How WeChat got 100 Million New Users in 4 Months

IMG_3590Last week, I published a post about an amazing conference I was fortunate enough to attend: MATI. For those of you who, for some unimaginable reason, missed the post, MATI stands for Marketing Ad Tech Israel. The conference sees great minds of the global digital marketing industry convening in Israel t. One very interesting talk was by Alvin Chiang, the President of eNest Inc.

Alvin discussed how viral campaigns have a success rate that reaches far beyond the imagination. One of these was the much publicised 10-year video campaign by Facebook. Another, which especially caught my eye, was a campaign by WeChat, a Chinese version of WhatsApp.

WeChat offers many more functional benefits than WhatsApp. For example, it provides users with a social wall to share posts and pictures. Another of its main talking points is the digital wallet function. This feature was promoted in a wildly successful campaign which brought 100 million users to WeChat in just four months!

The Magic of the Red Envelopes:

I particularly liked this story due to its simplicity, one which combined great timing with a deep understanding of the target market. WeChat showed their marketing prowess by launching the campaign just before the Chinese New Year. At that time of year, it’s customary for working individuals to give red envelopes containing money to their parents, children and employees. Sharing your wealth is an important concept in China and every self-respecting individual does it.

WeChat offered a service that made this necessary task simple and easy. Users were given the option to buy red envelopes which they could ‘fill’ which specific amounts of money. The red envelopes were then delivered to the recipient’s WeChat virtual wallet. This campaign was a huge success, turning WeChat into a real threat to rival Chinese social networks such as Weibo and RenRen.

It seems that this campaign had a long lasting effect – in the Chinese 2014 New Year there were $2.9 million worth of transfers in the first 24 hours.


Why was This Campaign by WeChat So Successful?

  • I tried to think about the reasons behind this phenomenal success and came up with the following:
  • Making use of an existing viral/massive activity e.g. taking established internet memes such as cute puppies or babies and evolving it into something unique with the potential to go viral.
  • Understanding the needs of their market – The WeChat team had to consider the local traditions and their impact.
  • Timing the campaign launch – Releasing it early enough to allow word to spread. This gives people time to digest and accept the idea. Release it too early, however, and you risk people forgetting and moving on.
  • Identifying a problem and offering a simple solution – preparing and sending these envelopes takes time. WeChat identified this problem and offered a simple solution which allowed them to promote their product.
  • Keeping the authentic traditional look of the offline custom – a lot of work was invested in the design of these red envelopes. WeChat didn’t try to turn it into something else, but kept the original look and feel of the actual envelopes.
  • The market readiness – the Chinese market has quite a lot of early adapters to new technology. Understanding this means the success of such campaigns is almost a sure thing. Markets with less confident adapters might have had different results.



About the Author -

Natalie Halimi is the Head of Marketing Communications & Education at SimilarWeb. With over 10 years of experience in marketing, Natalie has promoted services and products in the B2C and B2B arenas, in various industries.

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