Global Marketing Trends: Brands get personal

Messaging-based marketing strategies will see brands pop-up in personal communication tools

Brands need to be where their customers are, so why has it taken them so long to embrace the potential of instant messaging apps? From WhatsApp to Facebook Messenger, these communication platforms might just be the most native form of marketing that exists.

Every day billions of people use instant messaging (IM) to share videos, order food and make calls. And while the platforms were originally created as peer-to-peer communication channels, smart businesses are using them to engage with consumers. Of course, IM has been a feature of many companies’ customer service offer for years, but we are now seeing brands enter into more meaningful conversations.

Just think of WeChat’s 1.08 billion monthly active users and the thousands of companies around the world who have WeChat business accounts—proof that the app, which predominantly targets the Asian market, has succeeded in combining social and business propositions.

According to eMarketer’s latest forecast, more than one-quarter of the world’s population is using mobile messaging apps. And it would be disastrous for a brand to ignore the importance of IM in a digital marketing landscape where traditional social media usage is falling, data protection laws are becoming stricter and the online space is increasingly saturated with promotional content. Realising the potential of IM, many global brands have found that maintaining a presence across several messaging platforms is far more effective than building and running a costly app.

The End of Brand-owned Apps?

Disillusioned with levels of customer usage and engagement, Gartner predicts 20% of brands will abandon their owned mobile apps by 2019. It makes sense when you think how much more effective IM platforms are as a customer service tool. Not only that, Gartner believes consumers will increasingly get in touch with businesses for customer support via messaging as opposed to social media.

In last year’s report, we looked at how chatbots powered by artificial intelligence are the answer to our online questions, and it’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. In 2017, 2 billion messages were sent between business and individual users every month on Facebook Messenger which, according to recent figures, now operates with the help of more than 300,000 chatbots.

The addition of its Discover tab has made it even easier for users to communicate and find businesses through the platform. Messaging apps certainly promise to remove the day-to- day maintenance of running a brand-owned app by continuing to develop tools that support business opportunities to engage, connect and transact with consumers:

  • Facebook Messenger is enabling super-speedy conversations by providing quick answers with contact details, personalising the chat plug-in and continually improving automatic replies. It can serve up destination ads in a news feed that drives to a brand’s messenger function and send sponsored posts to users who’ve interacted with a particular brand in the past
  • The one-on-one messaging capabilities of WhatsApp means marketers can execute personalised campaigns as well as easily interact with customers by using tools to automate, sort and quickly respond to messages
  • Instagram has included a quick response tool in its business profiles
  • Already combining messaging, mobile payments and multiple social media formats, WeChat has expanded its capabilities to include features such as city directories, appointment booking and curated news delivery

Credible Conversations

Far from offering robotic responses, we know chatbots are popular due to their ability to engage in a two-way conversation. And it’s here that IM is realising it’s true potential as more than a customer service tool. Whereas SMS messages were one-way, IM offers the opportunity to interact in real time. Most importantly, it allows users to talk to brands the same way they already talk to their friends and family on these platforms. Chatbots understand what the consumer needs— whether that’s tickets to a festival or suggestions for a place to eat—and then provide relevant solutions in a seamless way.

As a result, B2C conversations will become increasingly personalised. Drink brand Absolut’s Facebook ads, which appeared in users’ News Feeds, opened in Messenger— allowing the brand to swiftly move from a call to action to a real-time conversation. Users were asked to choose a nearby bar and a favourite cocktail before being sent a promotional code to collect their drink.

However, brands have to be careful when it comes to engaging with users in spaces that were previously reserved for personal communications. Think of WhatsApp. Having been purchased by Facebook for almost US$20 billion in 2014, WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum was quick to resign when plans to monetise the app came to light in 2018. While Facebook assures users the app’s end-to-end encryption will remain, its credibility might well take a hit when ads start popping up in WhatsApp Status.

Launched in February 2017, WhatsApp Status already has a larger daily audience than

Instagram Stories and targeted ads are expected to be rolled out at some point in 2019, pivoting the platform towards commerce and opening up another avenue for IM marketing strategies. Whether there will be the option to opt out under new GDPR regulations is at present unclear, but one thing is for sure—brands will need to make sure their messages aren’t read as an intrusive sales pitch.

Picking a platform

An IM strategy that drives awareness, user acquisition, conversions and retention will help shorten the sales funnel. But where should brands start when it come to sharing content on communication channels?

Perhaps most important is an understanding of which platforms are popular and where.  IM as a marketing tool might still be getting started in the UK and the US, but in China, WeChat has already made the leap from consumer messaging platform to profitable business channel and LINE in Japan is following in its footsteps. Meanwhile WhatsAppFacebook Messenger and Apple’s Messaging App have plenty of users—the challenge now is to find ways to help businesses profit from these users.

  • WhatsApp is used in 104 countries and is particularly popular in Brazil, Mexico, India, Russia and in many parts of Europe, Africa, US and Asia
  • Facebook Messenger is used in 64 countries with a very strong presence in Australia, Canada and the US
  • Viber is especially popular in Eastern Europe, in countries such as Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. It is also spreading to other parts of the world, including Iraq, Libya and Sri Lanka
  • LINE, WeChat and Telegram are very popular in China, Japan and Iran. In Japan, people use LINE for an average of 40 minutes a day. In China, 80% of millennials use WeChat every day

What we can learn from WeChat

Three types of account mean there are a variety of ways for companies to engage and transact on WeChat:

Subscription – lets brands make and deliver a feed or stream of communications to subscribers

Support – lets brands offer customer service-related content to consumers

Corporate – used to facilitate internal company communications. These accounts are not available to the public

In addition, WeChat Stores allow brands to sell products and services in mobile-enabled commerce venues within the app, which results in seamless transactions and improved conversion rates. The world is waking up to the way the platform is revolutionising users’ purchasing power in both online and bricks-and- mortar retail spaces. For example, with one million Chinese people visiting Australia each year, the country is now home to more than 10,000 retail locations that support WeChat payments.

Brands are also using WeChat to leverage the networks of key opinion leaders (KOLs) or influencers. Pay-for-performance offers use a unique code to track sales that are the result of an influencer’s trusted recommendation.

Explore more from our Global Marketing Trends 2019 Report, here.

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Hannah Anast
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