Messaging apps have changed the way we communicate with each other. We love the convenient, natural nature of it so much we happily opened our minds and personal messaging channels to conversations with businesses. It doesn’t even have to be human-to-human. Moreover, after the pandemic crisis, consumers are not so opposed to messaging automation either. All in all, the advantages of instant messaging apps marketing will be hard to ignore in 2021.
Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber… Indeed, times have changed.
Consumers are no longer interested in being advertised to form a pedestal. They want brands to get down from their high horses and talk to them. Talk to them in a way that is convenient for them, not the brands.
As if that wasn’t inviting enough, instant messaging applications make it increasingly easier for businesses to set up their presence on these apps and interact with consumers in an official capacity.
This presents a big business opportunity.
With the three most popular messaging platforms having over 1 billion monthly active users each, it’s safe to say that you can find your customers on these apps, whatever it is that you sell.
But every marketing strategy, regardless of its potential, has its rules and limitations.
So, in this article, we will dive deep into the topic and discuss:
- The evolution of the messaging industry and its current potential;
- Why is messaging as a marketing tool becoming relevant now;
- Which are the best messaging platforms to consider for your business;
- What are their advantages and disadvantages;
- The role of chatbots in instant messaging apps marketing;
- Instant messaging apps marketing and lead generation strategies.
Instant messaging as we know it has become SO intertwined with our daily routines, it’s easy to forget that it’s merely a few decades old. Actually, just 20 years ago, it was one of the most innovative and revolutionary things in the world!
Before we could send out WhatsApp locations, create groups on Facebook Messenger, and capture temporary snaps on Snapchat… there was this:
It was quite a journey, and, indeed, the 2010s became a decade of instant messaging innovation.
Creative approaches to instant messaging flooded the market, transforming the way we communicate with our family, friends, coworkers, as well as businesses.
It’s fairly obvious that Instant Messaging has been around for a couple of decades.
So, why all that hype around IM marketing today?
2016 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study by IBM showed that the average open rate for emails was 21.8%. While the reasons for not opening an email differ from industry to industry as well as among email times, an overload of unwanted emails remains the unifying notion.
On the other hand, in 2016, Gartner reported that, based on various sources, SMS open and response rates are as high as 98% and 45%, respectively. They also argue that the severe difference in open rates can be partly explained by the sheer amount of messages received via email instead of SMS.
However, that 2016 Email Marketing Benchmark Study also reported that 49% of people check their emails on mobile. Adobe’s “Email Use 2017 – US Report” found 81% of participants check emails on their smartphones.
So, SMS’s success may not be solely due to the lesser amount of messages received on this channel but also a direct result of convenience.
But we are in 2020, and, let’s face it, we are not interested in SMS anymore. Are messaging apps yielding equally impressive results?
In 2017, Olyo ran a comparative case study sending the same campaign via email and Facebook Messenger (using messenger chatbot tech). The Messenger click-through rate was 12x higher than that of the email campaign. Plus, the Facebook open rate was 98%.
This is not a singular case, either. Facebook continues to publish reports on the success of messaging consistently producing higher open rates, response rates, engagement, and customer satisfaction.
Another reason mobile messaging marketing has been taking off is the ever-growing adoption of smartphones worldwide.
According to The Mobile Economy 2019 report by the GSM Association, the percentage of smartphone adoption will grow significantly in the coming years.
Messaging Apps Marketing is Getting Official as Platforms Become Business-Friendly
Facebook Messenger and WeChat have supported and encouraged businesses to communicate and interact with customers via messaging for a few years now. In 2018, WhatsApp also opened its door to brands by launching WhatsApp Business and WhatsApp API (Enterprise).
Today, users can use these messaging platforms to receive customer service, get notified about special offers, browse the product catalog, receive invoices, make purchases, and more. They can do this by communicating with a live agent or a brand chatbot.
Moreover, new perks businesses can enjoy using messaging apps for conversational marketing and lead generation keep popping up.
