Baidu Smart Programs: The Race to the Post-App Era with WeChat Mini Programs

David Henriques

China’s BAT tech trinity are continuously in competition with each other and this time it’s over setting the trend for the post-app age with Baidu’s push into the mini program market. If you aren’t already familiar, mini programs are sub-applications that run inside an app. The mini program feature was introduced by Tencent in 2017 and has since found its niche in the market and is arguably one of the biggest innovations to come out in recent years. Taking inspiration from WeChat mini programs, both Alibaba and Baidu have followed suit and each tech giant has its own unique innovative spin to mini programs. Baidu has created a platform named “Baidu Smart Mini Program” where external developers can create their own Baidu mini programs and it has amassed over 150 million monthly active users since its initial launch.

 

Growth of Baidu Mini Programs

The search engine recently announced that it plans to allocate U.S. $140 million to invest in mini program developers. Baidu also plans to open up shop for several services within its ecosystem including Baidu maps and Baidu Tieba, which is the largest communication platform in China. A number of mobile apps with a sizable amount of users have joined the open source platform including video sharing platform Bilibili, short video platform Kuaishou, travel service provider Ctrip and Moji Weather. These apps are collaborating with Baidu to expand mini program features to a wide range of users.

Mini programs now cover a wide range of functions and services along with the ability to bring in a new wave of competition. They are beginning to become more of a necessity for brands to incorporate in their marketing plan rather than an additional service perk for consumers. Mini programs have the ability to jumpstart user growth and create an entirely new marketing ecosystem.

 

Baidu Challenges WeChat & Alibaba

One core reason as to why mini programs are so popular is due to the convenience that they offer. Mobile apps tend to take up a lot of additional phone storage and deters Chinese users from downloading certain apps. Chinese consumers enjoy the luxury of convenience and mini programs do just that and much more. Mini programs take less space, are more flexible, but are also faster. All major brands and businesses are invested in their mini programs where they are promoting and selling their products and services directly to customers.

 

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The Chinese super apps are bringing their own strengths to the mini program industry. Alibaba has surpassed 230 million daily active users with top categories such as retail, playing for utility bills, and travel booking. Alipay has even added a swipe-down menu on the app’s homepage to enhance mini program visibility, which is similar to WeChat. Alibaba mini programs will be gradually opened to individual developers, creating even more competition among the big three.

With the goal of enriching users’ lives and the added convenience value, Baidu has built an open-source ecosystem that has the opportunity to disrupt Tencents’ market share, who already offers more than one million mini programs on its WeChat messaging app.  By opening the platform to external developers, Baidu is paving the way for some innovative improvements on how mini programs operate, which will definitely be a key component for sparking the interest of WeChat and Alibaba users when expanding their consumer reach.

 

Why Invest in Mini Programs

The mini program ecosystem is flourishing and these stripped-down apps offer users a one-stop shop for all of their mobile needs. Mini programs allow users to book travel reservations, play games and shop all within one app. Users can perform the majority of their mobile interactions within the Baidu app instead of opening additional applications to achieve the same results. The mini program push allows Baidu to drive user engagement and the amount of time that users spend on the app, which is an added opportunity to incorporate more social search features within the platform. As mini programs continue to gain traction in China, consumers might be less motivated to use traditional app store platforms, allowing mini programs to become a preferred method for foreign brand promotion. They are easier to develop and less expensive than developing an app or website.

 

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Mini programs can be embedded in KOL messages or brand promotions. It makes the process of diverting traffic and gaining exposure much easier for impulsive purchasing. Mini programs are also becoming an important part of the new retail concept. They can easily link online to offline (O2O), allowing brands to provide gift cards, online discounts and loyalty points. On top of that, users are able to use mini programs as they please, without having the need to fully download an app that would be required in an app store. This adds a layer comfort to the seamless user experience that both brands and consumers get to take part in and enjoy.

 

If your brand is looking to have a strong digital presence in the Chinese market, developing a mini program can definitely add a boost to your marketing campaign by giving consumers what they want before they even have to ask – a user centric and seamless entry point to interact with your brand. The opportunities for brands are steadily expanding in all industries including e-commerce, gaming, travel and food services. Mini programs are still relatively new and we expect the industry to continue to expand with even more features to give your brand fresh marketing strategies and opportunities for growth.

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David Henriques
David Henriques

Digital entrepreneur and co-founder of Sekkei Studio, a digital marketing agency in Shanghai, Paris and Hong Kong. More than 10 years of experience in helping the communication of foreign companies in China.

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