by Gabriel Walker
October 12, 2018

At its core, doing business is about connecting with people.

Your business may have the best product, or the most flawless service, yet if you’re failing to connect with the target market, all of this is beside the point.

It follows then, that if you’re looking to sell to Chinese buyers, you need to understand how Chinese society connects.

The answer is simple: WeChat. However, what’s not quite so simple—and in fact, is often the subject of many misconceptions here in the West—is how to define WeChat.

WeChat Misconception #1

WeChat is just like Facebook, but for Chinese nationals.

Wrong.

Yes, WeChat offers many of the same features as Facebook—sharing pictures and videos, connecting with friends, scrolling through posts from colleagues, you know the stuff. But to limit WeChat to the parameters of Facebook would be to completely underestimate the scope of WeChat.

WeChat Misconception #2

It’s not Facebook, dummy… It’s WhatsApp!

Wrong again.

Same story—WeChat may aesthetically appear similar to WhatsApp, and is nearly as prolific (1,040 million users for WeChat vs 1.2 billion for WhatsApp), but it offers so much more than WhatsApp.

Funnily enough, go back to 2011, and WeChat began as a WhatsApp-esque instant messaging app. But time flies, and if you still think WeChat is only about instant messaging, then you’re well and truly living in the past.

The reality of WeChat

Instead of thinking that WeChat is the Chinese parallel of Facebook or WhatsApp, think of it as your whole internet browser.

Yes, it’s a place you can connect with your friends, scroll through their pictures and send them messages.

But it’s also a place you can find a date, hire a car, rent bikes, buy products, make payments or bank transfers, book an appointment with your doctor, and so much more. In fact, in 2017, WeChat users spent US$938 million on entertainment through the app! Essentially, WeChat is an extension of Chinese society—the one-stop shop for all things business and personal.

It’s about connection

If you’ve spent any more than a couple of days in China, chances are you will have had someone ask “Can I have your WeChat?”

In China, this has become the essential step in any relationship, whether with a colleague, new acquaintance, or prospective business opportunity. Why? Because connecting with someone on WeChat means you’re linked in real-time—next time you’re late to a meeting, you can live share your location. Don’t have time to reply? Simply post a voice message instead. Want someone’s details? Just scan their QR code—no need for a business card!

Besides these common extensions of WeChat that Westerners likely still find rather foreign, WeChat takes the concept of a newsfeed to the next level. WeChat Moments offer a window into the lives of your connections—in a way that a Facebook newsfeed fails to. Look at anyone’s WeChat Moments, and you’ll quickly see that the Chinese are incredibly prolific sharers of content (it can only take minutes to go viral!).

The net result of all this is that WeChat drives multiple different forms of connection, all in the one place. And as a marketer looking to form a connection with prospective customers, that’s the place you want to be.

Leveraging WeChat to grow your business

Many foreign organisations see getting on WeChat as the pinnacle of business success in China.

Sure, it’s a good step—you need to register with a Chinese National ID, and of course it’s all in Mandarin, so navigating this process is no walk in the park.

But becoming registered on WeChat is just the first step—equivalent to being listed on Google. It helps, but alone, it won’t bring your organisation any more business than before.

What’s needed is WeChat-appropriate marketing, which is an entirely different challenge.

Succeeding in the WeChat environment

By now, you’re probably sick of being told how different WeChat is to anything else you know. Well sorry, but here it is again: Marketing on WeChat is nothing like the SEO you know.

Whereas Google gives a lot of weighting to keywords and links used, WeChat bases its approach on consumer purchasing behaviour. Personally, I think this is a fantastic approach—it prevents the platform becoming another crazy ad-infested bonanza like Facebook. But what it does mean, is that to market effectively on WeChat, you need to be relevant to how your customers are already behaving.

Get to know your customers like the back of your hand, create content that aligns perfectly with this, and you’ll be able to succeed in the WeChat environment and make that all important connection with your target customers.

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