WeChat and supplements: Seven tips for a successful strategy to boost trade in China

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

The cost of marketing via WeChat is getting more expensive.
The cost of marketing via WeChat is getting more expensive.
With one billion users and accounting for 35% of Chinese consumers' time spent on mobile devices, supplement brands trying to break into China can ill-afford to ignore WeChat...but how do they start to shape a successful strategy on the platform?

According to one expert, WalktheChat CEO Jenny Chen, there are seven simple steps that firms need to consider when entering China, or trying to build their presence in the nation.

She said WeChat was currently used by 97% of younger people in China, with its use among seniors soaring to 47% last year.

"You have to remember WeChat is not like other social media platforms​,"​ she said. "It is for much more than for social use. People depend on it for content, for services and also for payments."

Indeed, payments via WeChat totalled more than US$16 trillion in 2017. And it isn't just used for entertainment or discretionary purchases; last year, 14% of all medical services were paid using the platform.

However, speaking at the recent Health Products Association conference in Shanghai, Chen cautioned that it could be incredibly difficult for overseas supplement brands to make an impression on WeChat.

"It is super competitive," ​she said. "There are 20 million official accounts to compete with and overseas health supplement brands can't run WeChat moment ads, unless they have the right licences in China.

"So we have to assess what we can do to stand out and increase the conversion rate."

Chen's top seven tips are:

1)  Evaluate demand

She said there was little point in throwing cash and resources at WeChat unless there was already sizeable demand for and awareness of a product. She urged firms to check how much daigou ​demand was evident on sites like Taobao, and check brand rankings on Baidu.

"If these are low, it may be better to start using other social channels to maximise ROI,"​ she said.

2) Work with key opinion leaders (KOLs)

Brands such as Blackmores and Swisse have had considerable success by engaging KOLs, and Chen said other brands should consider using this tactic on WeChat, especially due to the aforementioned restrictions. She said tools such as newrank.cn show KOLs' number of active followers and the costs required to engage.

"However, be wary of inflated numbers, and always check how much user engagement they receive."

3) Limited time offers

Purchase behaviour on WeChat is very different to e-commerce platforms such as JD.com, said Chen. People make buying decisions on impulse, and therefore limited time offers can attract additional attention and encourage rapid-fire purchasing decisions.

4) Standardise promotional campaigns

Chen said brands had found success by offering promotions at set times. For example, companies selling products for infants often timed promotions for around 7 AM in the morning, when parents are likely to already be awake because of their children.

"This can be very effective, and also helps build anticipation," ​she added.

5) Use WeChat groups

WeChat groups can have up to 500 users and can drive greater engagement than official accounts, she said. Groups can be used to provide user-generated data, while also rewarding loyal customers with VIP offers, coupons, and invitations to special events.

6) Leverage the first 48 hours of user activity

Immediate action as soon as a consumer engages with a brand is vital, because direct communication with the individual is only permitted for the first 48 hours.

"Brands need to tailor these messages to each user and use order history data to personalise promotions."

7) Break the rules...if you can

WeChat forbids incentivised sharing, where consumers are given freebies or discounts for sharing content.

However, Chen said: "Brands that are big enough or small enough can get away with this."

She said the initial penalty was likely to be a warning, but she cautioned that repeated breaches could lead to accounts being suspended.

While Chen said the above strategies could prove effective, she added that the cost of marketing via WeChat was getting more expensive.

"I encourage brands to use multiple marketing channels,"​ she said. "For example, Douyin is now almost the number three social platform in China after only two years of operation."

It specialises in short, shareable videos, and is very popular with younger consumers. "It already has 154 million monthly active users, and the cost of engaging a KOL can be a lot cheaper.

"If you spend RMB600,000 on WeChat, you will get around 600,000 impressions. On Douyin, you will get 3.9 million impressions for the same amount."

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