The rise of WeChat: a new mobile lifestyle.

Photo Rikki Chan, rclc-photography.squarespace.com, Unsplash

The world’s most popular messaging apps seem to be mirror images of each other. WhatsApp, purchased by Facebook, prides itself on doing one thing well — offering a messaging service free of ads, games, and gimmicks. Its China-based competitor WeChat, owned by internet giant Tencent, is a platform for chatting, gaming.

But appearances can be deceiving. WeChat strives to be everything at once and should be understood less of an app and more as a way of life — its goal is to address every aspect of its users’ lives, including non-social ones.

Connie Chan, a partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, took a deep-dive into China’s mobile messaging platform WeChat in early August. Chan said:

« Downloading the app is free (…). Along with its basic communication features, WeChat users in China can access services to hail a taxi, order food delivery, buy movie tickets, play casual games, check in for a flight, send money to friends, access fitness tracker data, book a doctor appointment, get banking statements, pay the water bill, find geo-targeted coupons, recognize music, search for a book at the local library, meet strangers around you, follow celebrity news, read magazine articles, and even donate to charity … all in a single, integrated app. ».

How it works? Just like Russian dolls, apps within an app.

Today, in the mobile industry and innovation cycle, the issue isn’t so much managing apps, it’s moving around from app to app. WeChat is not simply a messaging app. It has the ability to provide content, entertainment and mobile payments without changing context.

WeChat never strays from the principle that the smartphone is first and foremost a communications device. Sure apps are important, even invaluable. But with WeChat they co-exist more naturally in the context of what users mainly do.

What differentiates WeChat from other products is that it is entirely based on people who know one another, not strangers. The only way to add someone as a WeChat friend is if you actually meet them in person, or get introduced virtually through a mutual friend. Today, some 60% of WeChat users are young people aged between 15 and 29. On average, they have 128 friends, which will increase by 20% after getting first job (source).

This is much less than your number of Facebook friends, and luckily. In that way, WeChat has built a Circle of Trust. Each user has a personal QR code that serves as a digital ID. Over half of users have linked their bank accounts to its mobile payment system — WeChat Wallet — a secure, relevant and seamless payment system.

Tencent launched the WeChat Wallet feature by encouraging users to send to their friends “HongBao’s” or Lucky/Red Envelopes that were features built right into the product. In fact, by sharing those envelopes, users get into the habit of using a new mobile payment system and portal. This has been the first brick before adding pre-selected service providers that users can transact with after inputting their payment credentials.

WeChat (within its Wallets tab) offers a set of trusted partners that are validated by Tencent. These include JD.com (eCommerce platform — and a rival of Alibaba’s TMALL/Taobao ecosystem), Didi (for hailing taxis) and so on. And apart from these trusted sources, other Peer-to-Peer payments are simple an easy. For example, transferring money to a “friend”, is almost as easy as sending her a chat message!

And when you add-up an all-integrated app with a wallet and QR Codes as a vehicle of online-to-offline (O2O), you understand that WeChat is an amazing opportunity for brand promotion and digital monetization. One of the best examples of WeChat O2O marketing is what luxury watch brand TAG Heuer did in La Maison exhibition. Using QR codes TAG Heuer directed users to its WeChat page for a treasure hunt game. By completing the check points in treasure hunt game TAG Heuer draw users to its stand and winners got a flash drive.

And it is just the beginning. There are many levels of integration and frictionless mobile-first experiences. Imagine what you can do with a Bluetooth-enabled connected object and the potential of integrating messaging platforms into the physical world when all the parts of the smartphone are used.

For the consumer then, the adoption story is simple.

Chan concluded her posting on the a16z blog with: « WeChat reveals what’s possible when we take a mobile-first approach to platforms, portals, social networks, and brands. The question isn’t about how to replicate the same model elsewhere, or about why it wouldn’t (or would) work in the United States. The question we should ask, I believe, is how can every business rethink its model from the ground up, so it leads and not lags behind mobile? ».

Maybe we should not forget after all that even if WeChat is a new relevant way of «mobile-life», if there are no users chatting, there is nothing. We can address every aspect of our user’s life, but we cannot forget the root: the mobile is first of all a communication tool.