The number of apps for the sending of messages on mobile terminal devices, especially Smartphones, is steadily increasing. The most used app continues to be email as confirmed by the current ARD/ZDF online study. The number of sent SMS on the other hand has fallen in 2013 for the first time after a long boom: from 59.8 to 37.9 billion in Germany (source: Bitkom). Mobile messengers, such as social media applications enjoy growing popularity especially with younger users. The use of these services saw an increase by 203% in 2013 (source: Flurry Analytics). According to a study by Pew Research, mobile users send and receive an average of 50 text messages (SMS and mobile messages) per day, among 18 to 24 year old users this increases to over 100.
When users venture into new communication channels, companies need to be present in these channels, too. Especially mobile messaging services are becoming an important touchpoint within the digital marketing communication. It is therefore important to identify the relevant services for your own company and to integrate them into the marketing mix. However, you will have to take into consideration regulatory restrictions. Some services, for example, prohibit commercial communication, although they might allow transaction messages. In the following, we will present the most important mobile messenger services and explain their potentials and restrictions for marketing. IMPORTANT: To approach users via messaging service, an opt-in is required, the same as with email marketing and SMS.
WhatsApp with its 500 million users, is globally the number one among mobile messaging services. However, there are regional differences in the popularity of WhatsApp. In Germany, for example, 35 % of mobile internet users use WhatsApp (source: ARD/ZDF Online Study). In China, however, a market with 250 million mobile internet users, WhatsApp is virtually insignificant. Market leader there is WeChat and we will explain it more in detail later on in this article. In addition to text messages, WhatsApp also allows the sending of links, images, sound files and videos. For marketing (at least in Western countries), WhatsApp is becoming a more and more essential channel to communicate with mobile users. However, WhatsApp is not suited for the sending of advertising, as this is prohibited by the service rules. The sending of transaction messages is possible, though.
Possible uses of WhatsApp in marketing would be, e.g. collection notifications in multi-channel sales, satisfaction/feedback surveys directly after a purchase at the PoS or service information from store cards/loyalty programmes, as well as in connection with geo-fencing or geo-location functions. WhatsApp should not be seen as an autonomous channel, but rather as an additional touchpoint in the overall context of the digital communication. In the right interplay with other measures, WhatsApp can set important impulses in the personal lifecycle dialogue with users. Modern marketing automation solutions, such as artegic’s ELAINE FIVE enable you to convert user replies into responses in other channels. This allows you, e.g. to analyse the replies of users on a feedback questionnaire in real-time and trigger an individualised email campaign. User responses in email marketing or other digital channels (e.g. in online shops or a community) can be linked to the automated sending of a WhatsApp message via a trigger. The integration of WhatsApp share buttons in digital content is also possible. This allows users to share content with their WhatsApp contacts with one click and therefore significantly increase the coverage of campaigns. WhatsApp is also useful for customer service. For a long time, customer service via social media was seen as an important trend. A recent study by HeyWire Business, however, shows that 75% of users would prefer text messages as communication via social media in customer service.
Quick, simple, short text messages: this is how most users communicate via WhatsApp. For companies, this means anticipating this type of fragmented communication. If you wish to enter the lifecycle of prospective customers as an authentic dialogue partner with a personal dialogue, you must focus on automated processes. The right understanding of users based on personal data, as well as the availability of a large amount of highly specific and granular content are the foundation of authentic communication. Marketing automation technology is becoming obligatory here. The challenge lies in implementing this at a technical, organisational and particularly conceptional level so that the user does not notice the automation. Machine messages, which appear artificial, are a no-go in the WhatsApp communication.
Approximately 400 million people use the Chinese messaging service WeChat in China, (Weixin), approx. 100 million outside China. The functionalities of WeChat are more comprehensive than those of WhatsApp. In addition to the sending of text and multi-media messages, WeChat allows users and companies to create elaborate profiles, similar to those of facebook. Particularly interesting for marketing: WeChat allows the sending of promotional messages. Companies cannot only send service and transaction messages, but also (individualised) product offers, promotional texts, coupons/discount codes etc. Through the integration of multi-media elements, you can also include, e.g. video product presentations or film trailers. You will find ideas on how to successfully link WeChat with geo-fencing functions in the article Using Mobile Email Marketing for Geo-fencing Communication . However, we must bear in mind, that WeChat users have similar expectations on mobile messaging communication as WhatsApp users. The fact that WeChat allows promotional messages, does not mean that you should send dumb and offensive ads to users. Here as well, it is about authentic and personal communication.
WeChat is planning a stronger integration of ecommerce offers. What exactly this is going to look like, is not yet know. One option might be shops in the company profile, similar to Facebook.
Microsoft’s Skype service has approximately 300 million users. Skype is primarily known for its voice-over IP calls, but it also comes with an integrated messenger for text, image and video messages. In contrast to WhatsApp and WeChat, Skype offers a desktop version in addition to its mobile version. With the Skype Manager, companies can administrate several business accounts. Commercial/marketing communication is also possible. In its T&C, Skype refers explicitly to the requirement of an opt-in.
Line & KakaoTalk
Line is a Japanese messaging service (available as mobile and desktop version) with currently approximately 230 million users worldwide. Apart from in Japan, Line is very popular in Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico and Spain. A special feature of Line is a facebook-like newsfeed where news from contacts are displayed. Other than that, Line has the same features as WeChat. The sending of commercial messages is also allowed.
Comparable with Line and WeChat is the South Korean service KakaoTalk, which explicitly invites users to follow the profiles of companies. KakaoTalk has approximately 140 million users worldwide, most of them in South East Asia, especially in South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
From a marketing point of view, the presented services are the most relevant ones, but there are a few more, including Viber, Nimbuzz, ChatOn, Threema, Joyn or Kik. These services may also be relevant for marketing, but will not be dealt with in detail a this point.