Instant messaging wouldn’t be a very effective form of marketing if customers were denied instant responses.
However, most businesses can’t afford large support and sales teams to instantly accommodate all leads and clients. So, who CAN be there, 24/7?
Hence, business messaging is taking off because of the incredible advancements in chatbot technology and the growing number of affordable SAAS bot-building tools. Also, the affordability and accessibility of bot solutions don’t just concern rule-based bots. Building no-code NLP chatbots is a reality.
2018 survey by Drift confirmed that online chats and chatbots are the channels consumers associate with the instant response the most:
Experience Means More than Price
Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that the boom in instant messaging apps marketing is not a simple result of technological advancements. Another crucial factor driving this trend is the shift towards the experience economy.
What does that even mean, you ask?
Some blame it on millennials; some blame it on the rising price of consumer attention; others on the advanced technology that spoiled us and made us more demanding. The truth is probably somewhere in-between.
What matters to us is that the instant messaging apps are becoming one of the secret weapons of experience economy as they supply both the speed and personalization consumers crave.
Messaging is probably the closest you can get to having “face-to-face” customer-brand communication in the digital world.
According to Business Insider, before 2016, the race for market leadership was fierce, with Viber, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp doing significantly better than the rest.
In 2019, there are still many messaging apps out there, and new ones keep appearing.
As you can see, the three most popular messaging apps in the world still are WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat, while Viber lagged significantly – even surpassed by Snapchat.
When it comes to successful marketing and lead generation, you can’t just consider the global monthly active user count. It’s pertinent you look at which of these apps is the strongest in the region of your target audience.
According to SimilarWeb data from January 2019:
- WhatsApp is most commonly used in most Western & Central Europe, Russia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central & South America, Canada, India & Saudi Arabia.
- Facebook Messenger is the most popular in the US, North Africa, Greenland, and Australia.
- WeChat dominates China.
Using WhatsApp doesn’t make any sense if you are targeting Japan since, over there, Line messenger has a much stronger user base. But if you are interested in South America, then WhatsApp is an absolute must.
If you don’t have access to specific data in your region, in most cases, focusing on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger is probably your best bet.
What are the opportunities and challenges that come with using the top two messaging apps for marketing?
Facebook Messenger is the most downloaded app globally but comes in second in terms of monthly active users. Despite that, it manages to dominate in 73 world countries.
Messenger business features are highly developed, allowing businesses of all shapes and sizes to communicate and engage with your leads or existing customer base using the live chat or a brand chatbot.
Forming part of the Facebook social media network, it’s easily accessible on both desktop and mobile. Furthermore, it integrates well with all Facebook business features such as product catalog, store, paid ads, and detailed user analytics.
WhatsApp is not the most downloaded messaging app; however, it is the busiest. As shown in the stats above, it boasts uncontested 1.6 billion monthly users (as of April 2019) and takes leadership in 133 countries worldwide.
Having opened to businesses only in January 2018, WhatsApp still has much to do to catch up to the features of Facebook Messenger. However, it does offer interesting opportunities.
Small businesses can now set up an official verified profile on the WhatsApp Business app and use it to deliver customer service, notifications, and updates to their customer base. The functions are limited to live chat or pre-set quick responses to common queries.
Medium and large businesses can apply for WhatsApp API, which allows them to expand WhatsApp marketing features, such as creating WhatsApp bots. Once WhatsApp vets your brand to use the API, you can integrate the messaging app with your existing CRM and other tools as well as build a customized WhatsApp chatbot for lead gen or customer service.
Regardless of reach or the features available, both messaging apps share the same premise. That is, users have to opt-in one way or another for your brand to be able to contact them.
This simple rule not only shields people from receiving heaps of unwanted messages but also ensures the consumers on your list are indeed quality leads interested in what you have to say or offer.
Lead Gen & Marketing Strategies for Messaging Apps
Now, you might be wondering how you can take advantage of the popularity of messaging platforms to generate leads and/or improve customer service. Here are a few simple tricks.
