Both introduced in 2011, WeChat and Line have since dominated and grown at a blistering pace in APAC. As of January 2016, WeChat has grown to more than 650 million monthly active users, mostly in China. Line, on the other hand, with around 210 million users accessing the app on a monthly basis, has been widely used in countries such as Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and Thailand.
Similar to WhatsApp, WeChat and Line allow users to send text, image, audio or video messages for free. However, these WhatsApp competitors are quickly moving beyond simple multimedia instant messaging. In the past few years, both apps announced a steady stream of new features, aiming to become a “lifestyle platform,” taking care of pretty much everything in your daily lives, from hailing a taxi, purchasing movie tickets, to paying rent and utilities.
While marketers who are vying to turn to APAC for its huge mobile market potential understand the importance of these Asia-based messaging apps, the language barrier is often what holds them back. Fear not, here are some key components of both WeChat and Line – broken down by newsfeed, subscriptions, and mobile payment – and how they are connected to marketing opportunities.
Newsfeed – WeChat “Moments” vs. Line “Timeline”
Just like Facebook’s Newsfeed, WeChat “Moments” and Line “Timeline” allow you to post texts and share images, videos or articles with your friends, with an option of location sharing or mentioning feature. One of the nifty features that makes Moments different from other social networks is its privacy and intimacy – only your friends can see post comments and likes versus friends of friends, so you can rest assured that your privacy is protected. (left: Moments; right: Timeline)
Placing ads in the timeline is still at an early stage for both messaging apps. WeChat did not announce its “Sponsored Moments” trial until January 2015, which included simple ad formats (images or videos with buttons linked to brand websites), higher entry fees, and limited targeting options (geographic location, education level, age, and interests based on browsing behavior on Moments). Below are examples of BMW and Coca Cola’s Moments ads, consisting of a brand account, a short copy line, a static image, and a “details” button in the bottom right that will direct users to site.
As stated by its President, Xiaolong Zhang, the goal of WeChat’s commercialization is to make ads “a part of your life” without being intrusive or annoying. Sentiment around this has been pretty negative in China, and many analysts believe that WeChat should be extremely cautious to not follow in the footsteps of Weibo, which lost 9% users in 2013 after it became accessible to advertisers and consequently ruined user experience with an over-commercialized feed.
For Line, while placing sponsored content in the timeline is not an option, brands and publishers can post information on the Timelines of users that have registered your account as a friend, so that they can “like” and add comments to your posts. Below is an example of a post published by Taylor Swift’s official account on my Timeline.
Additionally, Line offers other business partnership opportunities, such as Line Coins and Sponsored Stickers. By downloading an app or viewing through a video of a designated service, users can acquire Line Coins that they can use to buy paid stickers in the Line Store. Brands can also partner with Line by creating a sticker set tailored to designated brands’ characters or icons and distribute to users to help increase recognition and awareness.
Subscriptions – Brands and Publishers on WeChat and Line
Setting up an official account on both WeChat and Line offers a variety of opportunities from a marketing perspective. Users can consume branded content by subscribing or adding an official account as a friend. Both Line and WeChat support keyword answer message (responses are sent automatically based on the keywords set up in advance), which can be used in various tasks including responding to users’ questions, searching store information, sending coupons, participating in sweepstakes, or even downloading a branded app. In the example below, when I typed “Latte” in the chat, Starbucks official account on WeChat automatically replied with an article about how a Latte is made.
In order to deliver an immersive experience of the brand and its product, Starbucks placed three tabs (“Our Baristas”, “Seasonal drinks & snacks”, and “About Us”) in its official account for users to interact with and explore.
In Tesla’s case on WeChat, the three tabs are “Change the World” (consists of charging stations map, store locations, and job openings), “Trial and Purchase”, and “Your Experience”(detailing out Tesla’s specifications).
Beats by Dre’s most recent post on Line offers its subscribers a Line-exclusive opportunity of winning a celebrity-autographed Solo2 Wireless by participating in a competition.
Mobile Payment – WeChat “Wallet” vs. “Line Pay”
By registering your debit or credit cards on “Wallet” and “Line Pay”, users can transfer money to friends on contact lists or make payments to participating online and brick-and-mortar retailers within the app.
WeChat “Wallet” even offers options including paying utilities, taxi-hailing, group discount deals, mobile top-up, airline tickets, restaurant reservations, and various other purposes.
On Single’s Day last year (November 11), WeChat Wallet rolled out a promotion offering a maximum deduction of 300 Yuan for offline users who paid with the app at stores partnered with Tencent, its developer. Some major brands in China, including Carrefour, Walmart, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s, have been adopting WeChat Wallet as a payment path. Furthermore, the services were expanded to gas stations, subways, and even major airports in China.
You can also generate a QR code linked to your bank account, which your friend can scan in person to pay you back (you need to first set the amount to charge your friend). Partnered retailers, on the other hand, can also scan this code to accept your payment.
One highlight of Wallet was in 2014, when it first launched a feature that let users send red envelopes (traditional New Year’s gift in China, with cash stuffed in it) to friends and family, successfully combining Chinese New Year culture with digital payment. An equivalent of 20 million red envelopes were sent by nearly 5 million users within the first two days.
It is estimated that transactions across WeChat payment will exceed $556 billion in 2016, making it almost twice as big as all of PayPal’s $282 billion in transactions in 2015. Line will also continue to grow. With the sale of stickers, official accounts, and Line games currently making up most part of the profits, Line Pay will undeniably be a key part of its 2016 road map to expand the messaging app beyond its core revenue streams.