When I was little, my dad would take me grocery shopping. Aside from begging him for every form of chocolate in sight, my main mission at the store was collecting coupons out of the dispensers in each aisle. Why? To acquire as many as possible so that I could promptly set up shop with stuffed animals in my room. I’d exchange my precious coupons for a variety of “groceries” at home. At least I had access to all the chocolate cake (albeit plastic) I could want in that world.
The act of exchanging money for goods, of course, was only something new and exciting to a naive 6-year-old. An ancient concept in reality, currency has existed in some form (from barter, to miniature replicas, to coins, to paper, to plastic) since prehistoric times.
And, its form continues to evolve, these days faster than ever. About two decades ago, I cashed in money and coupons in my living room: a scene that, at the time, could be nothing other than imaginary. But now as an adult, I can sit in my living room and make real purchases using real (virtual) money on my smartphone.
Life has been thrown out of balance for consumers and marketers alike by this most recent evolution of currency from paper cash (or plastic cards) to online mobile payments. That’s what the digital age does; it disrupts old industries and ways of life time and time again. But we, as content marketers, can help convince the world to move on from old systems of payment. How? By optimizing our use of these payment systems, now surfacing in messaging apps, and providing the most ideal customer experience possible.
What can brands employ to achieve this? Something that will never go extinct: storytelling.
With Facebook Messenger for Business rolling out at the beginning of this year, messaging apps have gone from a distant, foreign blip on marketers’ radar to a front-and-center focus. In part one of this series, we considered the symbolism of the “unread message” and presented three messenger apps marketers should be aware of as this trend takes off.
Companies have been aiming to devise the ultimate “everything-app” with messaging components at their core; something WeChat has already had well underway. A major component to this “everything-app” has been a mobile payment system, which WeChat achieved through its creation of WeChat Wallet and WeChat Pay. Tencent’s first release of online payment figures in 2015 revealed successful statistics associated with this integration: At least one in five active users were enrolled for WeChat “payments,” which enabled easy transactions within WeChat Wallet services, all official accounts selling products or services, and associated promotions or campaigns. WeChat’s red envelope campaign for the Chinese New Year undoubtedly helped gain the 200 million user cards attached to the payment services reported in November 2015.
To be sure, the digital wallet is not groundbreakingly new. With options like Google Pay and Apple Wallet rolling out in 2011 and 2014 respectively, the difference between these apps and WeChat’s services is the payment system’s existence in a messaging-central app for the latter.
Venmo, Facebook, and Snapchat are three apps to have rolled out mobile payment options over the past few years as well. While these services fall more directly within WeChat’s messaging space, their payment systems were designed for peer-to-peer transactions. I personally witnessed both sides of the user response to this: Some of my friends claimed these payment options were the best thing to ever happen to their 10-person dinner outings while others refused to employ them based on skepticism about security.
And, who can blame them? We’re talking about social media platforms that were seemingly reaching outside of their wheelhouse. Social media platforms that we have seen, first hand, get hopelessly hacked—both by friends in good fun and by malicious spammers. How can skeptical users be so sure that the convenience factor outweighs any potential pitfalls (especially pitfalls with such high stakes)?
Now that messaging apps like Facebook have offered responsive and direct communication channels for businesses, as well as a recently teased in-store purchases service for messenger, it’s the marketer’s job to make the user feel comfortable in spite of an otherwise uncomfortable shift. Don’t get me wrong, the responsibility to create highly secure systems falls on companies like Tencent, Facebook, and others who will undoubtedly follow, but it’s the marketer’s job to make users feel at home.
And to do this, brands must perfect storytelling. Brands must be especially trustworthy, authoritative, and compelling on these channels to help ease consumers into this largely unfamiliar territory. Engaging users with stories not only means perfecting age-old techniques, but also exploring and appropriately using new ones. Chatbots, for example, are a potential story-aiding functionality in messenger apps that should be used thoughtfully as such.
One example of a brand that has explored this type of storytelling and engagement on WeChat is Chanel. Among many other features, WeChat allows brands to build their own mini-websites, which they can leverage for great storytelling and customer experiences. Chanel has used this mini-website opportunity to deliver amazing story-form content (actually divided into chapters), which you can see a version of on their main site here.
Payment systems will likely continue to evolve, and with them, so too will the imaginative settings of little kids discovering the fun in purchasing power. And while I certainly feel sad that maybe the concept of “playing store” at home will change as more users move to online experiences (for both shopping and purchasing), there are indisputable constants that prevail in the face of this unsettling shift. The first being storytelling.
The second? My commitment to chocolate cake.
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