Building a WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger bot enables you to be there for your customers 24/7 and provide instant responses.
Naturally, a chatbot can’t deal with every single query, especially not the more complex ones. However, it can take customer experience from frustrating to enjoyable by helping you sort and distribute queries more effectively.
For example, you can:
- Automate responses to the most common inquiries (e.g., “Delivery Cost for Spain”);
- Use the bot to identify issues and streamline requests to the right person on your team (Request for purchase support vs. Complaint);
- Eliminate the waiting time frustration by designing the bot to schedule a call/chat if an agent is not currently available (as opposed to saying the vague “we will be in touch in 48 hours”).
Best of all, you can do all that with lots of personality and even mix in some brand-appropriate entertainment.
You might be thinking that bots are a bit out of your budget league. But times have changed. Significantly!
Firstly, a conversational chatbot doesn’t necessarily mean the use of expensive and unpredictable AI. Many affordable tools allow you to build choice-based bots and do so without coding.
OK, you have Facebook/WhatsApp bot, but what now?
How do you get prospects to learn about its existence and talk to it?
Naturally, Facebook makes it easier as you can implement a “Message Us” button on your Facebook Page.
Still, that does little for people who visit your website or landing page.
An easy and straightforward way to let potential shoppers know you are on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger is integrating a “Click-to-WhatsApp” or “Click-to-Messenger” buttons on various pages of your website or even inside email communication.
When users click on such a button, he or she is redirected to the messenger or WhatsApp (mobile or web).
NOTE: If the user doesn’t have WhatsApp web, the button can offer the phone number or (better) a QR code to open the chat on mobile upon scanning.
Naturally, there is a paid version, too!
Facebook offers an advertising option where people who click on your ad are taken straight to a Messenger or WhatsApp chatbot.
This is still a novel thing, so it can help you stand out among your competition, and chances are your potential customers will appreciate it more than a regular ad.
For example, Lego had great success with their gift recommendation bot Ralph, which they promoted with Facebook’s click-to-Messenger ads.
You can message the bot if you are struggling with picking the right gift for a child. When you reach out to it, it will ask you a few questions that help it determine which set would be most suitable for the child in question and then provide a recommendation.
Don’t be misled by Ralph’s fun and quirky appearance. It has made Lego a lot of money.
In fact, according to Sumo, Lego has seen a 6x return on ad spend in the markets where they used this chatbot, and their cost per conversion went down by 31% (compared to other ads).
Of course, there’s also all the free publicity that Ralph has generated (people were excited about such a well-made bot).
You can take a page out of Lego’s book and create your own chatbot that you can then promote with Facebook’s click-to-Messenger and click-to-WhatsApp ads.
If you do it right, it will significantly drive down your cost per lead, which is great for your bottom line.
As we mentioned in our other piece on WhatsApp Marketing, messaging apps are a great way to pull marketing stats and draw attention.
You can use such a stunt to encourage people to contact you and hence “opt-in” for communication with your brand for a promise of reward or pure entertainment.
Famously, Absolut Vodka created a virtual WhatsApp bouncer Sven to reward exclusive tickets to a VIP product launch party. All users had to do, was to contact Seven and try to persuade him to give them the tickets by creating convincing stories, sending videos and pics. People got crazy creative!
You might not go so big. Filling out a simple conversational quiz for a chance of a prize can be equally as attractive. Or, when it comes to B2B, a promise of an exclusive eBook or exclusive hacks can do the magic.
The opportunities are endless!
In 2021, it won’t be enough to create a website, collect email addresses, or make cold phone calls.
You can’t just sit there and wait for the customers to come to you. You need to take the conversation where consumers feel at home and hang out the most.
And where is that? On messaging apps.
It saves them time and provides the cozy feeling of a comfort zone without much effort on your part.
These apps will only continue to grow in popularity in the foreseeable future, and so will the potential and advantages of instant messaging apps marketing.
You can’t afford to neglect them if you are serious about your business.