This morning, you woke up with a question on your mind:
Am I giving my audience an experience?
You obsessed over it en route to the office.
Once there, you scrolled through your brand’s digital properties, making a mental checklist as you explored. Digital media site that publishes content regularly: check. Comprehensive website: check. Active social accounts: check.
All the right pieces seemed to be in place, but you couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. So you did some research, and you stumbled upon a MarketingProfs blog from earlier this year:
Interactive content, you thought. That’s what’s missing. Chat apps. Surveys. Something beyond a phone number and a nonspecific email address. You needed to set something up that helped people get involved with the brand story you’ve created. The user’s experience was flat. You needed to add dimension.
But in your research, you quickly realized one thing: chat applications are complicated. While the idea of having a conversation with someone seems simple, the use of messaging platforms, especially for brands, is anything but. However, with messaging apps surpassing social networks in popularity (and therefore user base size), their market share and penetration make them an obvious way to reach any target audience, anywhere.
Obvious, maybe. Easy? Not necessarily There are several barriers to entry for brands seeking to understand how to achieve marketing transformation through the conversational future. What’s more, many of your competitors may already be taking advantage of the interactive experience afforded by chat apps. Fortunately, it’s not too late to differentiate your experience from that of the next brand’s. Here’s what you need to know.
There are many widely used messaging apps to choose from—Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat, and more—that it’s hard to know where to start. Though the major apps each offer different functionality and market share, they also all promise the same thing: one-on-one engagement with an attentive audience. That is, if the platform supports brand participation.
Engaging potential customers via messaging apps is a delicate balancing act. It can feel immensely personal and helpful, as if someone is always available to talk via the preferred communication method of an entire generation, but it can also feel invasive—messaging services are an intimate, safe space in a media-saturated internet. As Mark W. Schaefer wrote for the Harvard Business Review:
Although discoverability may present a challenge, private messaging could offer even more engagement for the brands that can figure it out. …The open rate for a private message [is] 98 percent. Smartphone users are also more likely to have push notifications turned on for a messaging app than for email, a branded app, or even for Facebook. But that means the expectations are high. How do we insert ads and brand messages in conversations in a way that isn’t disappointing… or creepy?
Facebook may have found an answer.
According to Business Insider, “Messaging apps are about more than messaging. The first stage of the chat app revolution was focused on growth. In the next phase, companies will focus on building out services and monetizing chat apps’ massive user base.”
Facebook appears to be leading that charge with the recent announcement that it is integrating games into Messenger. Instant Games, as they’re known in Facebook speak, are poised to do a few big things for the platform. They feature a call to action from the main News Feed via a “high score bragging feature,” yet another way in which the social network is achieving total social media dominance. What’s more, these games invite third-party apps and content into conversations among friends. This is a boon for brands wondering how messaging apps fit into marketing transformation strategies as audience preferences continue to evolve. China continues to set trends in messaging app features, which has given brands an opportunity to implement highly successful strategies in the country’s most popular app, WeChat.
Studying those features and campaigns, the rollout of Instant Games makes perfect sense. Games inside of messaging apps are the perfect way to gently introduce users to branded content in an otherwise private space. Gameplay may be single or multiplayer, which means that users can be exposed to brands of their own volition.
That sense of agency is key when it comes to native advertising in such individual channels—and it’s the leading edge in conversational marketing, which is what happens any time a brand engages an individual user via a chatbot or other messaging service. Conversational marketing allows marketers to place their content in a more discoverable location without imposing upon users, and it allows users to gain free amenities from a brand—the type of win-win solution that’s at the root of native advertising.
For B2C marketers—especially retailers—whose brands aren’t already using chat apps as part of their brand experiences, consider this your motivation to start: according to a recent Facebook survey reported by Business Insider, “more than half (53 percent) of customers said they’re more likely to shop with a business that they can contact via a chat app.”
And if you really want an edge over competitors who might already be using conversation apps, get your game on. Brands have already proven that embracing app-specific features such as games, gifts, stickers, and GIFs is a great way to meet audiences where they already are without interrupting them. Imagine a set of Coca-Cola polar bear stickers on your Snapchat or a mindlessly addicting game in the vein of Angry Birds that integrates, say, footwear, into a simple gameplay interface. By integrating with the games and apps their audiences love, brands can put their own spins on the type of content consumers already want—which makes their brand experience more complete.
It may seem tough to navigate the messaging madness without seeming too intrusive, but with the ever-growing number of features and outsized user bases, such apps are quickly replacing traditional social media networks as the primary place people go to interact with each other and share and consume multimedia content. Messaging is a dominant force in today’s digital landscape, and the sooner we acknowledge it, the better prepared we can be for the next change of direction in consumer behavior.
Whether your brand is poised to make a marquee statement with a Snapchat filter or Instant Game is almost irrelevant—the most important takeaway from recent news and yearlong trends is messaging apps are enjoying increasing popularity among ever-growing audiences across demographics. As you budget for the New Year and beyond, this shift in the social media landscape is worth acting on—after all, audiences are already talking to brands through these quieter channels. What matters is that you’re there to listen.
From interaction to augmentation, brands across industries have a lot to add to their audiences’ conversations. As with every trend, this one will continue to evolve, and gamification is but one way that enterprises will be invited into the supposedly sacred space that is a conversation between friends. Tread lightly but act quickly. Your competitors are.