As China’s biggest mobile application, WeChat is one of the most important marketing channels in the world.
But what are WeChat mini-programs, and how can they be used to boost a brand’s visibility (and profits) in China?
In this article, we’ll be breaking down exactly what these programs are, how they work, how brands are using them across the world, and how businesses can create their own WeChat mini-programs to tap into the Chinese market once and for all.
What are WeChat mini-programs?
Put simply, WeChat mini-programs are ‘sub-applications’ that live within the WeChat ecosystem.
They are uniquely built and developed for use within the messaging app. They are, therefore, entirely separate from a brand’s own app, and are accessed exclusively via WeChat.
WeChat MPs (as they are also known) are commonly used for things like ecommerce, games, booking systems, and geo-based maps that can locate nearby shops and services, like restaurants and charging stations.
But how do WeChat mini-programs actually work?
Mini-programs can be accessed via:
- A simple drop-down menu on the app’s homepage
- Brand account links posted on official profiles
- Article links posted within the content
- QR code scans
- Group sharing via messages
- The ‘discovery’ tab, where popular and relevant mini-programs are featured
It’s this level of accessibility and integration that makes mini apps so popular, and why they offer such a brilliant opportunity for brands across the world.
Why are top international brands interested in WeChat mini-programs?
By the end of 2018, over one million mini-programs had been developed and launched on WeChat. That’s the equivalent to around half of Apple’s entire app store in just one application, and in under two years.
It’s clear, then, that brands are getting serious about their WeChat mini-programs — and when we look at the statistics, it’s no wonder why.
In 2019, WeChat MPs were used by 746 million users a month and brought in around 1.1 billion e-commerce transactions a day.
Ultimately, if an international business wants to capitalize on the world’s biggest e-commerce market — WeChat is the place to be. But how are businesses using the platform’s mini-programs to deliver such huge results?
Examples of the best WeChat mini-programs to date
Brands across the world use WeChat to grow their businesses in China, and mini-programs form a huge part of that. Here’s 3 of the top WeChat mini-programs to get inspired by:
1. Burberry’s boundary-pushing mini program
For its flagship store in Shenzhen, Burberry created an innovative mini-program that lets shoppers interact with window displays, book fitting rooms, choose what music to play as they try on clothes, and unlock exclusive dishes in the store’s café.
2. “Say it with Starbucks” — a mini-program with a message
Starbucks’ mini-program offers customers a simple and efficient way to order directly through WeChat, whilst also letting them send digital gift cards to friends and family with customized messages.
3. Legoland’s interactive map and location tracker
To help guests navigate its park, Legoland China built an interactive mini-program that tracked guests whereabouts on their visit, ensuring that they’d never miss out on nearby attractions. Users can also snap a ‘geolocated’ photo as a fun memory of their trip.
How can businesses create their own WeChat mini-programs?
Creating a WeChat mini-program isn’t as difficult as you might first think. Here’s a breakdown of the basics:
1. Setting up your WeChat developer account
First, to get started businesses are required to open a WeChat developer account. To do this, you will need to be either a Chinese company or a WFOE, meaning your business has been approved to operate in mainland China.
With this approval, you can take the following steps:
- Go to the official WeChat registration page, and select ‘mini program’
- Fill in the required information, including your email address and personal details
- Select your ‘applicant type’, which in this instance, is likely to be ‘Enterprise’
- Provide company information and documentation, including bank details
- Connect your bank account to Tencent (WeChat’s parent company), and pay the specified amount to verify and confirm your application.
WeChat developer accounts usually take between 1-3 days to be approved, and it is likely that you will be asked to provide further documentation in support of your application before your account is confirmed.
2. Getting started with your mini-program development
Once your developer account is confirmed, you will be able to log into WeChat, add developers, and download the WeChat ‘Development Tool’ to start building your mini-program:
A few things to consider when building a WeChat mini-program
- Simplicity: mini-programs are intended to be very simple and straightforward, so it’s important that your ‘app’ is as streamlined as possible. Any unnecessary steps or design elements that don’t directly serve a purpose should be removed.
- Research: look at your competitors and identify what works for them, and what doesn’t. You should also research what works well on your brand’s own application, if it has one, and try to translate that to your mini-program.
- Stay focused: a mini-program is usually intended to serve one or two core functions. Keep this in mind and stay as focused as possible when it comes to the purpose of your mini-program. Is it a game? A store? A map? Whatever it is, do it and do that alone. You don’t want to overwhelm users with too much functionality.
Once you and your team have worked through the above points, it’s time to get developing.
Building a mini-program can take anywhere between three to six months, although it could be sooner depending on its functionality.
And in terms of cost, mini-programs are significantly cheaper than building traditional applications, since the WeChat software helps to automate a large part of the process. That said, you should still expect to pay anywhere between $3,000-$20,000 for the program itself, and the team required to build it.
3. Submit your mini-program for approval
Once you are happy with your mini-program, you must submit it for approval via the WeChat development interface. Approval will be dependent on your program’s functionality, design, ease of use and overall compliance.
4. Launch and advertise your mini-program
After approval, it’s time to go live, which can be easily initiated within the WeChat development tool.
From here, your focus should shift to marketing your mini-program, and getting it in front of WeChat users. The platform offers a number of great advertising opportunities, including banner advertisements, WeChat ‘moments’, and influencer marketing — all of which will boost your mini-programs visibility on the application.
Advertising in China can be tricky, however. There are regulations to navigate, difficult interfaces to work within, and costs that can sometimes be too high to risk.
That’s why the team at AdChina are here to help.
Create a free account to learn more about marketing on the platform. Or schedule a demo with our team to understand the specific opportunities available, and how you can overcome the obstacles to unlock the biggest and most important e-commerce market in the world.