2018 has been a year with many remarkable events for marketers in China. WeChat hit 1 billion monthly active users. The number of Mini Programs deployed reached 1 million, with 200 million daily active users. Xiaohongshu, Douyin, and new social platforms emerged, disrupting the Chinese digital ecosystem and the list goes on...
These significant changes open new opportunities and challenges. To help brands navigate in this ever-changing ecosystem, we have gathered the top marketing trends which are about to shape the Chinese digital ecosystem in the year 2019. Among others, we believe that data consolidation in Omnichannel, WeChat Mini Programs, social - KOLs - commerce and artificial intelligence are going to dominate the landscape. Wanna know more? Let’s jump right in.
1. Data Consolidation Strategy to Play a Larger Role
A winning Omnichannel strategy is a must for every brand who wants a shot at success in China. The groundbreaking popularity of platforms like Douyin, Duoshan, Kuaishou, and Xiaohongshu proves that new marketing channels can pop up and become trendy overnight. While every channel is a rich source of information and provides a variety of insights, it can be hard to reconcile data across multiple, non-communicating channels. How can you link the action of a user on Channel A and on Channel B if these two channels do not communicate? If you are missing pieces of the puzzle, how can you take the right decision?
The solution is to create a channel-agnostic IT backbone, that is able to leverage the capacities of a new channel swiftly and consolidate all data. Such frameworks embrace cyber-security law, deduplication, and self-healing of CRM data gathered from multiple channels capabilities - all extremely sensitive points in China. This is the key to long-lasting results of independent channels peak campaigns. There are a few possibilities to achieve this: implementing a headless technology would be a good start, but also a microservices architecture is more and more becoming a must. Dividing the different components of your IT infrastructure in small, independent yet integrated projects will bring long-lasting results while maintaining adaptability of the system to any newcomer on the client side.
For 2019, as channel keep popping up, expect more and more brands investing in an integrated infrastructure that grants them the capability to succeed in that.
2. WeChat OS Is Becoming a Reality
If you don’t live under a rock, chances are you may have heard that WeChat is a “little more” than just an App: as they say, it is a do-it-all app, the swiss army knife of apps, a super-app - the list goes on. One of the biggest reasons for these names is because of Mini Programs”. Launched in 2017 as a kind of lightweight app running inside WeChat, Mini Programs allow marketers to deploy a variety of digital assets, from games, loyalty programs, live streaming, online stores with WeChat Pay integrated, and more.
Despite receiving some doubts at first, Mini Programs have achieved incredible success, with the number of Mini Programs reaching a whopping 1 million, with 200 million daily active users in China, which accounts for a quarter of the Chinese internet users.
WeChat is giving more and more prominence to Mini Programs. In the latest updates, by swiping down from the homepage, you can now access a full-screen drop-down menu of all Mini Programs you have accessed. That is a huge change from the past, when Mini Programs were sort of hidden in the ecosystem, and marks a clear change of direction: Mini Programs are not just an add-on, but are becoming the core of the WeChat ecosystem.
Mini Program Full-Screen Menu
All these investments and updates in Mini Programs can be clearly seen as part of a bigger plan that is unfolding in front of our eyes: WeChat started as an app, became a super app, and is now getting ready for the jump to an OS (operating system). Suddenly, the thought of seeing a WeChat-OS powered smartphone in the next future doesn’t sound so crazy. What this means for marketers is that if you do not have a proper WeChat strategy, you should probably start thinking about one.
3. E-commerce is No Longer Enough - Think of "Social - KOLs - Commerce"
In recent years, there has been a transformation in the nature of “e-commerce” and “social” in China. On the one hand, e-commerce is going more social, meaning that giants such as Tmall, Taobao, and JD.com are adding more social features such as social sharing and live streaming on their platforms. On the other hand, the platforms that were meant for social purposes, such as WeChat and Xiaohongshu have integrated e-commerce features.
The lines between e-commerce and social are blurring more and more in China as a natural evolution is taking place, and 360-degree social commerce emerges.
What does this mean for brands? Campaigns are not anymore relegated to only social or only e-commerce. Brands have well-orchestrated campaigns encompassing multiple touchpoints to make sure users are reached across all platforms. Marketing initiatives are not thought to start and end on one single channel, rather they aim at having a message resonate as loud as possible, raising awareness and driving engagement. A campaign might start on social, echo through KOL digital feeds, ricochet through the comments and shares of a fanbase and finally be converted into revenue on Tmall, JD or an official web page.
2019 will be the year where these trends solidify even further and become the watershed between who has a shot to success and who is doomed to be cut out.
Example of the live streaming feature on Taobao
Example of KOL selling on WeChat: Gogoboi
4. Artificial Intelligence as a Key Component of Customer Journeys
In 2018, the top investors in China such as Sequoia Capital China, Alibaba, Zhen Fund and Tencent have been keeping a close eye at the fertile market of artificial intelligence - and for good reasons. In 2019, AI is on the verge of becoming more and more prominent, especially in China.
One of the AI applications that will have a huge impact on the Chinese marketing world is the AI-powered chatbots and the improvement of various marketing automation tools.
There are clear-cut benefits of using chatbots, as they can be available 24/7 and provide answers to simple questions automatically before escalating them to a human representative if needed. Using chatbots helps to save on costs and labor while providing superior services to the clients.
Predicted use cases for Chatbots around the world in 2019 (Source: Drift)
But the AI trend doesn't stop with chatbots. Today, the users of the Chinese Tmall and Taobao apps are able to perform visual searches to find their desired items thanks to the “machine learning”, where the system is getting better and better over the course of time without adding more code to it. Given that China is a mobile-first society, searching for something by taking a picture with a smartphone would probably be more convenient than the traditional text search. Especially with the products you came across somewhere and didn’t know what exact keywords can be, a visual search will give you real-time recommendations that go much beyond the normal product search.
The changes that AI would bring to us can go much further beyond the optimization of e-commerce. Over the last few years, millions of dollars have been invested in the autonomous cars industry. In the future, this promising industry will disrupt a great number of sectors and human activities, ranging from the automotive industry, traffic management, tourism, insurances etc. Along with all this, autonomous cars will directly affect the daily routine of millions of people by allowing them to take their mind away from the traffic conditions. People will have more time during their commutes, spending most of it on their mobile devices and you can bet that the savviest marketers are already working to capture that soon-to-open glimpse of attention.
An example of autonomous cars in China is Pony.ai, founded by experts from Baidu, with offices in Silicon Valley and China. Last September, Pony.ai introduced its latest autonomous car: PonyAlpha, which achieved levels of stability and performance capable of sustaining a consumer ride-hailing fleet.
China plans 50% of its cars to be at level 4 of autonomy by 2020, and you can bet that savvy marketers are already thinking about how to tap into this newly opened gap of attention of potential consumers.
Pony.ai Autonomous Cars in China (Source: Pony.ai)
For 2019, expect AI to take over even more aspects of marketing strategy, as this trend becomes more and more prominent.
The year 2019 will be witness to the evolution of chatbots and automation tools, the enhancement of Omnichannel approach, the diversification and lower entry cost of WeChat Mini Programs, as well as the benefits that the synergy among “social - KOLs - e-commerce” can bring to businesses. To compete in the Chinese market, with trends and technologies changing day by day, brands need to study the market thoroughly and formulate a marketing strategy that allows them to embrace the chance in order to stand out from the crowd and achieve success.
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