There has been concern recently about “brand app fatigue,” but messaging apps don’t seem to be suffering from the same problems. Six of the current top 10 global apps are messaging apps, including two owned by Facebook (Messenger and WhatsApp). Messaging apps serve about 1.4 billion people globally -- that’s roughly 12-15% of the entire world -- and are growing about 12% annually.
As a result, we can add a new title to our current economy. So far, we have monikers such as:
Broadly speaking, conversational commerce is how brands interact with customers through messaging apps that are powered by natural language capabilities. The overall idea is to redefine customer experience around scalable -- but still personal -- moments.
We’ll run through some examples of brands who are doing a good job with messaging apps, and lessons you can learn from them. But first: a quick note on how messaging apps contrast with one of the other mobile marketing strategies many brands employ, i.e. email.
Email marketing can be amazing in terms of return, but there are some notable issues:
That third bullet point speaks to the growing popularity of messaging apps for brands. Messaging apps create a conversation or ongoing dialogue between brand and consumer; this is some of the same psychology around statistics that 90% of text messages are viewed within three minutes. Human beings are social animals, and they respond to immediacy and dialogue.
Viber: For more than 800 million users in 193 countries Viber is--as CMO Mark Hardy describes it--their “entertainment ecosystem” of choice. It may sound broad, but considering users can send files, share photos, talk to friends, play games, get the latest news, make video and international calls, and connect with their favorite brands, it seems about right. User communication is still a core piece of Viber’s functionality, but the app utilizes brand (like their ubiquitous sticker packs) and user generated content to create a lifestyle experience within the app.
Instacart: This summer, TechCrunch noted that Instacart has changed grocery shopping for good. True disruption! The app uses messaging apps to communicate with customers about what’s available relative to their choices, potential solutions or alternate ingredients, etc. On the shopper side of the Instacart equation, messaging apps within Instacart for the shoppers help them move through a store in the most optimal way to pick up certain items (i.e. frozen or hot) last, for better end results for the customer.
1-800-Flowers: This has been a pioneering bot/messenger apps example on Amazon’s Alexa and Facebook Messenger, receiving a large amount of media coverage in the process. Mark Zuckerberg even noted the irony when he first discussed branded bots: “To order from 1-800-Flowers, you never have to call that number again,” he said at the time. Beyond how the bot/app works, here’s the bigger lesson of 1-800-Flowers. They were able to release a beta version on Messenger and Alexa in 90 days because of how they organized internally. They had CEO buy-in (check), had a specific arm of marketing own the process (check), and didn’t involve many people from IT or merchandise to avoid debates around priorities (check). Overall, they treat “conversational commerce” as a new channel -- it’s designed to be incremental, as opposed to a major revenue play immediately.
There’s a big lesson in the 1-800-Flowers approach for brands seeking to do more with bots or messenger apps: simplify the process. New research from Stanford has shown that simplicity is one of the great competitive advantages of modern business, in large part as an antidote to the technological complexity many companies struggle with daily. If you want success with messenger apps, then, don’t involve everyone under the sun in your company. Start with a small group and get to beta. Then iterate and test. It’s a huge advantage and you’ll be out in front of the market too.
H&M: Along with brands like Sephora, H&M is popular on Kik, another notable riser in the messenger apps world. Kik is an interesting study -- it’s come under some scrutiny for parental safety concerns and was even roasted in a recent 48 Hours episode, but it has shown large popularity with millennials and younger. (Ironically, that’s probably in large part because of the same parental safety concerns.) It has about 300M active users, and they’re primarily from the 24-and-under set. If brands can make shopping easier in that space via messenger apps, it’s a powerful device for their marketing teams.
Messenger apps show how marketing is continuing to evolve. There were traditional methods (tradeshows, direct mail), which ultimately gave way to digital approaches like email, content marketing, and social media. Now, it’s time to consider how you can connect to your audience via conversations in messenger apps, SMS, and your own app, and what’s next: AI and natural language taking even more of a central role.
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