August 14, 2013 5:32 pm

Western brands get a feel for Chinese customers’ needs on WeChat

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It is not just Durex, owned by Reckitt Benckiser, that found WeChat’s one-to-one messaging and other features useful for reaching potential Chinese customers.

Starbucks, one of the first US brands to run a campaign on WeChat, asked its followers there to tell the company what mood they were in by messaging them an emoticon. In response, the company would send them an audio track of a song that matched their mood.

Asking users about their feelings made the company itself seem welcoming, said Joseph Tsang, digital business director with ad agency Grey in Shanghai.

As coffee itself is difficult to sell digitally, “they use the soft approach to make themselves your friend”, Mr Tsang said.

One vodka company used the app to invite followers to an event it was holding in Shanghai. Bringing the invitation message on their smartphone to the event got them a special VIP card.

Rand Han, head of the agency Resonance China that arranged the event, said the group also often uses the Twitter-like microblog Weibo but sending a message for an event that pops up on someone’s phone, compared with posting it on a website that also collates general news, is more personal.

“There’s a slightly different spin,” he said.

Other companies have found that using WeChat can make it easier to track ads’ effectiveness because each WeChat account links to just one person’s phone number, said Giulia Callegari, who works on luxury advertising with the agency Ogilvy in Asia

Advertisers in China, like in the US and Europe, can track users’ behaviour online and are starting to develop ways to check whether their online followers make offline purchases. But, said Ms Callegari, tracking customer data online in China is still a bit trickier than in other markets.

“A lot of luxury and beauty brands are starting to use WeChat because it’s one to one, it’s social, and you have the person’s number so hopefully you can match it to [other customer] data,” she said.

This piece has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of ‘Joseph Tsang’

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