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Email Sales Funnels Don’t Work in China, WeChat 48-Hour Journeys Do

September 26, 2019 | Lauren Hallanan

In Western countries, email marketing is considered one of the most effective ways to reach consumers, however, brands assuming they will get the same results in China will be sorely disappointed. While the Chinese do use email, they have never been fond of it as a means of communication, and to this day it is mainly used by those who are required to use it at their workplace. In fact, many of the international brands we work with see email marketing open rates of less than 1% in some cases.

If email performs that poorly, especially for B2C, what is the alternative?

Anyone that knows a bit about marketing in China will guess the answer: WeChat.

A multi-purpose messaging, social media, and mobile payment app with over 1.13 billion monthly active users, WeChat is the ideal platform for marketers to replace email in China. While various features of WeChat can be used for marketing activities, in this article we’re going to focus in on the ability to create 48-hour journeys, essentially the Chinese equivalent of a sales funnel.

What is the 48-Hour Journey?

Most people who have used WeChat know that when a user follows an Official Account (OA), they will automatically receive a welcome message which typically shares an overview of the account’s features as well as a call to action (CTA).

But the welcome message is just the tip of the iceberg. During the first 48 hours after someone follows a WeChat Official Service Account (not Subscription Account), the account can send that user an unlimited number of messages and content, meaning that brands can create customer journeys similar to an automated email sequence.

What’s more, this series of messages can be customized depending on how that person entered the account (for example, scanning a QR code at a store vs entering through an article shared by a friend) or based on whether they are a customer or loyalty member. This is comparable to a Western consumer receiving a different email depending on which lead magnet they download or what item they purchased.

The responses and engagement with this series of messages help the brand tag the user, group them, and know which type of content to send them, as well as drive the user to take immediate action such as making a purchase or joining a loyalty program.

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Another common goal of the 48-hour journey is to bind a user's phone number or other personally identifiable information (PII) to their WeChat Open ID or Union ID, which allows the brand to map this contact to their external CRM system. Brands can incentivize users to share their PII through various offers such as free samples.

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Creating a 48-Hour Journey

Many of the same practices used for creating sales funnels of customer journeys in the West can be applied to creating WeChat 48-hour journeys, and much of the content can be repurposed as well, albeit it is important to keep Chinese consumer preferences and behaviors in mind and adjust accordingly.

As mentioned above, journeys should be customized based on how they are initiated. When people follow an OA, they come to it with different expectations and needs, and for the journey to be successful, it needs to be relevant.

Let’s take an all-natural skincare product as an example. One user might have received a QR code from a friend with a discount. They have obviously added the account with the intention to purchase, therefore the journey should encourage the user to redeem the offer. If the user does so, the account could then send a message encouraging them share the account to receive an additional discount or invite them to join a loyalty program.

Another user may have followed the account after reading an influencer’s article about top organic skincare products and wants to learn more about the product’s ingredients and the benefits of using it. The journey for this user should have a more educational focus, sending the user articles and videos on the topic.

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In an ideal world, the consumer would follow the straightest path to the end goal, like the first example above with the discount code. But more than likely users will drop off, ignoring or choosing not to engage with messages and offers. If the follower fails to proceed to the next step, the OA can automatically send them additional messages within the 48-hour time frame reminding them or providing them with other information or offers.

On the Chinese version of Medium called Jianshu (简书), one author recommends a 4-message framework for creating a basic customer journey for a new WeChat follower:

  • Message 1:

Ask for immediate conversion. Based on the type of product or service your brand is selling this could be driving them to your e-commerce mini program, offering a free course, an invitation to register for an offline event, asking them to join your loyalty program, etc.

Time: Send immediately after a user follows the OA

  • Message 2:

If the follower does not convert after the 1st message, the second message should be focused on educational content about the problem the potential customer is looking to solve.

Time: The same day the user follows the OA. Depending on when they added the account, send the message later in the evening around 7-8 PM, when most people are typically active on WeChat.

  • Message 3:

Additional educational content + conversion link. The third message is an extenuation of messages 1 and 2.

Time: The day after someone follows the OA

  • Message 4:

After three attempts, if the follower is still not engaging, send an offer such as a discount coupon or gift with purchase.

Time: Toward the end of 48 hours. The 47th hour is a very important as it is the last opportunity send the user a message so brands should grab the user’s attention with a relevant CTA.

Other Ways to Trigger a 48-Hour Journey

Many people mistakenly think the 48-hour journey is only possible when someone first follows the OA, but actually any time a follower initiates engagement with the account, the 48-hour unlimited message window is re-triggered. For example:

  • Clicking on the menu bar

  • Scanning a QR code

  • Clicking a URL or hyperlink within the body of a message.

  • Contacting customer service

  • Sending a keyword to the account

This could be compared to the dating app Bumble where OA followers are like the female users on Bumble who have the power to initiate an interaction. If an intention to interact is perceived, the OA can then unlock the 48-hour unlimited messages feature. As long as there is two-way interaction, then the 48-hour countdown restarts based on when the follower sent their last message to the account.

No Journey = Missed Engagement Opportunity

Although the 48-hour journey on WeChat is a powerful alternative for email marketing in China, many brands are still not using it because external software is needed to power the complex journeys brands would need to create. What’s more, even those brands who are using software to create journeys mainly focus on the initial 48-hours after the user follows an account and tend not to build out journeys to address all possible entry points or triggers.

This is a huge waste. Seeing as brands have very limited opportunities to engage 1-on-1 with their WeChat followers, they should be ready to maximize every possible engagement opportunity, especially since the user has proactively initiated interaction with the WeChat Account, thereby displaying interest in your brand or product.

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