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"China is blazing its own trail in the mobile era," says Tencent's SY Lau

Kirsty Styles

SYLau2After a trade mission to the UK following the successful launch of BBC shows on Tencent's platform in China, we caught up with SY Lau, president of the company's online media group, to hear what it has planned in 2014.

Can you tell us a bit about how the Chinese market is different?

Mobile internet is far ahead in China – the huge investment in 4G networks alongside the low cost of smartphones will only keep this pace of mobile adoption high and rising. This does make the Chinese market different to European or US markets, where mobile internet and mobile marketing are still behind traditional services.

Social context continues to be critical for success locally. For Chinese New Year, Tencent launched a virtual gifting app that allowed people to send money to their friends and loved ones. This replicated the traditional hongbao (lucky money envelopes) that are given during the holiday. As part of this, Tencent attracted more than 5m people to sign up to the new service and link their banking details to their accounts. By addressing social needs as well as creating fun and enjoyable experiences for customers, Tencent has significantly increased its presence in the Internet and mobile banking sector.

E-commerce, e-banking, e-payment, e-travel are now common and growing healthily in China. E-finance has also seen high growth. When Tencent launched the WeChat Fund Management, 800m RMB was raised in just one day. In China, taxi booking apps are proving to be as popular as they are in the US and Europe. DiDi Taxi is one very helpful app in the big cities of China. It attracted 22m users in just 16 months.

One new app that is growing rapidly is Weishi. This is built for sharing short videos, similar to Vine. Boosted by WeChat sharing, Weishi hit 160m views on Valentine’s Day. Tencent predicts that this will continue to grow rapidly both in terms of user adoption and brands looking at how they can build Weishi into their own campaigns.

The OTT market in China is slightly different to other markets as well. OTT apps do replace traditional SMS services to some extent, but they are also complementary to other services like Tencent Weibo. Just as Tencent Weibo has grown micro-blogging in China, so Weixin and WeChat provide greater opportunities for personal connections to flourish, even between brands and customers.

China used to follow the US in terms of internet innovation in the PC era, but this has changed now. China is blazing its own trail in the mobile era and marketing campaigns that fit culturally have a greater chance to succeed.

Mobile and marketing in 2014 – what's happening here?

More and more companies are implementing strategies for integrating mobile into their broader marketing campaigns and driving this is greater demand for real-time, in-depth understanding of their customers and their needs. Mobile is becoming increasingly important to how to reach these customers in the first place and it's critical to optimise the customer experience across this channel, particularly as mobile plays a growing role in customer journeys.

During China’s Spring Festival of 2014, Mengniu Dairy integrated its seven sub-brands for the first time and delivered good luck messages to its customers by  giving away new gift packages every second. By building a strategic partnership with Tencent, Mengniu successfully reached 800m users, enabling consumers to access Mengniu’s gift packages with a delightful surprise. This campaign was led via the internet and mobile phone channels, and then supported by TV and outdoor media to build awareness. The total number of click-throughs for this campaign reached 180m, making it the hottest topic during the Spring Festival this year.

Online video continues to grow massively in China, based on the availability of smartphones and the development of 4G networks. People will be able to access high quality content from their phones while they are mobile, rather than only being able to do this while they are in front of a PC or laptop. This will make a big difference to how people want to consume content, as well as how brands and social companies look at how to engage those people.

Mobile marketing is becoming more sophisticated and integrated into wider marketing campaigns. As more people come online via their mobile devices, mobile will become a lead element. As the mobile internet becomes more strategic to delivering brand messages, creativity will become even more important to helping campaigns cut through. By bringing together the whole mix of channels, brands will be able to reach their customers in the most appropriate way and in a manner that fits with the pivotal role that mobile phones now play in all our lives.

For marketers, awareness of the ways that these different services interact and work alongside each other is critical and can spur more opportunities to be creative.

You mention video - is this a key part of your work this year?

The amount of people using Tencent Video continues to grow – last year, audiences grew 100 per cent quarter-on-quarter, even outpacing the rest of the Chinese online video market, which also grew significantly.

Mobile is a central part of Tencent’s strategy for 2014 at Tencent Video, alongside the development of its own programming and buying in exclusive television content. This will be both local and international. The company has struck deals to be the exclusive online partner for series such as China’s Got Talent and The Voice of China.

These will be the first reality series created with fully integrated social and mobile user experiences in mind. Alongside new apps and channels on the likes of Tencent Weibo and Weixin/WeChat, Tencent will also create new video on the backstage environment and around the judges for the series. This approach provides a multi-channel experience that users can interact with in new ways.

On the international content side, material from the US and Britain is incredibly popular with Chinese audiences. British content in particular is proving to be important for the company; since it was launched in June 2013 with BBC Worldwide and five other UK production companies, the channel has attracted more than 200m impressions. The audience for this kind of content is very attractive for advertisers, while Tencent is able to wrap new marketing and audience acquisition services around these programmes as well.
World Cup 2014 – what will Tencent be doing for this?

Tencent is already planning for this through a range of new apps, services and content that will be based on our QQ portal. This includes integrating mobile and PC platforms so that users can receive the game news across multiple platforms including WeChat, mobile QQ, Tencent News App, Tencent Video APP, Game-Watching APP and the portal site

For the event itself, Tencent will have two newly developed TV studios in place in Brazil, while the commentary teams back in China will also have 3D technology to call on. The overall aim is to provide the best, most comprehensive coverage of the event.

Based on our experience around the World Cup in South Africa and the London Olympics, the strategy that we will be pursuing is based on premium content that can be delivered via mobile. Tencent’s advantage is in creating this unique user experience based around the interaction between social and mobile. By focusing on interaction and information sharing, advertisers will be able to gain an advantage through accurate marketing data and rigorous analysis.

The experience that our technology and editorial teams gained around the Olympics will stand us in good stead for this event. For Brazil 2014, mobile internet and online video services have to be combined with unique content in order to help advertisers stand out in the market.