Messaging apps have slowly but surely been gaining traction among brands. Defined as software that enables messages to be sent and received, messaging apps can refer to instant messaging or email software, but can also refer to texting apps built into smartphones, or a third-party app that allows users to send and receive messages. These apps are getting increasingly popular as an advertising channel – even more so after Facebook announced the introduction of advertisements in WhatsApp from 2020 onwards.
The answer to better marketing?
Messaging is the most common digital activity that consumers undertake, with 9 in 10 users having used some kind of chat or messaging service in the past month, according to recent findings from GlobalWebIndex. This number may rise further as the threshold for social media content reaches saturation point, potentially giving rise to an “anti-social shift”: overwhelmed by the volume of social media content, users shift to other channels to consume the content they want.
Additionally, moving forward, a majority of consumers will be made up of Gen-Z and Young Millennials, who are mostly digital natives. Having grown up with access to smart devices has allowed them to navigate devices instinctively, setting the standard on the instantaneous manner at which they would expect content to be delivered. Understanding the demographics and content consumption habits of their target audience is key in assessing if messaging platforms are the right channels for advertisers. Moreover, authenticity and personalization are also now becoming must-haves when it comes to brand interactions, and these are aspects that might be better conveyed through messaging platforms.
For instance, brands can take customer engagement to the next level with the use of chatbots, which can better facilitate personalized, real-time interactions. Via a single channel, quality chatbots can serve a variety of functions that social media may not be able to as effectively: troubleshoot problems, and even recommend relevant products based on consumers’ input. Sephora, for example, launched a chatbot that was able to curate and send targeted content to users based on a short in-chat quiz that users had to complete. As such, leveraging quality messaging apps can provide brands with the potential to provide a much more effective means to give consumers what they need in the way they want.
eveling up the personal in personalization
Now, brands can no longer rely on their product or service alone as a differentiator; they must compete on the basis of delivering a superior experience. To do so, brands will need to have the latest, most comprehensive understanding of their target consumers, and make the call on the best context in which to build that relationship.
Through messaging apps, advertisers can amplify brand awareness in desired moments or moods— which can be achieved by targeting key emotions and conversation topics, and serving up relevant content exactly when the users need them. Additionally, brands can also seamlessly become a part of the messaging experience by branding existing features, such as stickers and GIFs. For instance, in conjunction with the launch of their Canopy Parks, Jewel Singapore also launched a series of GIFs that are centred around the themes of seeing and playing at Jewel. On messaging platforms that offer a wider breadth of services beyond a channel for communication, such as WeChat, there exist even more possibilities to engage consumers in opportune moments—via formats like Moments or banner ads, for instance.
For brands, engaging consumers on messaging apps can help increase brand resonance, enabling brands to create interactions that are emotional, rather than transactional. Brands that can create a sense of trust and authenticity in their engagements are more likely to be top of mind when it comes to brand resonance, which in turn increases the opportunity for conversion.
A need to address fundamental issues
While messaging apps present themselves as an opportune channel for brands to be on, the reality is, they are relatively nascent as an ad platform and will need some smart navigating in order to be properly and effectively leveraged. First of all, there’s the issue of data privacy—not all consumers are open to receiving ads on messaging apps. Part of the reason lies in the distrust that consumers have over how brands are using their data. In fact, it was found that 67% of the consumers surveyed said that they will not choose to purchase from a brand again if their data had been used without consent.These consumers also expect advertisers or companies to inform them prior to using their data.
This poses a big challenge for brands. Effective advertising is hinged on strategic targeting, which requires the collecting and analys=zing of extremely granular consumer data. To do that, brands will first need access to these data, a process which may be hindered by powerful encryption adopted by messaging apps.
To make things more challenging (with the exception of WeChat) most messaging apps lack a central place where ads can be displayed. Other forms of richer media such as Instagram Stories are usually add-ons to the basic service, which may not be what users are primarily using the app for.
Of course, this does not mean that brands should not be exploring messaging apps as an additional channel to amplify their outreach. Navigating these platforms successfully will require a good understanding of the platforms in question, and conceptualizing a strategy that goes beyond the traditional sponsored posts or in-app display ads. Brands should strive to pose the least disruption to the user experience as possible; the resulting ad should not be intrusive, and should prioritise the function that users primarily use the channel for.
Amid the backdrop of consumers becoming more selective over the type of content they consume; advertisers may find that effective advertising comes through when there is personalisation. While messaging apps are a great channel to deliver personalized interactions to consumers, brands need to also keep in mind the primary function that these messaging apps are for. To succeed, brands will need to be able to tread the fine line between the technical and the creative.