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China Social Media

Challenge convention, commercialize social

We love the social media landscape visual published earlier this year by WPP sister company and social media specialist CIC. It is both inspiring and daunting at the same time. Inspiring because it illustrates in one chart the myriad platforms, apps and other options for building brands through social channels in China. Daunting because the social media possibilities in China are about five times greater than in other markets. This fragmentation makes marketing decision-making even more complex. And in the face of this complexity our fear is that we’ll revert to what we know best rather than what is best for our brands.

We read recently that 80 percent?of brands in Asia investing in social media are doing so to support content reach and awareness objectives. Only about half as?many brands focus on sales or lead generation. We would argue that the time is right to redress this balance. Not to say that awareness-driven programs are less important. The argument here is that we need to challenge ourselves. To do more – challenge our approach. To be more – add value and services. To achieve more – deliver direct revenue.

The Google Re:Brief project taught marketers a great lesson in how to utilize digital tools and channels. The project invited people behind some of the classic ads of the “Mad Men” era to create solutions for the digital era. These people championed innovation and imagination and challenged the simplistic re-shaping of existing marketing communications that has produced the uninspiring wallpaper that clutters the Web.

The explosion of social media?in China has created a similar dilemma—a lot of clutter, a lot?of places for our customers to look. With so many options, our challenge is to make sure we do not complacently “be” where our consumers and shoppers are; we must provide value, deliver services, and ultimately focus on hard returns.

The WeChat example of commercial focus

A perfect example of this commercial focus is the acceleration and success of WeChat,?Tencent’s mobile text and voice communication service. It has quickly become the darling of China’s netizens and brands alike. So what is the pot of gold at the end of this particular social media rainbow? WeChat appears to have recognized that there is financial life beyond paid advertising. It has already made significant returns from the monetization of gaming and virtual goods within its system, but it’s the tools on offer to brands that this team finds most interesting.

The “mobile first” ethos of the platform inherently makes this an application ready for activation and shopper marketing related activities. There are three particular features that will support a more commercially driven approach to brand building.

1. Commerce and service:

WeChat is driving adoption of?its own commerce of course,?but the tools available can be utilized in other ways. Take for example the scan feature, which enables shoppers to launch?price comparisons from multiple e-commerce platforms by scanning product barcodes or QR codes.

Or the direct commerce links that brands are already using in support of flash sales. We could see these tools being used to activate product sampling, to enable

event bookings for a brand’s most valuable customers, or to rewire existing purchase paths beyond traditional channels.

2. LBS (Location based services): For shopper marketing this can be the perfect combination of context and content. Building on our first point, the addition of LBS will ensure brands are able to be laser focused – targeting specific retail channels or productive locations that merit support, rather than inefficiently blanketing all markets and shopper segments.

3. Open API (application program interface): This enables our ability to integrate data from existing customer databases to extend legacy CRM programs and provide personalized messaging and offers in an increasingly relevant manner. This “super app” nature is interesting for us from an efficiency perspective. We no longer need to build significant client infrastructure, we can build on top of the publishing and other services provided by WeChat.

A cautionary tale: We sat with?a marketing leader recently?who said brand staff across her organization had rushed to set?up WeChat publishing accounts. They were taking approaches undifferentiated from other social channels and had little appreciation of the commercial value of their endeavors. This is a lesson for us?all. Understand the value a social application like WeChat can bring to your business and utilize it for what it does best. Do not replicate approaches from other channels for fear you may push away the very people you were trying to engage. A successful example can be seen in China Merchants Bank, which has integrated WeChat into its payment, information, and account services.

The key take aways are:?(a) appreciate the value of applications like WeChat and the others that appear in the CIC social media landscape visual; and (b) treat them with the imagination and business acumen of the creative teams that participated?in the Google Re:Brief. In these paragraphs we can only scratch?the surface of the opportunity. The exciting thing is that providers like WeChat are equally inspired to work with brands on commercial models and ways of operating?that can deliver deeper and more productive consumer and shopper relationships. These are tools that will help marketers go beyond their awareness objectives towards a more balanced approach to utilizing the array of platforms in China in support of programs throughout the purchase decision journey.

Chris Hu and Calvin Yeap contributed their insights to this article.

?Gareth EllenRegional Planning Director, Asia Pacific
Geometry Global

Nicky SzmalaResearch Manager, Analytics & Insight Geometry Global