Offline promotion activities first appeared on major streets of Beijing this March. At that time, offline promotion specialists were mainly startups’ own employees. Such promotion strategy became only more popular when summer came, and lots of professional offline promotion platforms were established. However, this fad began to ebb away as winter came along.
In TMTpost Photo Gallery 004, we shall focus our attention on the army of mysterious yet grassroots offline promotion specialists. After spending two weeks with several professional offline promotion specialists, we were exposed to the essence behind the burgeoning O2O industry in China.
Yang Jie and his partner Yan Junxiang became part of the army of offline promotion specialists since this summer. They have promoted offline for products of various kinds, including fruits, cosmetics, medicine, takeaway service, finance products, classified sites and even real estate. The prize for scanning QR codes of these products and services also changed a great deal since then: from purified water to cooking oil, from rice to cash…
When Mr. Yang looked back, he concluded that offline promotion was more about the competition of prize, not the quality of the product, and that the turnout rate of offline promotion activities was pretty low: “Although offline promotion activities do make the number of registered users of an app look better, most users ended up forgetting or deleting the app. It could take as much as 20 RMB to attract a new user, yet most money ended up being wasted since only a handful of these new users will actually use the app.”
Mr. Yan started to help promote products offline since August. According to him, he chose this job because he got to enjoy more free time and make quick money. Normally, his salary was paid once a week, and even once a day, with no delay ever. In the evening of November 18th, he and Mr. Yang was promoting an app for a classified site in Shuangqiao area, Chaoyang Distrcit, Beijing. As long as a user followed the site’s WeChat Official Account, downloaded its app and signed up, he or she would get four bottles of liquid detergent as reward, while the offline promotion specialist would also earn 4 RMB.
Since this area is located outside of the fifth ring of Beijing, except for a few white-collar workers, most passers-by were middle-aged residents who knew little of the Internet. “It’s freezing cold outside, so few passers-by were willing to stop for too much time, especially so if users are supposed to do so many things to get the reward,” said Mr. Yang. There are quite a bunch of places similar to Shuangjing in Beijing, where Mr. Yang and his partners might have to explain at great length what products they were promoting, how to get the reward. “Few people believed that they could get the reward for free and thought that we were lying,” he added.
After standing in the freezing wind for over four hours (from 6pm to 10:30 pm), only 20 passers-by stopped and followed the WeChat Official Account. As a matter of fact, they didn’t know exactly how many times their jobs have been contracted. “Suppose the company planned to spend 20 RMB in gaining one new user and didn’t regulate contractors’ behaviors, its employees will earn most, while offline promotion specialists (usually the fifth or sixth contractor) like us might only earn 2 to 5 RMB per user,” he complained.
Before they left, they had to give the rest prizes back to the mediator sent by their employer. He would take necessary notes, and their employer would pay them the next day.
Every offline promotion specialist must have joined several WeChat groups where they could get updates about the latest job opportunities. What app were they supposed to promote? What prize looked most attractive? What employer set the simplest requirements for users to win the prize... Everything was transparent, and they only need to accept the job as they liked.
Mr. Yang, aged 30, has done many kinds of jobs. Before he became an offline promotion specialist, he worked in an O2O company. “The company was quite wealthy at the beginning, but as large sum of money was spent in marketing activities, the company began to shrink its scale, and that’s when I quitted,” explained Mr. Yang. Sometimes, he would do several part-time jobs at the same time, and he even pretended to be the spectator for some TV programs. As a father, he had to earn bread and butter no matter how hard it could be sometimes.
Mr. Yan was waiting for his partners in a large shopping mall around Wanshou Temple area. They just accepted a job of promoting offline a film-related app. Shopping malls and theatres were the best workplace for offline promotion specialists in winter. It was warmer out there, and they could also get free WiFi. However, since they had to pay a certain amount of money to the shopping mall, the average salary would also reduce a lot. They could only earn 1 to 2 RMB per user sometimes.
Since they’ve already accepted the job, they would make necessary preparations no matter how much they could earn. Before promoting the app to others, they would first download the app themselves and see if there were any great functions. “Only when we know what the app is about can we better promote it to others. Oftentimes, passers-by who knew little about the Internet and didn’t even know how to surf the Internet would stop and turn to us for the prize, and we have to help them download the app and then give them the prize,” they explained.
Their employer’s representative told them that since too many specialists accepted the job, he would have to keep those who promoted the app to a larger crowd within half an hour. Mr. Yang got so furious and chose to quit the job, saying: “This is outright disrespect and bullying. Why didn’t you mention the competition beforehand?” Before he left, he turned to the representative for the traffic compensation in a fury.
He accepted another job via the WeChat group when he left. He had to take subway for another hour to a large shopping mall in Tongzhou District. This time, he was also supposed to help passers-by download the app, signed up and then win the prize. Since most passers-by in this shopping mall were middle-aged, he was flooded with questions: What’s your product about exactly? Do you know 58.com? Is your site similar to 58.com? Many dama simply handed him their phones and asked him to download the app for them, so that they could get the prize.
Mr. Yang was quite clear about what he was doing. He even felt sorry for the developers of apps he was supposed to promote, saying that: “Most people have absolutely no idea of how to get access to the Internet, so how can you expect them to become your users? I predict that the turnout rate of our offline promotion activities might be lower than 5%. Although the number of registered users does grow, it’s ultimately useless.” Mr. Yang and his two partners attracted 150 passers-by to download the app and sign up throughout the afternoon, and if they could earn 2 RMB per user, then they would earn 300 RMB in total.
Things were a lot easier in Wangjing SOHO area, where most passers-by were white-collars and knew exactly what these offline promotion specialists were doing. Near the end of November, Mr. Yang took his folding table to Wangjing SOHO to promote an insurance product. This time, passers-by only needed to follow the WeChat Official Account and sign up with their phone number to get a pair of gloves or a fuzzy key chain. He bought these prizes himself from a wholesale market since his mediator didn’t provide any prize but offer him 5 RMB per new user.
What passers-by care most is whether the prize is attractive enough and whether the requirements to get the prize complicated or not, not if they needed the product or not. Offline promotion has already become a competition of prizes. At first, people would get packed up to sign up and download the app merely to get a bottle of purified water. Later, the prize became more and more expensive: from Wong Lo Kat to Mai Dong Sports Drink, from toys to 3C products, from rice, cooking oil to cash, etc. “Only when the prize is expensive and attractive enough will people stop by and have a look,” Mr. Yang complained.
When offline promotion became so popular in summer, services that enabled fake users register also emerged. However, many companies and investors didn’t tolerate such behavior and made great efforts to check if the registered number was valid. Mr. Yang used to promote for several P2P products for a while, but soon quitted, saying that: “Those apps require passers-by to provide ID card number, Debit Card number and even require them to verify their information via video call, which was too complicated and scared many people away.”
In summer, this street across Wangjing SOHO used to be crowded with offline promotion specialists, who could earn as much as 10,000 to 20,000 RMB per month. However, as time went by, this business was gradually dominated by the few who had adequate connections and resources. When he met some big orders, Mr. Yang would recruit a few partners to do it together. He was quite generous to share his job opportunities with others.
“If these companies were willing to promote their products themselves, they could have attained a turnover rate of over 80%,” Mr. Yang felt disappointed with the current offline promotion market, “what makes a product really attractive lies in the quality and functions of itself, not the prize. Usefulness should be the real competitiveness.”
When Mr. Yang and his partners earned merely several RMB after quite a while, he did want to find another job sometimes, saying that: “After all, this job isn’t permanent.”
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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @fliesslaughterhouse, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]
Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at ECHO), working for TMTpost.