Using WeChat Outside of China: A Guide for Brands

A few months ago, WeChat opened up its international geo-location targeting feature, allowing brands to target Chinese tourists traveling outside of China. The Chinese social media giant clearly is trying to earn a piece of the sweet advertising cake. However, is it worth it for foreign brands to tap into this Chinese social platform outside of China?

The answer is a resounding “Yes.”

And the reason for that? Students and tourists.

The number of students from mainland China studying stateside was over 304,000 last year and that number is growing by 11% annually. Though there is no explicit research which reveals the exact purchasing power of Chinese students, other reports are able to provide some insightful context. According to a 2013 report from Bloomberg, that year Chinese students in the US spent $15.5 billion on cars in the U.S, compared to the $4.7 billion that American students spent.

Additionally, Chinese students studying abroad have the habit of shopping for luxury goods for relatives back home. A survey from China Luxury Advisors shows that 96% of students surveyed purchase luxury goods to take home at least once a year, and 31% escort family and friends whilst shopping overseas at least once a quarter. As many as 34% of students surveyed said they purchased luxury goods as frequently as once a quarter to bring back home.

Luxury Shoppers China Prada

According to the Ministry of Commerce, in 2015 Chinese outbound tourists spent a total of $229 billion, and the amount spent abroad is expected to reach $422 billion by 2020. “Chinese travelers remain to be the world’s top spenders in tourism and have increased sales within the luxury market across Europe, the USA, and Australia.” On top of that, studies indicate that 90% of Chinese luxury consumers use WeChat.

I believe it’s safe to say that every single Chinese tourist and student abroad uses WeChat.

So, how can brands leverage WeChat to benefit their business outside of China?

Different brands will require different WeChat strategies. Below, we’ve outlined some of the most effective strategies for attracting and engaging WeChat users abroad.


  1. Setting up Location Based Service (LBS) for E-Commerce and offline stores
  • E-Commerce:

Say you’ve already got a WeChat service account set up and have been engaging with users in mainland China, but your content becomes irrelevant once the person moves outside of China. Chinese people who have moved to or been studying in the US wouldn’t care about the new arrivals or promotions going on in mainland China. They would rather pay with dollars and get their products shipped to a U.S address. Does that mean you’ll lose the followers if they move outside of China?

Not necessarily. In a strategy used by Nike (shown below), they set up the location-based service for their e-commerce entity on WeChat. People can then select their current location before they start browsing and they will be redirected to a relevant landing page, providing the user with a better experience and allowing brands to use WeChat to engage customers in various locations.

Wechat Location Feature for Chinese Shoppers abroad

  • Offline Stores:

Another way to utilize location – based services to create an enhanced user experience is to integrate data about a brand’s overseas store locations, as Tiffany’s did in the example shown below:

Tiddany's WeChat Store location example

The user can then simply send their current location in a chat to the brand’s service account, receiving, in turn, a list or map with all nearby stores (from a bot, of course). It’s also a great way to increase brand exposure. Customers can find full details of the stores in just one click, immediately leveraging the offline global presence and attracting more shoppers to local stores. They can also use WeChat to for example schedule


  1. Take advantage of the QR code scanning habit and recruit followers offline.

Unlike in the western world, where the use of QR codes never really properly took off, the pixelated black and white boxes are everywhere in China, thanks to WeChat. Through WeChat alone the QR code has multiple and myriad uses including making payments both on- and offline, requesting money, adding friends, and even unlocking Mobikes, China’s bike-sharing equivalent of a Citi or Boris Bike.

The most important QR-code feature for a brand, however, is that one scan links a user to its account page where he or she can start following the brand.

By prominently displaying  QR codes at offline stores, brands can easily recruit new Chinese customers overseas, as Chinese shoppers are likely to feel more catered to when they see something familiar. It’s a great way to increase brand awareness amongst Chinese travelers and easily have them follow the brand’s official account. You can also get creative about it as offline stores are not the only place where you can display your QR code, magazines, screens and other promotional materials are other popular options.

Moet QR code scanning

  1. Invest in ‘Moments’ Advertising Overseas

To those who are not yet familiar with WeChat moments advertising, it’s a paid advertising channel that works pretty much like Facebook feed advertising. A brand’s ads will display among the user’s friends feeds with various ad formats and call-to-actions.

WeChat Moments Advertising explained

With the new feature “overseas targeting”, brands are able to target people who have logged in to WeChat in the past week or on a specific day in a specific country (16 countries are currently available, including the US and the UK). What needs to be considered is that WeChat requires around $7,352 minimum media investment and charges around $25 CPM. If your brand has the budget and the desire to reach the Chinese tourists and students, then Moment Advertising Overseas is definitely one effective route to consider.

All in all, numbers of Chinese tourists and students abroad are only set to continue increasing, presenting more opportunities than ever for international brands to connect with their consumers.

Whilst luxury brands and department stores have long been targeting users via WeChat in China, as well using more traditional offline marketing techniques to reach Chinese shoppers abroad, considering how geographically dispersed Chinese students in the US might be, using platforms such as WeChat to keep them engaged and the brand front of mind are definitely worth considering.

The approaches outlined are just a few of the strategies that are effective; if you’d like to learn a bit more about WeChat, take a look at my introductory SlideShare presentation or don’t hesitate to get in touch!


by Croud
7 June 2017



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