It’s not easy being a brand online. You have so much to take care of when it comes to marketing. Social media is showing no signs of slowing down. The recent explosion in the popularity of messenger apps means that there is yet another set of social media tools and platforms that you have to get a handle on.

As with all aspects of social media messenger apps have their good points and their bad points. Some of them may not even be a good fit for your brand. But getting to know what they are all about is something every brand should do.

Let’s get the big news out of the way first. Messenger apps are absolutely huge. WhatsApp, one of the largest platforms, has one billion monthly active users. This user base is getting larger every day. The speed and ease of use of the very best apps means that they are simple to pick up and run with.

Messenger Apps For Brands: The Beginner's Guide

Some simple points to make about these apps

We know they have become very popular, but using the word ‘popular’ is almost a bit of a disservice. Facebook Messenger passed the 900 million active users mark this year.

We’re talking serious numbers here. That accessibility means the growth will not stop any time soon. Nearly every messenger app has shown steady growth over the past year. While Facebook Messenger may be an exception due to the size of the parent platform, every app in this particular bag is looking good.

It’s also important to remember that they are used a lot too, not just downloaded. The ever popular WhatsApp has seen a huge level of growth, but its usage is nothing to be sniffed at either. UK users spend 18 minutes a day on average on WhatsApp, which makes it a place people are spending a lot of time on. That could end up being very good news for brands.

Back in the summer of 2014 Facebook kind of set the tone when it made it clear that downloading Messenger was a non-negotiable. True, it acquired WhatsApp, but it simply wasn’t going to let any of it’s users chat on Facebook without Messenger. And that speaks volumes.

Quick Case Study: Snapchat

Snapchat was just weird when it first arrived. Short conversations that died almost immediately. How was that going to work?

But it did work. Snapchat became the cooler version of most chat apps. Essentially the ADHD cousin of WhatsApp. Then it launched Discover.

Discover is kind of cool because it allows for brands to offer news and features through the platform. These can be made to look gorgeous (budget dependent) and they can be very effective. The only problem is that Snapchat is kind of protective of its platform. It has even booted publishers out.

Take Yahoo. This is a publisher that has plenty of form, and knows how to deliver news, right? Well, Snapchat invited Yahoo to be one of the lucky few that could have access to the publishing element and then told them to leave. That’s right. Snapchat kicked Yahoo out. Yahoo only lasted five months in 2015.

Why can Snapchat do this? Because it knows that it has power. We are still in the same situation that Facebook was in recently with Instant Articles. Only a select group of publishers is in. Very much on invitation only. That may change soon as Snapchat realises it can make even more money out of publishing.

Publishers were recently allowed to run ads. Companies have provided ads on Snapchat feeds. Universal Pictures has run ads on the Snapchat National Geographic channel.

Imagine if more brands were allowed to get a piece of that. Discover may well turn to an open platform soon. If Snapchat does this then it will open up the messaging approach to brands worldwide.

A final thought on Snapchat. The small TV network Fusion ran a series exclusively for European Snapchat viewers. Each of the six episodes lasted around three minutes. And guess what? One of the first things it did is ask for advertisers to appear in the segments.

An even quicker case study: Line

It’s a bit of a baby in the world of messenger apps, but the Japanese platform has already made its presence felt. It even made the MIT list for the smartest companies in 2015.

The Asia market is gigantic. With over 215 million active users monthly (December 2015) the reach can be huge if an organization wants it.

The Economist, a hugely influential business magazine, didn’t have quite the reach it wanted in Asia, so it chose to focus on Line rather the other apps such as WhatsApp. It’s paying off too as within six weeks the publication had nearly 100,000 news subscribers.

It worked because The Economist went out to reach that audience. It tailored its content to the platform with unique templates and audio as well as video.

How messenger apps might work for brands

First a caveat. Brands have to tread very carefully if they are planning to get going on messenger apps. The most important thing to remember here is that messenger apps are very personal. People are using them to talk to each other. They are not talking to brands.

If a brand starts crashing in and interrupts, it is only going to fail. Messenger apps are perhaps the perfect example of ‘softly softly’ marketing. You really do need permission here.

