Messaging Apps: The Wild West of Brand Marketing

Messaging Apps Offer Opportunity, but the Rules are Still Being Made Up

Brands are experimenting with reaching their audience through messaging apps
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Messaging apps now reach a bigger audience than any other platform.

The trend came to light in the fall of 2015. Business Insider, the business and tech news website, released a graph comparing traffic to the big four social media sites — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram — to the big four messaging apps, a category which includes WeChat, Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The result made heads spin: 2015 would be remembered as the year when traffic to messaging apps surpassed that of social networks.

And, it's still growing. 

There is an estimated three billion and counting monthly active users on messaging applications. And just when it seems that brands have begun to master and derive value out of social networks, the appeal of messaging apps as a place to connect directly with a massive audience is too attractive to ignore. In today’s fragmented media landscape, where brands are competing for consumer’s attention along with media companies, celebrities, and businesses of all sizes, the opportunity to reach a large, young, mobile audience is one that is imminently attractive. Welcome to the dawn of content marketing in the era of messaging apps. 

How do brands work with messaging apps?

Apps such as Line, Kik, Viber and others offer a range of possibilities for brands. A few of the popular methods that brands are using to interact with their customers on messaging apps are:

  • Customer Service: Messaging is a natural platform for answering questions and solving problems for customers in real-time and in a convenient manner
  • Direct Sales: A number of brands are using messaging platforms to provide personalized recommendations, or special discounts, which lead to direct sales of the brand’s merchandise. A brand could also create digital content, such as stickers or games, which could be sold directly through an app
  • Content Marketing: The concept of providing entertainment to potential customers is nothing new — and messaging apps present interesting ways of telling stories, showcasing products and communicating value

    In short, messaging apps now have such enormous scale and provide such compelling ways of interacting with a desirable audience, that brands need to embrace these new platforms as much, if not more, than they have social networks. Many brands are just starting to understand the marketing potential that messaging apps offer. Some leading brands, however, are already up and running. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

    Amazon on Line

    Shopping giant Amazon has wasted no time in setting up shop on Line, the messaging app with over 200M monthly, active users who are primarily based in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia. The platform, which opened its doors to third party applications in March 2016, was one of the first to allow outside developers to create chatbots for use within the app. Chatbots, which are essentially pieces of software that "simulate conversations," are an important way that brands and other organizations are interacting with people on messaging apps. Once you follow the Amazon account on Line, you’re presented with a newsfeed containing content which ranges from fun products that can be purchased from the site (hello rainbow unicorn mug!!) as well as images reflecting the “lifestyle” of an Amazon Prime user — such as a pileup of Amazon boxes waiting to be opened.

    And pets. Lots of cute pets playing with, and inside of, Amazon boxes. When you follow Amazon, you are also greeted by a message, which prompts you to visit the Amazon chat window which features links to a Deal of the Day, Free Apps & Games, Prime Video, and Prime Music. All links point directly to the Amazon mobile site and enable the user to purchase/transact seamlessly. As of now, Amazon does not allow for inbound messages from followers, chat is used exclusively for Amazon to deliver messages.

    Benefits to Amazon:

    • Drives direct purchases 
    • Creates a direct relationship with existing and potential customers
    • Encourages use of member benefits by providing easy access to Prime music and videos

    H&M on Kik

    Founded in Canada in 2009, Kik boasts over 80M monthly, active users across North America. Most users of the app — over 80% — are between the ages of 13-24, making the platform an attractive place for brands looking to connect with Generation Z. A perfect example is international fashion retailer, ​H&M. Visit the “Botshop” on Kik and you’ll be able to begin a conversation with the brand’s chatbot, whose mission it is to suggest styles and outfits based on your individual preferences. You’ll be prompted to answer some basic questions about what you're shopping for (men's or women's clothing), as well as select your preference from outfits that are displayed in order to get a sense of your personal style. The conversation is fun and interactive, with the chatbot reacting in entertaining ways, and using lots of emoticons to liven up the discussion. Once the bot has a sense of your style, you’ll be prompted to select an item for it to build an outfit around — for instance, a pair of flats, a clutch bag, or a denim jacket. From there, complete outfits will be displayed and you can then choose to “Love it!” “Try again,” or tap on “New search” to start over. Each of the outfits presented can be purchased by tapping through, which leads directly to the H&M mobile site, and you can also share the outfit on your favorite social network. Overall the interaction with the H&M chatbot on Kik is a fun way to get personalized style recommendations.

    Benefits to H&M

    • Drives direct purchases
    • Increases exposure by encouraging sharing to other social networks
    • Fosters direct relationship with potential customers through personalized recommendations

    Starbucks on Viber

    Viber is a messaging app that’s popular in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The app serves over 200M active users per month and is owned by media conglomerate Rakuten which purchased it for $900M in 2014. There are a ​​number of ways that brands can work with Viber. For one, they can sponsor, or sell, stickers — illustrations that users can incorporate into their messages — which have surged in popularity (generating over $75M in revenue in just one year for messaging app Line). Brands can also sponsor “public chats” which can raise the visibility of a brand and enable it to interact with new potential customers, as well as send messages to targeted audiences around the globe. ​Starbucks has gone the sticker route, opting to make a fun range of illustrations available which represent its Frappuccino® brand. The options include a cute “Starbucks Date?” sticker, which uses a fun font and would work perfectly for inviting someone to meet up at Starbucks, and a robot with a thought bubble over its head, filled with images of a delicious Starbucks drink and hearts. 

    Benefits to Starbucks:

    • Exposes brand to potential customers worldwide 
    • Encourages sharing of the brand by providing free stickers 
    • Drives in-store sales by making it easy to suggest meetups
    • Creates a direct relationship with potential customers by providing entertainment value

      What’s next?

      While messaging apps offer an opportunity to reach young, mobile audiences across the globe, they also present challenges. Since they each have unique characteristics, brands need to not only carefully select their platforms of choice, but also customize experiences for each one. That takes resources, effort, and experimentation. And while direct sales from an app are relatively easy to measure, other benefits are more difficult to gauge — like brand awareness, the impact of social sharing, and the long-term value of content marketing. From the perspective of the platforms, they are going to be less interested in fostering direct sales than they are in generating revenue through sponsorships, pay-for-placement, and digital products like stickers and games. Facebook’s Head of Messaging Products, David Marcus, explained the rationale: ”The margins on payments aren't that high, and we want the broadest reach. Businesses will want to pay to be featured or promoted — which is a bigger opportunity for us." 

      Just like the emergence of the internet, and the social networks that followed, the rise in popularity of messaging apps brings both opportunities and hurdles for brands. A vast landscape that is ripe for exploration, messaging apps can enable direct relationships with customers through new forms of interactions. While the value that brands can derive from their efforts isn't yet known, consumers will surely benefit as we have the chance to communicate with our favorite brands in unique ways. Yippee ki yay!