Snapchat, WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Line, Viber…

The messaging apps just keep on coming—and they’re going to determine the future of your marketing and customer service strategy, regardless of whether your customer is mobile or logged in on their computer.

According to eMarketer, messaging apps were used by over 1.4 billion people worldwide in 2015—a 32% jump from the year before. And that number is expected to hit 2 billion by 2018. In fact, Mary Meeker’s 2015 Internet Trends Report found that six of the 10 most popular apps are centered around messaging.

The messaging mania has already taken over in Asia and Europe. As the Wall Street Journal noted, hundreds of millions of people in China use WeChat to do everything from buy shoes to book doctors’ appointments. Meanwhile, closer to home, Facebook launched its standalone Messenger app just last year to latch onto the fast-growing trend. It already has over 900 million monthly users.

Then, at the recent F8 conference, Facebook announced that Messenger now supports bots. This means marketers can send personalized messages to users through Messenger, such as order confirmations, shipping updates, or news content. It’s easy to imagine the potential for messaging app bots to transform the way brands communicate with customers.

So, the secret’s out; messaging apps are going to be huge in marketing. Are you ready for them?

Here’s what you need to know about the messaging app revolution and how you can use it to boost your marketing strategy.

CTA: Get A Fact Sheet With the Top Messaging App Stats

Who’s Using these Messaging Apps?

According to eMarketer, 58% of messaging app users worldwide live in the Asia-Pacific region, with a significant amount also based in Latin America. To break this down even further, here’s a handy chart from 2015 outlining the top three messaging apps in five major countries throughout the world:

Top Messaging Apps

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While location differs for each app, two demographics seem to be consistent among them all: Millennials and Gen-Zers.

A recent study from Pew Research found that 49% of smartphone owners aged 18 to 29 use messaging apps. Going even younger, in Gen-Z territory, eMarketer reported that Facebook Messenger is used regularly by 50% of US teens, and Snapchat is used by 47%.

These users are also devoting a lot of time to messaging apps. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “messaging apps are used an average of almost nine times a day, compared with 1.9 for all apps.” For instance, users of the popular messaging app Kik spend 35 minutes per session. And, true to this Millennials theme, 82% of those users are aged 13 to 24.

…And Why?

If people want to communicate with friends, why don’t they just send a text or make a phone call? There are a few key reasons.

Messaging apps provide a cheap (often totally free) alternative to SMS messaging and voice calls. Since you only need WiFi to communicate on messaging apps, you don’t have to risk racking up data charges or minutes on your phone.

Younger users are also ditching more traditional, time-consuming modes of communication like email in favor of messaging apps. In fact, Juniper Research predicts that the amount of instant messages sent will eclipse emails sent by mid-2016.

As Amy Dusto wrote for Internet Retailer: “The new generation is media obsessed, image focused and craving a more dynamic channel for expression than limiting traditional text messages. They want messaging that moves as fast as them, understanding their language by supporting GIFs and complex emoji’s [sic].”

That’s the appeal of messaging apps, and brands are catching onto their benefits.

How Brands Are Using Messaging Apps

Marketing on these apps goes beyond just launching ads or sponsored content. In fact, two of the biggest messaging apps—Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp—don’t even offer ads (at least, not yet). Rather, it’s about setting up a space where you can talk to customers directly and meet them where they’re already comfortable communicating.

New programs like Facebook Messenger’s bots will only make this process easier, especially since developers can build their own bots on the platform, opening doors for innovation in chat, commerce, and customer support.

Here’s how.

Customer Service

Messaging apps have already transformed the customer service industry; brands can start personalized, real-time conversations with customers by inviting them to reach out with any questions and concerns. Messaging apps can even bolster in-store customer service if buyers have questions on the sales floor.

Jeweler Rare Pink says that 10% of its customers communicate with sales reps exclusively through WhatsApp. The privacy of the app is helpful for people who are trying to keep their purchases (like engagement rings) a surprise.

Travel brands, in particular, have pioneered customer service on messaging apps, finding ways to connect with travelers while they’re on the go. For example, Hyatt is reaching Chinese markets through WeChat. In 2015, the hotel chain received more than 50,000 WeChat messages—60% regarding on-site stays and 40% regarding bookings.

Launching Contests or Games

Messaging apps aren’t just for chatting. Brands can have a bit of fun creating contests and games, too.

Israeli chocolate company Klik used WhatsApp to launch its own game called Klik Says, a spin-off of Simon Says. Through promotions on Facebook, users were encouraged to add Klik to their group chats on WhatsApp. From there, they received commands from Klik, and were invited to send back photos to play the game.

[Embed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bcxm753Zjcg]

According to TechCrunch, more than 2,000 teens added Klik on WhatsApp and 91% completed the game. Klik’s Facebook engagement also increased by 51%.

Buying Stickers

Not too long ago, if you heard a musician was promoting their work with stickers, you might picture some tangible decals you could put on your backpack or guitar case. Today, these stickers are digital, and they’re all over messaging apps.

A few apps like Line and WeChat allow businesses to buy branded stickers that users can send to friends in their chats. For example. Paul McCartney teamed up with Line to release his own collection of exclusive stickers; they even come with specially recorded soundbites (but can only be heard on the app).

Messaging App Marketing Sticker

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Promoting Sales

By sending out messages to select groups and demographics, brands can spread the word about new product launches and special offers; they can also use geolocation data to reach people in certain areas, such as near a store.

Using Snapchat for this strategy, Taco Bell has seen 80% of its audience open the snaps and 90% watch the brand’s videos (some of which are up to five minutes long) in their entirety.

The E-Commerce Factor

Beyond just marketing and customer service, messaging apps can be part of the sale, too. As noted above, WeChat has largely pioneered this strategy in China, but other apps are creating their own e-commerce programs as well.

Last year, Facebook partnered with retail brands Everlane and Zulily to test its new capabilities. Using only the chat app, customers can receive order confirmation, track their purchase, and even modify the order and add items—without ever having to go through the retailer’s website. A recent partnership with Uber also allows users to order rides right on the Messenger app.

Over in Thailand, Maybelline ran a limited-time sale on Line Mall—Line’s e-commerce app—and ended up selling 500 lipsticks in five minutes.

Expect The Space To Get More Crowded—and Competitive

As messaging apps grow in popularity—and start to take over in the US like they have in Asia—we should see the space get more crowded. Just last year, Facebook launched Messenger as a standalone app, Twitter took away its 140-character limit for direct messaging, and Tumblr launched a chat feature on its platform. What could 2016 bring?

For one, Facebook is also set to roll out M, a virtual assistant that could give Apple’s Siri a run for her money. Presumably, the social network will be able to use the data collected from customers’ interaction with M and deliver personalized ads.

We might also see Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp start to monetize by launching ads and creating new ways for brands to reach their audiences. As Brian Honigman wrote about the messaging app revolution, “Competition almost always benefits the customer, and in this case the customers are advertisers and brands.”

The time is ripe for brands to start playing their part in the messaging app revolution. The best way to do that is to use the apps like your customers do: Create groups, share content, and interact with brands. Get a feel for why over 1.4 billion people are going crazy for these platforms, and launch your strategy to deliver the best customer experience possible.

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