5,000,000 unique social views of user-generated-content. 

Embracing the Future of Opt-In Personalization at Scale with RAPP  

In the West today, customers are interrupted by as many as 10,000 ads every day. Marketing in our digital-first age should never be an incessant interruption. The integration of intuitive user-led experiences with comprehensive data, AI algorithms and one-to-one sCRM should serve as a roadmap for the future of digital marketing. By embracing the RAPP value levers reflected in the WeChat model — control, choice, community, clarity, and convenience — marketers can enhance strategies to meet audiences on their terms. 

In every market, RAPP is committed to guiding brands and agencies through this transformation, ensuring they keep pace and set new standards in personalized marketing at scale. Let's navigate this journey together, activating marketing value for both customers and brands through precision and empathy. 

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