This is a guest post by Bo Larsson, COO of Spray Networks Inc.
Marketers, businesses and brands who pay attention to technology and communication trends should be familiar with the recent and explosive growth of messaging apps, better known as chat messaging apps or chat apps.
They are quickly replacing old-school phone calls, emails, voice mails and even text messages as the up-and-coming newest form of interpersonal communication.
According to Juniper, by 2018 will be instant messages, and notes that 6 of the 10 most popular apps are now chat messaging apps (e.g., Facebook Messenger, WeChat), especially among younger, raised-on-mobile-phones teenage audiences. Younger users tend to view legacy communication formats (email, phone calls, even texts) as old-fashioned, time-consuming and even a bit clunky in the mobile environment.
IDC researchers call chat applications “the future of social networking,” and other observers frame them as emerging e-commerce and marketing platforms. Their quick rise to popularity sets the stage for new communication norms in the next 10 years, including greater interactivity and more types of messaging content.
One of the hallmarks of chat messaging apps is the ease of use and barrier-free nature of the apps: messages and content are delivered free within the app, not subjected to per-text fees or limits from mobile carriers. Communication is easy, quick and on-the-fly – a few taps of the smartphone screen.
Many of today’s messaging apps have unique features and capabilities. Some support text, videos, images, emojis or combinations of the above. Others allow users to “like” users’ messages as a built-in social component. Others send messages within specific geographic areas (e.g., a 1,000-foot or five-mile radius).
Why should marketers take notice?
Chat messaging apps are part and parcel of the new mobile marketing milieu, and they can serve as an additional component of an overall mobile marketing strategy, depending on the brand’s needs, audience and goals.
What are messaging apps best suited for, and how can marketers not only understand their utility, but put chat messaging apps to use? Here are some use-case suggestions for chat messaging apps and how they can fit into mobile marketing strategies as branding, promotional and communication channels.
- Connect with customers: Download and test the app, and then use it on the brand’s behalf to stay connected with loyal customers. Send messages about specials, promotions, new products, upcoming events, nearby happenings and other information. Make other users feel part of the brand by being “in the know” or “first to know.” Avoid the “hard sell,” lest the app start to feel intrusive or irrelevant.
- Attract retail/location-specific foot traffic: Use geo-fencing/hyperlocal capabilities to deliver marketing content that attracts foot traffic, lures passersby, piques the interest of curiosity seekers or connects with users looking for an invitation to explore.
- Wow users with rich, geo–targeted content: Rely on chat apps to deliver what the calls Over-the-Top (OTT) messaging, including text, image and video messages and or content that can be deployed within Wi-F infrastructures, giving marketers access to a user’s location for geo-targeted messages and campaigns.
- Deploy real-time customer service: Imagine the delight on a customer’s or passerby’s face upon receiving a one-to-one chat-messaging response to a query, complaint or compliment.
- Engage, support brand ambassadors: Regardless of new technologies or trends, one thing does not change about advertising: word-of-mouth behavior remains the most effective form of advertising. Give loyal customers permission to “chat you up” and spread the word. Total strangers or anonymous other users are more likely to trust the opinions of others than they are the brand itself, so encourage brand supporters to use chat messaging apps to spread the world on the brand’s behalf.
Before deciding if chat messaging apps make sense for a business or brand, do a bit of research. Use data to better understand the customer base or which audience to target/reach. Make sure the chosen app(s) is a good fit inside a broader mobile marketing program. Test and re-test content and messaging strategies before a full-fledged rollout.
No single mobile technology or behavior will make or break a mobile marketing program, but given the rapid growth of chat messaging apps, it’s clear that they should be strong candidates for the next addition to any brand’s, marketer’s or business’ mobile marketing program.
Bo Larsson is COO of Spray Networks Inc., creators of Spray, a hyperlocal chat messaging app that allows users to send messages to nearby users without needing to know contact information, email addresses or phone numbers first. The start-up firm is targeting university campuses, high schools, communities, events, festivals, brands and other markets to build its user base. Larsson also has served in executive leadership roles at Sony, SonyEricsson, Ericsson, Firetide and other technology and mobile firms. Spray is headquartered in San Francisco.