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15 February 2019


PBB News


WeChat in 2018: Mini-programs and Brand Zones

15 February 2019

Author: Philippe Lucas

Earlier this month, Tencent hosted the annual WeChat Developer’s Conference in Guangzhou. WeChat Creator Allen Zhang set the agenda for the year on what we can expect from the social media juggernaut. Within this context, here are two areas within the vast WeChat universe you China-focused brands would be wise to follow.

WeChat Mini-Programs

In a previous post on trends to follow for 2018, we identified WeChat mini-programs as a space to be watched carefully this year. Mini-programs are basically apps-within-apps, providing an intuitive user experience within WeChat, integrating social media, e-commerce and payments. The user experience is enhanced through faster loading speeds and a more customized service-offering than a normal app delivers. Brands can collect customer data, drive direct purchases or redirect traffic to e-stores and physical locations, encourage faster customer service and so much more.

With 1 million developers putting in work across 2,300 third party platforms, it’s no surprise mini-programs are starting to infiltrate much of our daily life. It’s changing the way we get around town, order food, pay for utilities, get movies tickets and worst of all, pay taxes. For those of us lucky enough to afford one, Tesla even has a mini-program to help owners find charging stations. At the more affordable end, popular super-market April Gourmet recently opened its first fully-automated AKA staff-less supermarket through its mini-program. WeChat’s eco-system lets users do almost anything without leaving the APP.

It’s then easy to see why the uptake transcends industries to include the likes of Dior, KFC, Zara, Nike and Starbucks all having buying their own mini-program. Boasting over 170 million daily users, the power of Tencent, and 1 million developers, we can confidently say that mini-programs will become an increasingly necessary avenue to expand your digital reach within WeChat and China as a whole.

WeChat Brand Zones

Last December, WeChat opened up its previously closed ecosystem to brands presenting a fundamental change to how the social network operates. With little fanfare, WeChat sneakily unveiled a new feature called “brand zone” under the cover of its new version 6.6.1. Brand zone puts all of a brand’s WeChat activity in a one-stop-shop, giving users easy access to brands’ official WeChat accounts, boutique stores and customized content.

According to a report by Curiosity China, the new function allows brands to control traffic within the zone, redirecting visitors from one section to the next and is an ideal first step in traffic monetization. The brand zone provides one port of entry which can be a WeChat official account or mini-program. Importantly, the brand zone gives brands exposure to users that aren’t following its official account. To be clear, individuals and media organizations don’t enjoy the same access to non-followers within WeChat.

So far, luxury brands seem to be the earliest adopters in using the brand zone as they comprise the majority of the select group of 12 premium brands using the feature. For instance, Cartier uses the new feature to redirect visitors to its H5 store for direct sales while Gucci simply redirects visitors to its own website. On the other hand, Longchamp links its boutique store to its WeChat mini-program for direct sales. Still in its infancy, we expect the brand zone feature to take a similar path that WeChat mini-programs has in its first year with some bumps in the road, ultimately revealing more about its applicability as more brands use the feature.

So to conclude, here’s a rundown of the benefits WeChat mini-programs and its brand zone feature provides: