Is WeChat a Brand, or a Product?

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Today marks the official launch of Executive WeChat, the immensely popular app’s extension into office solutions.  On this day, it is interesting to consider whether WeChat can be understood as a brand, or simply as a product.

First, why is it important to consider the status of WeChat as a brand or a product?

First and foremost, if you are a brand using WeChat, it is important to consider that using WeChat may be a form of implicit co-branding.   That is, the brand perception of WeChat, is consciously, or subconsciously having an impact on your brand messaging – for good, or for bad.

Secondly, the status of Wechat as a brand, means it is more likely to deal better with its immense popularity.  When you already have close to 700 million users – where can you go next?  The idea of a plateau and WeChat fatigue are certainly possibilities.   In this context, perhaps the better question is; How developed is WeChat as a brand to date?

But it is a phone app, isn’t it?  Why does it need to be a brand?

To put the issue of WeChat’s brand status in context, it is useful to compare it to Facebook, Twitter and local competitor Weibo.    Facebook has maintained relevance globally, not by being technological superior to competitors, but by consistently building the brand.   Irrespective of correct commercial performance, Facebook’s users not only drawn to the interface for practicality, they are consciously associating with the ethos of the brand, in terms of freedom of expression, friendship and community building.

Twitter, and its Chinese near equivalent Weibo, has also be successful in building a brand.  Both microblogs have been associated with social movements, and have become peoples’ brands in their respective countries as a result.

To put WeChat brand status in further local context, it is important to think China’s e-commerce giants – Tmall and JD.com.   Both have become lifestyle brands in China, coming to represent not just the transactions they facilitate, but a wider middle class philosophy.

So is WeChat a brand?  Not yet, but it soon will have to be.

Currently, it feels WeChat is not a brand, but rather a product with ‘a lot’ of consumers (despite brand advertising and endorsement, including Messi).   But as WeChat looks to consolidate users, rather than simply add more and more, the product will necessarily become more of a consumer brand.

The official launch of Executive WeChat for business today, and the release of new tighter rules on commercial use of the platform, both suggest WeChat is now accelerating into ‘brand mode’.

The impact is, as WeChat finds its ‘brand self’ it becomes less of a passive medium, and more of a mild co-brand for brands using the platform.   That is, the inevitable process of WeChat trying to establish itself will inevitably have an influence on your brand.   Just as brands give ample consideration the effect of advertising of certain brands of traditional media – TV channels, newspapers etc – so should you when thinking about your presence on WeChat.   As WeChat becomes more a brand, this is good for your brand.

About Author

Jerry Clode

Jerry Clode is Head of Digital & Social Insight at Resonance. He leads Resonance SMART, providing leading-edge research, strategy and naming for brands in China using bespoke methodologies. Jerry also produces Resonance's popular China Social Branding Report, a bi-weekly publication covering modern marketing methods of the world's top brands.

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