Messaging Apps and Chatbots: A Huge Opportunity for Agile Brands

Posted on by Jason Kapler

With Alexa and other digital assistants aiding our day-to-day tasks, can you be your customer’s personal assistant? Can you be right there with them, tethered and available in real-time, as a helpful, handy and human virtual assistant?

messaging apps and chatbotExperienced brand marketers are increasingly deploying messaging apps and chatbots to meet their conversational marketing needs. Facebook Messenger, once a distant second to China’s WeChat in terms of innovative in-app features and consumer usage, has advanced its messaging and chatbot capabilities almost overnight, bringing its global reach along with it. As a result, Facebook reports that of the 70 million brands/pages active on the platform, nearly 20 million are actively responding to consumer messages on a monthly basis.

The rapid shift to messaging is no accident. Multiple sources of data suggest consumers prefer to interact with brands via messaging, as it gives them on-demand access to brands, whenever and wherever they are, to inquire about products or services or resolve customer service concerns. In China, WeChat users spend as much as one-third of their online time in the app, with a frequency of access up to 10 times per day. Similar figures are emerging in the UK and U.S., though their access is distributed across multiple apps, like WhatsApp (UK) or Kik (US). Meanwhile, in a recent survey conducted by San Francisco-based Twilio, nearly two-thirds of consumers say they expect to increase their messaging app usage in the next two years.

Seeking to expand and enhance their two-way conversational marketing capabilities, brand marketers recognize the immense built-in audience that messaging apps provide. Facebook Messenger and its base of more than 1.3 billion users offers marketers a compelling opportunity to deeply engage consumers worldwide and create meaningful and enduring relationships with them.

Asia leads the messaging app revolution

In its fall 2016 report, The Future of Messaging Apps, Forrester called messaging apps “the fastest growing online behavior.” Messaging apps account for more than four billion users globally—a massive built-in audience—including more than one billion Messenger and WhatsApp users respectively, and over 800 million active WeChat and QQ users respectively in China.

Currently recognized as the most advanced messaging app, WeChat is also the most used, with users accessing the app for more than one-third of their online time. Frequency of use, as opposed to total time, is also high as users turn to WeChat frequently (more than 10 times per day) to communicate with each other and brands. The reasons for such recurring access and high usage time seem clear: WeChat provides much more than simple messaging, as it enables users to interact with the brands they love, pay a bill, hail a cab, or schedule a doctor’s appointment, wherever and whenever they are, without ever leaving the app.

The well-advanced features of WeChat account for its higher active use over global competitors Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, but Messenger is catching up fast. The introduction of chatbots in Messenger allow brands to begin engaging with consumers directly and proactively develop deeper relationships with their customers. For now, given their massive and truly global reach, Messenger and WhatsApp present the only meaningful competition for WeChat’s regionally-focused innovation.

Consumers want to communicate with brands via messaging—Facebook is listening

A recent study by Twilio concludes that 66 percent of consumers now prefer to reach brands, or be reached by brands, through messaging apps. A similar number, 63 percent of those surveyed, say their messaging with businesses has increased over the last two years. Finally, just over two-thirds expect to increase their messaging with businesses over the next two years.

The accelerating growth of Messenger, combined with its launch of chatbots and introduction of Messenger codes and plug-ins that enable richer interaction with companies and products (e.g., contextual services, product recommendations), have all contributed to making messaging the fastest growing channel for branded conversations worldwide.

According to David Marcus, vice president and head of Messenger at Facebook, brands are not only taking notice of Messenger’s new capabilities, they are increasingly active. About 100,000 bots are available within Messenger and “out of the 70 million pages/businesses that are active on Facebook, nearly 20 million of them are responding to messages actively on a monthly basis.”

Convenient, helpful, emotionally connected conversations that scale

Messaging apps and chatbots provide the opportunity to communicate one-to-one with consumers and engage them in a more meaningful way than typical broadcast or one-to-many channels can facilitate. Whether using human agents, automated chatbots, or a combination of the two, messaging apps can help brands drive deeper relationships with customers through interactions that are convenient (when and wherever the user happens to be), helpful (on-demand problem/need resolution), and emotionally connected.

Chatbots allow brands to provide in-context suggestions for useful products or services, and stand instantly available to assist and resolve customer service inquiries. Advances in AI will only enhance this capability. Gartner predicts that by 2020, a customer will manage 85% of his or her relationship with a business without interacting with humans. For now, brand marketers are thinking about how to monetize these advantages over existing methods like retargeting. “Conversations between users and companies inside Messenger have a 30% better return on investment than retargeting ads on the web,” says Facebook’s Marcus.

For contextual conversations and recommendations to be effective, however, and to accrue the positive perceptions that emerge from them, brands will need to not only engage via messaging but be available and highly responsive in its practice. In a recent survey of 150 brand marketers conducted by the CMO Council, “only 16 percent of marketers feel their organizations are extremely responsive to the consumer.”

Meanwhile, emojis, introduced by Line in Japan and initially thought to be limited to Asian culture, demonstrate the way in which visual content allows users and brands to be more expressive and establish an emotional connection. In fact, forward-thinking brands are taking visual content one step further, designing their own visual languagethat invites their customers to use as their own and “speak in their brand.”

Messaging apps are the preferred method of communication for consumers and the fastest growing channel for branded conversations. This represents a huge opportunity for agile brands to building meaningful and lasting customer relationships.

Jason Kapler is vice president at LiveWorld. Connect with him @JasonKapler on Twitter.

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