8 Data Points That Marketers Need to Know About China’s Biggest Mobile Player

A peek under the hood of WeChat owner Tencent

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Tencent, which owns the huge Chinese messaging apps WeChat and QQ, has a mountain of mobile data that brands are just starting to get a glimpse of. Considering the Chinese market's incredible potential, it's safe to assume that advertising players are nearly salivating at the opportunities. 

Last week at Cannes Lions, we sat down with Tencent's corporate vp, Steven Chang, who heads up the company's digital advertising and marketing operations.

Here are 8 interesting, data-minded things he shared with us about his company, how it's opening up the data spigot and a few items about the Chinese marketing scene:

1. WeChat is exploding

The messaging app has picked up 60 million monthly users in the last couple of months, going from 700 million in April to 760 million. One hundred million of them are outside of China, Chang said. 

Steven Chang

"We have more and more Westerners around the globe," he explained. "But basically, we do not expand it on purpose."

WeChat's popularity, in other words, is expanding organically.

QQ, meanwhile, has about 860 million users, putting Tencent's total for the two apps at more than 1.6 billion. Roughly 75 percent to 80 percent of the audience is mobile. 

2. Tencent is virtually China's town square

Chang said QQ.com represents the No. 1 news portal in China, while Tencent Video is the country's second-most-used platform for all kinds of clips. 

3. WeChat's "Shake" function represents cool interactions and data for marketers

The app entails a feature that lets a smartphone user shake his or her device to connect with another person nearby. Chang said brands are using these signals for local intelligence as well as marketer-to-consumer interactions. He didn't name brands, but some companies that have been known to employ WeChat for marketing include Burberry, Mercedes-Benz, Michael Kors, Yves Saint Laurent, Kate Spade and Montblanc. 

4. Mobile banners actually work pretty well in China

While online advertising is some 20 years old in North America, the practice is just 10 years old in China. It will be interesting to see, in the next few years, if Chinese consumers become as fed up with banner ads as U.S. citizens have become. The data results say they haven't become too annoyed so far, Chang suggested. 

"In terms of banner," he said, "[It] doesn't matter whether on mobile or PC, [it] is still somehow working better than the rest of the world."

5. And so do QR codes

QR codes are another intriguing tactic that works in China but no so much in the U.S. "QR code scanning is going up while it goes down in the rest of the world," Chang said. 

6. When it comes to ad tech, Tencent and China are catching up with the West

Tencent isn't resting on its laurels, as last year the company debuted its first foray into native ads, placing them in WeChat's Moments section. Chang also explained how his company—and China, generally speaking—was making advances in programmatic and starting to use big data to work with clients on their CRM needs. 

"We are all moving forward in terms of our data," he said. "And in some cases, using our clients' data [and ours] together."

The partnerships employ anonymous data—and only from Chinese consumers. But Chang said that could change down the road when considering Tencent's data from other countries. 

He also added, "When we talk about big data or data technology in China—it's very new. It's almost like … the last few years."

7. Tencent is working with big global agencies

According to Chang, Tencent is partnering with the lion's share of agencies who are part of the 4A's. And he suggested that his company is really ramping up on its marketing and advertising chops to see what the data reveals.

"We are developing pretty fast," he said. "We are far from perfect. We are learning. We are doing a lot of A/B testing in terms of format."

8. It has wisely learned a bit from Facebook

The vp mentioned that his company was utilizing looka-like-based data-marketing models to help marketing clients. Look-alike models are employed by other digital platforms like Facebook and Google. And when it comes to working with global customers, Chang said the strategy is similar to Facebook's—embrace them and educate them about opportunities, in other words. 

"[Shake has] become almost standard practice," he said. "There are lot of marketing functions in terms of user interaction … with the user, the marketer and the brand."

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.