438 billion instant messages are sent every single day. The rise of the mobile internet has slowly eroded the importance of social media in how we contact each other, with dedicated messaging apps tapping into the desire for streamlined communication and exploding in popularity. When Facebook bought WhatsApp for a reported $19 billion in 2014, many scoffed at what they saw as a ludicrous sum, but it now outstrips their own Messenger by about 100 million monthly active users.
With end-to-end encryption in place and a lack of banner or pop up advertising, though, exactly how Facebook plans to recoup its investment in WhatsApp has been a popular question. Brands, too, will be looking at the messaging app boom wondering how best to engage customers on what is a quite incredible market. According to VentureBeat, some 2.1 billion people use messaging apps around the world, ‘with an almost Pavlovian response to that notification chime.’ This number could rise to 3.6 billion by 2018, and if brands can find a way to exploit it without being invasive, the return could be immense.
The Atlantic termed it ‘dark social’, a space not as measurable as the likes of Facebook or Twitter. Brands are free to set up accounts on both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and some have been experimenting with ways to build engagement with the accounts further than straightforward customer service. British shoe manufacturer Clarks, for example, has used WhatsApp to allow its fans to talk to three characters representing subcultures from British history, all of which have adopted its famous desert boot as part of their style. The campaign was an attempt to align the brand with subculture more widely, so it’s no surprise the company took it into ‘dark social’ and added a personal touch. Fans would have to add the three characters individually on WhatsApp, a voluntary step that will terrify some digital marketers.
Essentially, mobile messaging requires a different approach. It’s difficult to incorporate mobile messaging into a wider campaign, and Clarks’ standalone campaign is an example of how brands need to think differently. Bombarding your audience won’t work, mobile messing isn’t email. Because mobile phones are so personal, a customer’s threshold for bombardment will be far lower than that of email, and the real winners will be those who find a way to have the customer initiate the conversation.
It’s an exciting platform, though. Facebook’s transparent attempt to turn Messenger into a one-stop shop of functionality - users will be able to book taxis, order food, secure tickets to shows, etc, all from within the app - means that opportunities for brands will be great, albeit within the limited framework of Messenger. Facebook is working for transactions to be carried out on Messenger seamlessly, offering brands the opportunity to effortlessly turn a conversation with a customer into a sale.
Facebook doesn’t plan on taking a cut, either: ‘The margins on payments aren't that high,’ said David Marcus, Facebook’s head of messaging products. ‘We want the broadest reach. Businesses will want to pay to be featured or promoted — which is a bigger opportunity for us.’ The opportunities for the brands will be in marketing and e-commerce rather than ads, though, as the distinction between the two becomes increasingly blurred on platforms like Messenger. No one is entirely sure what messaging app marketing will look like once the nascent field takes hold, but brands should consider putting together a strategy for it. As messaging apps grow against social media - mobile usage of the top four messaging apps overtook that of the top four social media apps in 2015 - the opportunity to extract value grows with them. 483 billion instant messages are sent every single day, and your voice should be included in that conversation.