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Friday, 26 July 2013

The Explosion of Chat Apps and implications for Indian marketers

Japanese messaging app Line launched in India just three weeks ago and has already racked up 5 million downloads. This is in line with its global growth story - it reached 100 million users in just 19 months compared to Facebook which took 54 months! The popularity of the app is based on cross platform availability (on both smartphones and feature phones) and also because it is so much more than just a chat app. It offers a rich user experience with interactive games, live calling, file sharing, message recording and more. The app also replaces tired emoticons with more lively 'stickers' that allow users to express their feelings. These features are obviously geared to appeal to youth, and more importantly, keep them engaged with their friends on the app.

WeChat, owned by China's TenCent, has topped 100 million downloads and is popular in African and Asian countries. Keen to tap into India's vast mobile user base, WeChat even recruited Bollywood stars Parineeti Chopra and Varun Dhawan to promote itself in India. While it's free for customers, WeChat offers itself as a platform for brands to promote themselves. In China, WeChat is actively used to engage users. Brands can get followers, as they do on Facebook, and they can send personalised, targeted messages to individuals or groups. WeChat promotional QR codes have worked well for brands like Starbucks and Nike in China. News, entertainment, contests and exclusive offers also attract followers.

Let's look at one more interesting story from South Korea - about the 100 million-user strong Kakao Talk network. Last year, Kakao started a gaming service on its platform, with spectacular results. Earlier, Korean games developers struggled to get  even 1 million downloads. But on Kakao Talk, which racked up 300 million games subscriptions in one year, 8 games have already crossed 10 million downloads, and there are 180 games titles featured on the platform.

It is true that WhatsApp and BBM are still huge forces to reckon with. They have awareness, large user bases, and some degree of brand familiarity and loyalty. But they will increasingly face challenges from the more vibrant, aggressively marketed and youth-targeted regional apps, which also focus on local linguistic and cultural needs.

All these stories are pointing to some interesting implications for Asian, and in particular, Indian marketers:

1. Messaging platforms have  a potential beyond social media
These platforms are not yet over-populated with brands and offer fresh and creative ways to engage with consumers. We believe that they offer easier brand discovery, especially if the platform is willing to help promote it. It may become easier to show up in contacts list of a user, and to attract followers.

2. Messaging platforms encourage personalisation and intimacy
This represents both an opportunity and challenge in the way you can interact with your consumers. There is a need to balance visibility, with not being too pushy. It is a more intimate setting than a Facebook page - you are part of a users 'contact list' and as such, part of his circle of friends and acquaintances whom he interacts regularly with. This cannot be treated on par with SMS messaging - you need to ensure that your communication is relevant, engaging and personalised. 

An article on WeChat notes that Chinese audiences like VIP/ preferential treatment and many brands have formed exclusive VIP groups on the chat app to keep certain groups of loyal customers satisfied and engaged. You can segment and target more precisely than you do with social media.

3. You can do more than just messaging
The growth of games on the messaging platforms tells its own story. Facebook evolved as a social media platform when it started introducing engaging games and apps so that you never needed to leave the page for any other reason. You could stay on Facebook and play, shop, chat, share content - do everything. Now the messaging platforms are following suit. The difference here, is that the context is chatting with close friends. I do not have data to substantiate this, but I think young people today are more addicted to texting/ chatting than long spells of Facebooking. BlackBerry users share this trait. It's likely that people stay for long periods in the chat app, so it's easy to engage with them right there. And they are more likely to share what interests them with their own close circle of friends.

The sky is clearly the limit where messaging apps are concerned. If they manage tie-ups with carriers as Facebook did, to reduce or waive off mobile data charges, they are likely to find faster adoption. It is high time that marketers take a look at the new face of social networking, and find a way to integrate it in their digital strategy.

Sources : Search Engine JournalVenture BeatDigitBGR