More than 1.6 billion people were estimated to have used a messaging app in 2016, with this figure expected to rise to 2 billion by next year*. The value of messaging apps to consumers is obvious. Once connected to WiFi, they are a cheaper alternative to MMS and SMS and offer far more variety in terms of content; videos, music, chatbots, as well as gifs (the gift that keeps on giving). The reasons that a shopkeeper or street trader might respond positively to messaging apps will be largely the same and this offers brands a huge opportunity for growth in 2017.
WeChat leading the way in Monetization.
Five messaging apps dominate the global landscape: Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Snapchat, WeChat & Line, supported by many other local players. While Whatsapp and Messenger are relatively free from the clutches of corporations, apps like WeChat in China have revolutionised how companies can connect brands with consumers. It is second nature for Chinese mobile users to hail taxis, transfer money and book cinema tickets, all from within the WeChat icon on their phone. It is therefore no surprise that other apps are now scrambling to replicate elements of the WeChat model to try to monetize their juicy MAU numbers.
But wasn’t the fact that these apps were ad-free the very reason they became so successful?
Yes, but we are not talking about irritating PPC ads here, we are talking about valuable and rewarding messages. Companies should never use messaging apps in the same way as we would when speaking with our friends. However, messaging apps can still form an important part of our online world by, for example, following up on an airline ticket purchase with a complimentary lounge pass or telling a consumer when their new coat is ready for collection.
Just like the consumer, small traders will only engage when the relationship is beneficial and functional, especially when their business depends on it. Stock updates, special member offers and educational videos are just some of the potential ways that brands can add value to traders’ stores, without turning themselves into an unwanted intruder. Developing a strategy for using messaging apps at scale is too good of an opportunity for brands to ignore. They must, however, proceed with caution when venturing into the murky waters of the messaging app world as the modern customer will show no mercy if they feel they are being taken advantage of.
It would be naive to think that every company has learned the harsh lessons that social advertising dished out while corporations desperately tried to get down with the cool kids. Potential buyers unliked in their droves when companies tried to overstep their boundaries, shamelessly plugging products and clogging up newsfeeds.
Everybody makes mistakes, that’s why they put erasers on pencils.
The missteps made in social can be largely forgiven considering it was a new platform to everyone, changed quickly and was difficult to predict.
What would be inexcusable is that marketers make the same mistakes again when the lure of billions of users seems just too rich of a bounty to pass up. Communicating through messaging apps needs to be far more thoughtful and must offer relevant rewards that the user is actually interested in, rather than serving up clickbait or irrelevant ads.
Scarred with the heavy defeats of the past, we will now see brands conduct far more sophisticated social communication. Messages will seek to inform, reward and delight, rather than deceive and disappoint. Developing the right messaging app strategy presents brands with the opportunity to move one step ahead of the competition in 2017 and begin to nurture sustainable and rewarding relationships.
Brandtone has recently integrated with Line in Vietnam and will launch our first campaign in Q1 2017.
Colin Staunton is Global Marketing Manager at Brandtone HQ in Dublin.
*eMarketer Messaging Apps Report 2016