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    WeChat Miniprograms: China's Reinvention of the Internet


    Anyone who thinks WeChat is simply the Chinese counterpart to Facebook has not quite grasped its power: Thanks to the countless miniprograms that run on the app, it permeates the daily lives of its users in an unparalleled way.

    Do you prefer an app that can do everything or would you rather switch between different apps back and forth? Granted, this is a rhetorical question. Or do you really think it is good to have different apps for every feature you might want to use on your mobile device?

    Things are a bit different in China. Here, most people use mobile devices to go online, which means that apps have far more significance for surfing the web than desktop browsers. However, the Chinese tech giant Tencent has basically turned the app WeChat into its own kind of Internet ever since it launched in 2011. Since the introduction of miniprograms last year, users can do all the things in one place for which users in the Western hemisphere require various websites and apps.

    Miniprograms vs. native apps

    A native app should be familiar to most Europeans. Whether public transport, daily newspaper or bank: service providers release independent mobile apps, which at best bring added value for their users (for example by accessing the location service or the camera function of the device). Quite often, however, these apps can do little more than a mobile optimized website and uselessly claim storage space and litter the menu.

    WeChat itself is a native app that combines a variety of features while also integrating external services thanks to an open API. WeChat effectively acts as a platform on which other programs run today. The miniprograms are simply apps in an app.

    This offers users several advantages:

    • They no longer have to switch between different apps.
    • They do not need to download and install the apps.
    • The apps run regardless of the device's operating system.

    Users hence have a homogeneous experience on the app. They only have to search for the programs in the miniprograms menu and can then use them immediately. This also has advantages for providers. Unlike native apps, they only need to create one version and not one for every operating system. In addition, the miniprograms are integrated with WeChat's features and therefore can also access camera, location, and payment features. At the same time, businesses can gain valuable insights through interaction data for future measures and product development (read more about data privacy in China here).

    Nevertheless, the mini-programs are not without disadvantages compared to native apps. Since they have to be lean, they can not contain any number of functions. While a native app can offer a number of different functions - just as WeChat as a native app does, too - mini programs are less complex. This means that different functions might have to be realized with several separate miniprograms.

    Whether bike rental, taxi service, online shop, coupons, photo filters, configurators or city guides: The possibilities for miniprograms are virtually unlimited unless they do not exceed a certain complexity. That makes them of course interesting for marketing. Thus, the small programs can be used for a whole range of marketing goals. A digital coupon book strengthens customer loyalty and creates a connection between digital application and analogue point of sale. A miniprogram as a digital customer center improves the quality of service. With configurators, customers can assemble products according to their wishes. Even small games ("Instant Games") can be realized and, if successfully implemented, significantly increase brand awareness.

    With the integration of miniprograms, WeChat has created a stand-alone microcosm that enables companies to realize most of their marketing within the app through official accounts, H5 pages and small apps.
    Read more about Digital Marketing in China.

    Tags: China Marketing International Marketing

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