Targeting the WeChat generation

Arnold Ma, chief executive of China-focused digital marketing agency Qumin, on how WeChat could help UK travel destinations get into the heads of Chinese tourists.

Capturing the huge spending power of the Chinese travel market can provide a welcome boost for many UK travel destinations. But because of cultural and language differences, finding out exactly what these travellers are interested in can be tricky.

The tourism sector in China has seen a dramatic shift in consumer behaviour. Young Chinese travellers are moving away from pre-arranged group travel – the holiday of choice for their parents and grandparents – and are now more influenced by which destinations are hot on social media platforms.

They are also more likely to book independent travel, opting for destinations that are less well-known rather than the traditional destinations of choice of previous generations.

In recent years, social media platforms have become a vital tool for destinations to learn about what is appealing to these new generation Chinese travellers. China’s biggest social media platforms are also driving an e-commerce boom in the country. WeChat, the most popular of these networks, is at the forefront of this change.

That’s where the new Index feature for WeChat comes in, and with it the potential to revolutionise how UK cities and attractions are marketing themselves to the new generation Chinese.

WeChat Index enables companies to track which keywords are performing best on WeChat in seven, 30 and 90-day segments. This is an invaluable tool for destinations and marketing agencies looking to understand what is capturing the attention of Chinese social media users – 898 million of which are now on WeChat.

To illustrate how it can work, we analysed the average number of daily mentions VisitBritain’s top twenty destinations were getting on WeChat and considered how the two rankings compared.

No prizes for guessing that London topped both lists. More interestingly, Cambridge, Oxford and Bath all made the top five based on our WeChat ranking but were outside of Visit Britain’s top five. York and Leeds also fared better with the Chinese audience, while Edinburgh, Manchester and Glasgow all proved to be less popular with this market when compared to their overall visitor numbers.

To take a more specific example, on March 8, mentions of Birmingham spiked on WeChat because the All England Open Badminton Championships were taking place there, capturing the attention of many of the 100 million Chinese who participate in the sport.

As the Championships are an annual event, local attractions and venues can now use this information to plan next year’s marketing campaigns to capitalise on this interest – very similar to the way that brands have become smart at using trending topics on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to drive higher engagement.

Interpreting the WeChat Index data correctly is even more important than getting the data in the first place. As the functionality is still limited and is only available in Chinese this can be hard for many UK destinations not familiar with the market. So for those who might be considering dipping their toe into the waters of WeChat, here are our five top tips:

1. Keep it simple

Sticking to simple keywords like brand names, locations, products, rather than complex phrases, will wield better results as the functionality is still limited.

2. Benchmark

WeChat’s data is measured as an index so the numbers are not absolute. As such it’s always better to measure yourself against competitors or the leading brand in your sector.

3. Consider the context

As the index only gives you an indication of peaks and troughs, it’s worth drilling into the content produced on specific days by using Chinese search engine Sogou to search WeChat content.

4. Archive

As searches can only go back 90 days, it’s wise to keep an offline record of your WeChat search results for further analysis later on.

5. Make sure you have the right expertise

It sounds obvious, but the feature is only available in Chinese! So if you’re not already marketing yourself in China and want to better understand the market you may wish to consider partnering with a specialist agency who can make sense of the data for you.