Why brands must get to know instant messaging apps

Snapchat: ripe for marketers
Snapchat: ripe for marketers

Messaging apps such as Snapchat and WhatsApp may have huge appeal among always-on, tech-savvy users, but they have been slow to monetise. Brands can still take the initiative - and now is the time, writes Dan Calladine, head of media futures at Carat.

Since WhatsApp was bought by Facebook, the service has grown at a rate of around 800,000 users per a day. Its ephemeral rival, Snapchat, has also rocketed in popularity, with a reported 100m users and a monetisation plan in SnapChat Discovery, which will offer ads, TV and film clips, plus news.

According to a recent Juniper report, users will desert SMS, with instant messaging set to account for 75% of all mobile messaging traffic by 2018.

But despite the growing popularity of instant messaging among consumers - mostly due to messages being ‘free’ with a data plan - just 2% of those apps generate revenue, representing a huge untapped market.

WhatsApp has always been focused on keeping its messaging service a market-free zone, and its motto has always been "no ads, no games, no gimmicks".

Others are more open to brands. Asian app Line, boasting 300m users, allows brands to offer ‘sticker’ packs for users to send as messages. Numerous sport and entertainment brands are tapping into this opportunity and Line says it makes $10m a month from sticker sales. 

WeChat, with 440m users, is also actively trying to generate revenues by focusing more on e-commerce. It offers brands official pages, and allows them to set up stores within the app. 

Brands are already running successful sales promotions on the app. Chinese mobile company Xiaomi sold 150,000 handsets on WeChat in less than 10 minutes in a November campaign last year. International brands have also tapped into WeChat, including Starbucks and Burberry for this season’s London Fashion Week.

But while these channels offer significant opportunities, it’s essential brands recognise the differences between each service to use them effectively.

Personal communication

While social channels are good for sharing widely, and making things go viral, messaging apps are good for one-to-one communication – like offering personal experiences, handling customer queries, and – most importantly – for selling.

Advertising definitely isn’t the only thing that messengers can be used for – brands need to understand the sorts of things people use the apps for, and see how they could offer services and be useful in those contexts.

Know the platform

Work with the quirks of the system.  Snapchat’s differentiator is the disappearing messages – which seemed to rule it out for advertising, until marketers hit on teasing new cars and products, and also sending voucher codes that would disappear. Snapchat now also offers filters relating to certain places – Disneyland is one partner brand - allowing customers to send engaging snaps while visiting. 

Similarly, Line and Facebook Messenger use ‘stickers’ or engaging pictures that can be inserted into messages – with films such as the Muppets, LEGO and Mr Peabody & Sherman taking advantage of this. 

Be useful

Messaging is perfect for offering one-to-one advice and help. Hellmann’s offered a service where chefs could give tips and sort out problems over WhatsApp, called WhatsCook.  Adapting to a more broadcast model, the Oxford Mail newspaper sends out news alerts via WhatsApp several times a day

Follow the crowd

Be where your audience is.  As with everything else, use the channels that are likely to connect you to your most engaged audience.  Few over the age of 25 have heard of Kik, but One Direction used the four-year-old platform last year to engage with fans, making use of its special features like chat rooms.


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