SY Lau
Senior Executive Vice President & President, Online Media Group

Dispatch from China: Satisfying Mobile Consumers Has Set the Bar

“The way we see it, people are mobile—not their devices. Therefore, practically all of our products take this into consideration. We are now in an era where everything is connected, and the tool of connection is the mobile internet.”

SY Lau, Senior Executive Vice President, Tencent, and President, Online Media Group, leads the front edge of the digital mobile media explosion in China. Chinese mobile internet users spend 60 percent of their time using Tencent properties, with 35 percent of their time spent on Tencent’s groundbreaking social platform WeChat, according to Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends report. Through WeChat—which has 697 million monthly active users, according to the company—consumers can do everything, including purchasing movie tickets, paying bills, and even investing in financial products.

Here, Lau shares insights and strategies for succeeding in a market that’s been mobile-first from the get-go. Consumer expectations are high, Lau says: they expect immediacy, personalization, and for everything to be at their fingertips.

Q: Tencent is a leader in mobile digital media in China. Can you describe the mobile user in China and their expectations of advertising?

A: Today, China is highly mobile. China’s leap-frogging of fixed-line technology has created the world’s largest mobile market in terms of its user base. The number of mobile users in China exceeded 1.3 billion at the end of 2015, and 29.6 percent of those are 4G users.

The way we see it, people are mobile—not their devices. Therefore, practically all of our products take this into consideration. We are now in an era where everything is connected, and the tool of connection is the mobile internet. Therefore, consumers now expect more value, more control, and more choice. They demand services to provide greater involvement, customization, personalization, and mobility—with immediate results.

When we look at the advertising experience itself, advertisements are becoming more relevant than ever: the boundary between content and advertisements is blurring. An advertisement is not just “an advertisement,” but represents useful information for consumers, powered by the rise and application of content-based recommendation algorithms and highly-customized media services. Those providing the best content and the most useful information will create stronger bonds between users and brands.

Q: What have you learned from WeChat’s expansion into services?

A: Originally, WeChat was a mobile messaging service. But it has evolved into a fast-growing mobile social platform. Moreover, WeChat is positioned as an essential vehicle for Tencent’s strategy to connect everything, leading to a new digitally-connected lifestyle.

Tencent only performs two roles: connector and content provider. Platforms such as WeChat that serve as connectors must have content flowing on them. Content is not only about text and audio, but all the things users spend their time doing.

For example, as a social media platform, WeChat is the home of many “official accounts,” ranging from accounts of celebrities, banks, media outlets, and fashion brands, to hospitals, drug stores, car manufacturers, internet startups, and more. These “apps within apps” can access APIs for payments, location, direct messages, user ID, and more. Is it social media? Is it an e-commerce platform? The answer to both is “yes.”

Looking into the future, Tencent will continue to open its arms to partners in order to construct a win-win ecosystem together.

Q: How has the evolution of digital technology and its rapid adoption changed your work?

A: With the evolution of technology, the interaction between people, the interaction between people and content, and the impact of one consumer on another have changed dramatically.

  1. In the Media 1.0 era, content was connected to content;
  2. ŸIn the Media 2.0 era, people were connected to people;
  3. ŸAnd in this Media 3.0 era—where everyone can be a media outlet—people and content are connected in both ways, featuring customized, personalized content, and multi-dimensional connections.

First, in this Media 3.0 era, content will [take on a] new life—call it Smart Content, if you like—with mobile entertainment powering growth. Second, as technology evolves further, it will become smarter with the incorporation of artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms, to name just two. This will result in the curation of content tailor-made for specific consumer needs.

Q. What trends are you noticing in the Chinese market?

A: 1. The evolution from customer-centric to customer-obsessive. As noted, consumers now expect more value, more control, and more choice. This is not about customer-centricity or even thinking “the customer is always right.” Customer obsession is the relentless focus on calibrating business processes to deliver seamless, connected experiences at each and every customer interaction point.

2. The lines between apps, e-commerce, and social are blurring. Take the omni-channel trend, for instance. Business owners now expect that same omni-channel experience from other businesses—corporate accounts on e-commerce sites, and social networks becoming B2B demand-generation platforms. WeChat “official accounts,” such as those for companies or celebrities, are a great example of this.

3. Expect the B2B and B2C sectors to begin looking increasingly alike. Marketing to a business and marketing to an individual are similar, in that fundamental marketing principles apply to both. Both require that value be demonstrated to the target market. Demands for convenience and immediacy are not restricted to either sector. Today, the need for speed that we see in B2C often trumps the traditional B2B reliance on longer-term, relationship-based transactions.