Why is WeChat so successful in China ?

This morning, when I woke up in Paris, I received an instant voice message sent by my nephew from China via WeChat. At only four years old, he is already able to use it to contact me on a regular basis. WeChat, also called WeiXin (微信) in Chinese, is actually used by people of all ages in China. It is the most widely used. Since its launch in 2011, it has achieved impressive figures: by the end of 3Q-2015, its Monthly Active Users (MAU) hit 650 million, which is almost equal to China’s Internet population in June 2015. In 3Q-2015, Tencent, its holding company, realized a turnover of USD 4.18 billion, a YOY increase of 34% over 3Q-2014. Profit for the period was USD 1.19 billion, a YoY increase of 34% as well. How has Tencent gained such popularity among Chinese people in such a short period of time? In addition to the fact that Tencent acquired a very rich experience in social media by successfully launching its previous instant message service application QQ, below are the three most important Key Success Factors telling you all the secrets.

A variety of features driven by customer experience

WeChat is a combination of WhatsApp, Facebook, and Skype. It’s very fun and easy to use, and free for all end users. Not only can users send texts and voice messages by using (or not) static or dynamic stickers, or launch a call/video call with their contacts on WeChat, but can also publish “Moments” (texts or short videos) related to their daily life, read news, or share articles, pictures, song or videos on their walls, and interact with other contacts. They can
also create discussion groups and launch discussions, play games, check and even meet strangers around, and “shake” their mobile phones to find who else in the world is shaking it at the same time.

WeChat
WeChat basic functions

Since March 2014, users can bind their bank cards to the application and purchase different goods or services directly on WeChat (“Mobile Wallet”): phone bills,

WeChat “Mobile Wallet”
WeChat “Mobile Wallet”

hotel room reservation, taxi services, movie tickets, food delivery, … and a large choice of many other products for sale on JD.com, the second largest e-commerce website in China with an integrated interface on WeChat. At least one in five active WeChat users has set up “Payments” function. Furthermore, WeChat offline payments became possible at brick-and-mortar stores, live events, vending machines, restaurants, and hotels, via QR codes.

What’s more, everybody can create a “public account” on WeChat, to promote whatever they want to their subscribers. Media organizations use it to promote their news articles, while companies use it to promote their brands, products and services. Today it has become a “must-have” marketing and communication tool in China.

Innovative spirit in promotion events

WeChat
Sending a “red envelope” for the Christmas Day

WeChat has shown a very innovative spirit in launching different promotional events. For example, the Chinese New Year campaign launched by WeChat and started in 2014, which virtualized the traditional “red envelope” (Hong Bao in Chinese). WeChat users could send a lump sum of cash to a specific group of friends or individuals on the application. On New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve in 2015, 200 million bank cards were bound to WeChat, and the “red envelope” was sent and received 3.27 billion times in the New Year festival!

Also, at any moment during along the year, users can exchange “red envelopes”, and then use the cash received to buy gifts to others. As in China, offering gifts to families and friends is a very important tradition, the “red envelope” has gained much popularity very quickly, and is also promoted for other occasions like the Valentine’s Day, Mid-Autumn Festival, Christmas Day, etc.

Successful combination of business and culture

Apart from the “red envelope” example, Tencent has shown its perfect understanding of the Chinese culture when promoting WeChat.

To begin with, the notion of one’s “Face” is quite important in China, so many Chinese people love “showing-off” in their circles anything that makes their life look beautiful, comfortable or successful: a delicious lunch or dinner, a nice trip, a luxury bag or watch, attendance to an important event, or meeting with movie or business stars, … So, WeChat provides a perfect “show-off” platform for them.

Also, the Chinese give the highest priority to their first-level circles, i.e. families and friends, and attach much importance to strong and regular connections with them, as well as their recommendations in terms of goods or services purchasing. For instance, if one recommends a good purchase on-line, or strongly recommends or criticizes a restaurant, this will much influence friends’ opinions. This explains why WeChat became an unavoidable tool for brand marketing and communication there.

In addition to that, even though China’s youth is becoming more individual and occidental, the “community” life still makes much sense for many Chinese. That’s why, being part of a “group” (like discussion groups between friends or even colleagues), sharing ideas and information in daily life, is easily accepted by the Chinese.

Finally, the Chinese tend to mix professional and personal life in general. For example, they can exchange with colleagues, clients or other business partners on very personal topics: real estate purchasing, family, personal life, and even personal problems sometimes… It’s considered as a sign of confidence necessary to create good and even personal relationships with others. On WeChat, in general, one’s contacts can cover families, friends, clients, colleagues and all types of business partners. The degree of privacy can vary from one person to another. Consequently, when one shares stuff related to his personal life, it can be seen by all contacts, except if the information is limited. In many cases, rather than calling clients directly by phone, people now tend to call them directly via WeChat or exchange via voice messages, or send professional documents via the application sometimes. Also, it is accepted to connect with professional contacts late at night or during the week-end via Wechat. Personal and professional lives are mixed and most often this does not bother anyone in China.

Nowadays, WeChat has become a kind of “lifestyle” in China. More than half the users open it more than 10 times per day. However, many people look really addicted to WeChat. For them, the first thing and the last thing to do in a day, is to check WeChat “Moments” and messages. Sometimes, two people sitting face-to-face at the same table in a restaurant, are seen with their heads down, using WeChat and not talking…

So, welcome to the “WeChat” Era in China!

Chunyan Li

Chunyan Li

Chunyan has over ten years of experience in strategy consulting, marketing, business development, and management of international projects across varied industries. She founded Feida Consulting in 2014, advising business leaders regarding strategy and performance, and hosts the digital forum. She has recently published "Réussir sur le marché chinois" (Succeeding in the Chinese market).
Chunyan Li

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