Online marketers have a variety of tools at their disposal for reaching out to their customers and target market, and among the first to come to mind would be their website, mailing list, and social media, to name a few. But another strategy, messaging technology, remains underrated. There are a number of compelling reasons why online marketers, particularly online retailers and e-commerce businesses should integrate messaging technology in their marketing, outreach, sales and customer service strategies when dealing with customers.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg explained in a public November 2014 Q&A session: “Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking.” The available research on online activity among internet users show that the time people spend on messaging applications is on the rise, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For sharing information, research has shown that the dark social platforms account for almost 70 percent of online referrals, while other sources cite even higher numbers. These platforms, such as instant messaging, email, and private browsing comprise direct traffic that goes undetected via traditional standard analytics.
All online businesses can capitalize on the power of social messaging, whether in the business of selling clothes online, providing travel services, or any other industry. Some brands have used these platforms to their advantage, increasing traffic and converting that traffic into actual sales and profit.
According to eMarketer.com, as of January 2015, Facebook Messenger dominates the smartphone messaging app market in the United States and UK at 60% and 63%, respectively. WhatsApp also has 46% of the user base in the UK as well as a market-leading 77% in Germany. Meanwhile, LINE leads all social messaging apps in Japan with 75%, and WeChat accounts for 84% of the user base in China. Though these numbers are from almost two years ago, it is safe to assume that even more smartphone users have installed these messaging applications on their devices, all the while creating more accounts, downloading content, and staying connected.
This should come as no surprise, considering their convenience. Messaging applications can operate with either a cellular data or internet connection, and require little bandwidth. These applications also tend to be lighter, meaning they take up relatively less storage space and use less memory than other productivity apps on the devices on which they are installed, whether on a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
Some messaging applications have implemented conversational commerce by adding features to facilitate customer service and increase website traffic, much to the benefit of online marketers. Among these include the use of bots to make shopping easier. Facebook’s new Businesses feature for its Messenger app offers the ability for businesses to send customers information about orders, while also allowing customers to use Facebook Messenger to consult with customer service departments as well as obtain quick answers to their product inquiries from sales agents.
Some established brands have implemented the following strategies with tried and true results:
- Use Bots to Facilitate Online Shopping.
Online retailers Everlane and Zulily were among the first to jump on the conversational commerce bandwagon in early 2015. Shoppers at these merchants gained the ability to place orders, receive updates, confirm payments and shipping information, using real-time chat with customer service representatives. By allowing customers to resolve issues and modify orders efficiently, these retailers have a head start in using mobile commerce for selling clothes online, and many more have followed suit.
Commercial airliner KLM has its own Facebook Messenger plugin, which provides passengers with the pertinent booking confirmation, check-in alerts, boarding pass, and flight status updates through Messenger. The plugin is activated once passengers choose to opt in during the booking process. Although passengers might be wary about their personal data, payment details and other sensitive information, KLM asserts that the only data they can see on their end is limited by Facebook itself. Strictly speaking, the airline can only see whether the passenger is using Facebook Messenger, and the plugin only works if the passenger’s apps have cookies activated, and if the user has logged in within a 90-day window.
E-commerce retailer Spring also has a bot for Facebook Messenger, dubbed their Personal Shopping Assistant. Users launch the plugin using a simple “Go shopping” command, which initiates a dialogue with the bot to help customers browse for the items they are looking to buy. The bot presents general categories for the shopper to choose from, followed by more specific parameters such as style and price, to help them filter down to the most relevant matches.
Mobile instant messaging app Kik launched its bot store in April 2016, partnering up with such retailers as H&M, Sephora, and Vine, to name a few. Widely popular among young people, with 275 million monthly active users, 40 percent of which are in the 13 to 24-year-old age group, Kik may have enough leverage to attract more brands to invest.
- Take Advantage of Messaging Plugins to Facilitate Checkouts and Payments.
Another messaging app popular among the younger demographic of teens and Millennials, Snapchat launched Snapcash in 2015. Snapcash is a virtual wallet where users can maintain a debit account on Snapchat, allowing them to send money to their contacts as easily as sending an instant message. This wallet functionality gives the company a solid framework to build a commerce strategy, enabling them to establish a payment gateway for direct commerce within the Snapchat app. Established retailers such as Target and Lancome have e-commerce pages within the messaging app, and online sales have been promising for the future of this platform.
WeChat also has a mobile money transfer partner in Western Union, where the latter has enabled United States users of the messaging app to send funds to 200 countries and territories. WU Connect demonstrates the power of international cross-border mobile commerce services. There are over 600 million WeChat users, and the app has a large population of users in Asian markets. Users can fund money transfers using their credit card, debit card, or bank account, and the funds are directed to a Western Union location before landing in the recipient’s mobile wallet or bank account. Again, the sender can initiate this process using a mobile device with an internet connection.
In March 2015, Facebook formally announced its entry in the peer-to-peer money transfer market, allowing its members to link their Facebook accounts with their debit cards. Although the social media behemoth has been processing payments for gamers and advertisements since 2007, the new product seeks to solidify Facebook’s connection to its users while also giving the company not only insight into their spending habits, but access to their bank accounts.
- Go Full Throttle With In-App Shopping.
Instant messaging bot technology plus in-app payment processing has streamlined the online shopping experience to where the customer can complete all steps in a transaction without having to leave the messaging app. This process is all possible thanks to Shopify’s recent Facebook Messenger integration.
WeChat has made their bots active in China’s e-commerce market, enabling users to accomplish a wide variety of tasks within social messaging app, including booking taxis, checking in for flights, buying movie tickets, managing bank accounts, and make doctors’ appointments. Users can even apply for mortgages thanks to WeChat’s bots, with more tasks and functions added to the rich ecosystem of plugins.
- Keep Your Brand In Your Customers’ Heads
Visibility and engagement are key concepts in marketing your brand. Viber’s Public Chats was launched in 2014, and allows fans to follow the public chats and messages posted by their favorite celebrities. Music lovers can also join a “Song of the Day” group, and download sticker collections from the brands they use and enjoy. The Super Bowl XLIX sticker collection promoted by Miller Lite capitalized on the biggest sporting event of the year. Meanwhile, Adidas takes advantage of WhatsApp plugins to build a network of sports fans, artists and athletes, helping news travel faster and promote the iconic brand.
- Use A Messaging App To Conduct Games and Promote Your Brand
WeChat’s large Chinese user base enjoyed the ability to send virtual red envelopes during Chinese New Year, starting in 2014. What was an already-impressive 20 million users since its inception has ballooned to eight billion in 2016, and with further expansion of the user base, this number is expected to grow in the years to come. Luxury brands such as Coach, Burberry, and Kate Spade were also in on the action during WeChat’s Chinese New Year tradition, using it as a springboard to launch their own initiatives to establish their social messaging presence. Kate Spade launched an in-app game for the 2014 Mid-Autumn Festival, where WeChat users partook in the tradition of lantern-flying.
- Create and Distribute Your Own Emoticons and Stickers
Emojis and stickers are among the most commonly used and customizable items available for social messaging apps. Whether you decide to make these available for sale, or give them out for free, attaching your brand to these assets helps make your brand visible, and generates interest in what you have to offer.
By 2018, the number of social messaging and chat users should hit 2 billion. Undoubtedly, messaging apps have seen tremendous growth over the past couple of years, not just in user base, but also in functionality and utility. There is no longer any question whether e-commerce marketers should begin engaging customers via chat and social messaging apps. The real question is how we can harness social messaging technology to gain leverage to transact with our target markets.