There is an element of time too. If your brand is to take advantage of the messenger experience it needs to be low key. You need to essentially ask for an invite into the conversation.

You have to build an audience on the platform first. So even if Snapchat decided to roll out Discover for every brand under the sun, if you jumped in and started advertising 24 hours a day they could probably kick you out. It’s all about presence.

Build that presence on all your other platforms first. It’s absolutely essential that you have a clear voice on your website, Facebook, Twitter or whatever else you use. Once this is in place, you can venture into the messenger field.

The issue with messenger apps is that they are self-contained. Linking out to your other assets isn’t necessarily possible (it definitely isn’t on Snapchat). You have to have a strong brand online first. You need a real conversation happening with your customers before you even begin to get started on messengers.

Case Study: Toyota

Toyota is a large company. It knows how to market itself, but it had the same difficult nut to crack with messenger apps that everyone else does. To address this it worked on a fantastic WhatsApp campaign. The campaign asked Spanish WhatsApp users to ‘flirt’ with a new car. The cheesiest and most entertaining chat-up lines won the competition. The car was the prize.

99% of mobile messenger app users have WhatsApp in Spain. It was a market worth going for. But the real key here was the company having to rely on its other platforms to get the buzz about the WhatsApp campaign. It could not have done it without that focus on its users on Facebook. WhatsApp number for Toyota Spain was given out on Facebook and the rest was marketing magic.

Case Study: Taco Bell

The food giant in the US used Snapchat to drum up a buzz for its many promotions. The key here is the short-lived nature of Snapchat. Everything lasts for seconds basically. Taco Bell capitalised on that by using a ticking clock in its work on the platform. This got people excited and engaged.

Taco Bell made it clear from the outset that they were going to focus on ensuring that they kept things informal and conversational. The truth is clear. If you push a sales pitch people just aren’t going to listen. People are literally there to talk, not buy. To make them buy you need to be part of the conversation.

Case Study: Bild

The German news service scored something of a coup recently. They became (according to their own reckoning) the first news service to use Messenger Bots to add own content to the platform.

Facebook has allowed only a few companies and organizations to build these ‘bots’. The bots enable customers to interact on Messenger with the brand. Imagine a supermarket asking people to respond on Messenger to gain a discount and you get the picture.

Bild is a news service. It has delivered news to its readers via Messenger. Readers can subscribe through the news ticker. It’s pretty simple. It’s revolutionary stuff compared to where we were even a couple of years ago.

It shows how messenger apps are the absolutely perfect place for a news provider (including brands that provide news) to fit into the lives of their audience.

It’s not news providers only either. Facebook Messenger is pushing into commerce too. You can now check in, get boarding pass and contact customer support with KML on Facebook Messenger. Expect many more brands to get onto messengers with their own bots soon.

Lessons to learn

It’s arguable that the whole situation is still so new that it could be worthwhile waiting. The examples above show that the messenger app arena is not about wading in and advertising your stuff. Instead, you should focus on delivering useful, informal, fun elements to the conversation. Above all ensure that your other platforms are directing back to your messenger app work. No one is going to know about your presence on WhatsApp until you start talking about it.

How to get started

One of the very first things you need to do is get to know the platform. Many people balked at Snapchat at first, but then they realised that matching their strategy to the platform wasn’t all that difficult.

The fact that messages were short-lived wasn’t the kiss of death marketers thought it was. Teasing customers with fleeting messages about their products and services fitted in with Snapchat and its mechanics perfectly. Car companies began to tease images of new models and it worked. If you’re a brand and you have product releases coming up it’s a perfect opportunity to use Snapchat in the way it was intended.

When it comes to Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and other messengers you should consider the chat mechanics very carefully. For Facebook Messenger you also have to consider the new chatbots. The whole thrust behind WhatsApp is the individual level of communication. People like talking to each other on the platform very much on a one-to-one basis.

Capitalise on this very social place. Use personal messages and interactions that actually help people rather than annoy them. Think about customer service and you get the picture.

Knowledge is key just like with many other platforms. If you want to make serious inroads with messenger apps you should focus on being casual. Use the opportunity to build a brand elsewhere while you get involved in a conversation on messenger apps.

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