Whether to chat with friends near and far, or to receive messages from social groups, messenger apps like WhatsApp, Kik and Facebook Messenger are shifting the way we communicate within our circles of friends and family. Currently boasting over 1.4 billion users worldwide, brands are taking notice of these apps too. In 2013, Absolut used WhatsApp to tell 600 fans about an exclusive Absolut Unique launch party in Argentina, the British shoe brand Clarks used WhatsApp to promote its Desert Boot, and AMC promoted the tenth anniversary of The Walking Dead with the app Line, using customized stickers that fans received upon adding the brand on the app.
Every year Mary Meeker, a leading venture capitalist, releases an in-depth and insightful report on current internet trends. Her 2015 report showed that messenger apps are globally dominating phone usage among adults, with six of the top ten most used apps falling into the messenger app category. So why the jump from text to chat? For one, messenger apps are pulling from consumers’ data plans or from Wi-Fi instead of accruing text-messaging rates. They also act as a “universal converter” for mobile operating systems. Consider this real life scenario: you just recorded a video montage of your fur baby (i.e. your ‘coddled pet’) in countless wardrobes appropriately synced it up to Beyoncé’s Crazy Right Now, and you want to send it to a friend. Chances are that the video file is too large to send via text. This is where apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat come in. They allow much larger file transfers at a much lower cost (if any) across any device. They also come with a library of special features that users can share, giving them the capability to combine all the top features of text, email and instant messaging rolled up into one platform.
Sounds great. But does this mean brands can jump in without annoying users? The trick is to create an experience that not only serves in the brand’s best interest, but plays an integral part in fulfilling a need of the consumer. Complaints about long wait times on customer service calls? Boom! Message the brand on Facebook Messenger. Need to check the status of an order? Send them a note on Kik to get the ETA. Currently 65% of global consumers have communicated with brands via chat apps at least once.
How are the brands doing it? In November 2015, Hyatt utilized Facebook Messenger to expand its customer service presence. Consumers were able to check vacancies, make reservations and order room service from the app. In December 2015, Rogers Communications (think Canadian AT&T) followed suit and appointed customer service reps to monitor its Facebook Messenger account to help customers with questions, update their accounts and set up new plans. The result? Call volume dropped 16% while customer satisfaction shot up 65%.
So why does all this matter? The key takeaway is that these interactions seem painless for the consumer. All the information transferred was housed in one form of communication. It was asynchronous yet instant — asynchronous communication is the exchange of messages, such as among the hosts on a network or devices in a computer, by reading and responding as schedules permit rather than according to some clock that is synchronized for both the sender and receiver or in real time; easy yet productive; engaging yet user-controlled; and most of all — convenient!
Consumers on the go can readily message customer service reps as well as “brandbots” to get info or make a purchase on demand from any brand willing to develop messaging for customer service or e-commerce. It’s the consumer equivalent of “phone a friend” except that the phone is a messenger, and that the friend is a robot. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
However, brands do face some challenges when trying out the space. Marketers must understand that what works with one app may not work with another, and that they are dependent on the app itself to retain the user base and deliver. With Gen-X’ers and Millennials preferring chat and social media over all other forms of communication, it should be an interesting transition as more brands shift from the social space into chat. But this is just the beginning of the possibilities for brands utilizing the platform. It’s still in the experimental stage, and brands are testing the water with anything from custom taco head filters on Snapchat to a custom emoji keyboard with winking Liberty Bells, which is available for most of the messenger apps. Brands will have to keep testing the water to see how best they can utilize the chat channel while retaining that high engagement and keeping the end user top-of-mind.