Why WhatsApp’s brand plans could revolutionise mobile marketing
WhatsApp is now being used by 1 billion people around the world. The Facebook-owned app now outperforms the social network’s own Messenger mobile app, which has 800 million monthly users. The company said 42 billion messages and 250 million videos were sent over WhatsApp daily. Last month we put the spotlight on Twitter’s development over time and this month we are shining the light on WhatsApp.
What is WhatsApp?
WhatsApp is a free to download messenger app for smartphones. It uses the internet to send messages, images, audio or video. The concept is very similar to simple text messages, however the cost of using the service is lower as it uses an internet connection. It quickly gained popularity due to its usability and available functions.
Founded in 2009 by ex-Yahoo employees Brian Acton and Jan Koum it started as a small startup and swelled to 250,000 users in just a few months, growing so fast that they had to add a charge for using the service per year to slow the subscription rate down. In 2014 WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook. Prior to this deal with Facebook, Acton and Koum made millions of dollars without the need for advertising in two ways: they charged iPhone users a one-time $.99 fee upon installation and Android users $.99 every year (after the first year).
The Battle of Chat Apps
Messaging apps are becoming one of the most competitive segments in the world of tech. Apps like WeChat, one of WhatsApp’s biggest competitors, are used by hundreds of millions of people to send a variety of messages to people all over the world for free. WhatsApp has recently announced that it is dropping its subscription fee, a move that aims to attract more users, especially in the emerging markets, and which could increase the user base at a faster pace. Due to this decision, Facebook will need an alternative monetisation plan to generate higher revenues per user which could bring significant changes to the future of the app.
WeChat has added a lot of features to its app including electronic payments which can be used inside shops to replace cash, taxi-hailing, commerce through WeShop, the ability to purchase flight tickets, paying your utility bills, and much more. Features which WhatsApp could take inspiration from if wanting to remain competitive.
WhatsApp announced that it is increasing the maximum number of people in one group conversation from 100 to 256 people. The move to expand group conversations could be the first step in WhatsApp’s new business plan after removing the subscription fee, which aims to connect companies with their customers through the popular chat app. For example, an airline could use the app to contact customers about a flight cancellation or upcoming delays. In a recent announcement, WhatsApp said it will charge multi-national companies to conduct customer service chats and calls via WhatsApp.
However, it’s worth noting that WhatsApp CEO Koum did not approve the traditional advertising model in a company blog post, though the number of people the service can reach is extremely valuable for businesses.
If Facebook intends to integrate advertising into Messenger, it would be sensible to do the same with WhatsApp, since the two properties are basically messaging platforms.
However, there is a difference between Messenger and WhatsApp. Messenger can latch onto the business pages that are present on Facebook. On the other end, WhatsApp users tend to be interested more in connecting with their beloved ones, friends and their family. In short, the platform is not business-centered. Instead, the company intends to try out B2C accounts for companies.
Changing the Consumer Interaction Ecosystem?
One positive aspect of WhatsApp opening to brands is its real-time consumer service capabilities. By bringing a brand into WhatsApp, there is the potential to create real-time interactions with consumers, including the potential for Artificial Intelligence (AI) to be integrated via the use of AI bots that can talk to customers in real-time, dramatically reducing the cost of customer services without necessarily compromising on quality. This would allow consumers to interact with local brands when abroad to carry out tasks such as booking restaurants, because AI is able to work irrespective of the language, and is not limited by the language skills of a native customer service operative.
On another note, WhatsApp recently introduced a desktop version. WhatsApp Web is a free service that allows you to chat with your WhatsApp contacts from the desktop of a Windows, Linux, or Mac PC, using just a browser. It uses the phone to establish the connection and offers synchronisation between devices, so the web-based service is more like a way to connect to the phone and chat with contacts. This opens more doors for WhatsApp, allowing a larger audience to be tapped into.
Breaking News Through WhatsApp?
WhatsApp and similar applications make it possible for news organisations to reach the far-flung corners of the globe where other media are often blocked. This is made even more powerful with the elimination of the subscription fee
The BBC News recently conducted an experiment in this area. Rather than setting targets for subscribers or audience reach, BBC undertook pilot tests as proof-of-concepts to see if there was an appetite for editorial products from users on platforms such as WhatsApp, WeChat and BBM. In one test, BBC News set up an account on WhatsApp during the Indian elections back in 2014. Users were put onto a ‘broadcast list’ where they would receive a maximum of three updates a day, in both Hindi and English. Posted content included audio, video clips, and daily text headlines. Similar tests were carried out in India using WeChat, on BBM for the BBC Hausa service in Nigeria, and Mxit during the South African elections. This personalised and targeted approach by the BBC News received a positive response overall.
We’ve seen how social media platforms successfully cover breaking news with customised hashtags, Twitter ‘Moments’ and Facebook’s Safety Check, so for WhatsApp to enter this arena would not be far fetched. As WhatsApp is used so heavily used it will be interesting to see if the service will be used for breaking news or updates.
WhatsApp has come a long way in a short period of time and there is still great potential for the app to continue growing, with consumers and businesses eagerly waiting to see what comes next. The service has a real opportunity to evolve into a real-time database that can help businesses to understand consumers better and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for WhatsApp.
This month we placed the spotlight on WhatsApp, so don’t forget to tune in next month when we place the spotlight on Voice Search. If you missed it, make sure you read last month’s spotlight which was all about Twitter.