With WhatsApp at 1 billion daily active users, and Facebook Messenger and WeChat not far behind, there is no question of the importance of messaging. In the last 12 months my company has met with over 100 different brands, agencies and publishers curious to see what all the fuss is about in this burgeoning but enigmatic new medium. In doing so, we’ve identified some common misconceptions, some of which we’ve found surprising, so I thought I’d share some rules for marketers looking to break into the messaging space. These are intended to shed more light on messaging and how we, as a community of innovators, marketers and investors can work together to build best practices and lasting value.
Know The Difference Between Social Media And Messaging
It only feels like a few years since we got to grips with the shiny new medium that is social media. With its promises of greater sharing and user participation, social media gave rise to new specialists heralding new tricks, but the resulting advertising has become strangely reminiscent of traditional formats. We are now plagued by pre-rolls on YouTube, interstitials on Facebook, and product placement on Instagram.
In the last two years mobile messaging has emerged as the new medium to watch. It has over 2 billion users accessing it from smart phones globally. While the Top 4 messaging apps are all now above or close to a billion monthly users, only two social media platforms surpass or even come close to this number.
But, while messaging grew from within social media, its characteristics are very different. Social still pushes brands to a content-consuming audience. Messaging practitioners however must design for what The Wall Street Journal calls “chatvertising.” Everything must enable conversation because nothing is one way. This makes the job of selecting content a very different one. Your brand’s content must have an enabling role between one consumer and another. Game of Thrones built yet more hype on Snapchat by enabling their (seemingly countless) fans to transform themselves into White Walkers in anticipation of the new season.
Takeaway: Think of your brand as a living, socializing, conversing asset. Know that consumers spend more time chatting than any other activity, so find the right moments to enable and uplift those conversations. “Chatify” your brand’s content and get into where those chats are already happening.
Make Messaging A Habit, Not A Channel
In 2016 we heard that anything could be done from within messaging. It allows us to chat, inquire, browse, book and even buy. In 2017, we’ve been looking at how messaging can also be added to any other digital medium. With the rise of conversational interfaces (bots and more bots), consumers no longer need to be in a dedicated chat platform to converse with each other or with brands.
Messaging is now ubiquitous. It includes everything from native SMS to Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Gchat, and chat interfaces that can integrate into a brand’s owned and operated channels. Messaging isn’t a single medium, it is a whole form of communication that is distributed across multiple channels and devices. So while we’re just seeing how messaging is growing to be larger than social media, this only begins to hint at the pervasive force that messaging will become. We should be viewing this as an entire marketing discipline rather than a quirky little channel.
Dunkin Donuts took on this perspective for National Donut Day by engaging fans with interactive lenses and chatbots across messaging platforms Kik, Snapchat, and Facebook Messenger.
Takeaway: Consider all of your channels and touch points with consumers as opportunities to spark conversations. Expand your idea of messaging into an objective across the marketing mix. With the right tools, you can enable conversations from your owned, operated or bought channels. This includes everything from bots to custom web messengers.
Don’t See This As Dark Social
Much of the trepidation around messaging is due to the unknowns around tracking. As a medium still in its infancy, messaging doesn’t have a formalized infrastructure yet. So while advertisers can feel its importance, the lack of approved analytics across the system can be a barrier to beginning a campaign on this channel. This is changing. The messaging players are beginning to offer better and more consistent tracking and those brands that have used the medium have seen much better engagement rates than from digital or regular social, which are increasingly plagued by spam and ad blockers.
Recently Snapchat made large strides toward ad measurement tools. They are currently capable of audience targeting for up to 60 groups based on the content users choose to view in the publishers section. They’ve also successfully tracked brand awareness, purchase intent, conversions and app install performance data.
Takeaway: Analytics is present in messaging even if sometimes the metrics appear different from other media. This is a good thing as success in messaging is more than about just eyeballs. It is about the chat value that it generates. You know you’re well suited to messaging when your content gets batted back and forth multiple times.
Your Culture-Defining Ads Belong In Messaging
As we meet more clients considering “messaging marketing,” it’s clear that those most suited to this channel are typically seeking fame and pop-culture relevance.
What screens do we routinely see last at night and first thing in the morning? This is the only medium that sparks withdrawal when we’re separated from it. We have come to treat our phones like a trusted human. It is our friend when we’re unexpectedly left alone, our company when bored, and our advisor when in need of help. The obvious reason for this is that mobile messaging connects us to our real friends, but no other medium inhabits our most intimate moments nor has the power to profoundly effect our emotions. This is where brands’ culture-defining, buzz-maximizing, emotional campaigns should be taking place. The contemporary consumer develops and hones their language, identity and perspective on the world through this medium, so brands must position themselves in the heart of it as conduits and enablers. Hollywood and the record business has already caught on here. Drake famously shoots his music videos to be easily co-opted as GIFs and memes–shortcutting the process of him building online, as well as offline, fame.
Takeaway: Think about the emotional space your brand occupies and how your content intersects with the rules, language, and trends within messaging.
Start Piloting Now
Few brands or publishers we’ve met are in any doubt about the increasing dominance of messaging in the lives of their consumers. As consumers ourselves, we can’t deny it either. When we don our marketing hats there emerges a familiarity gap however. Designer Raymond Loewy famously observed that the secret to a great new invention and design is the perfect balance between the familiar and the new. Messaging has many familiar components, and, to consumers, it has just enough newness to shift them from other media.
As marketers on the other side of the curtain attempting to engage consumers, messaging looks more foreign than familiar. The overall shape of delivering marketing into this space feels unfamiliar: the assets, the formats and the measurement are all new to a brand manager at this stage – especially when synching it up with the rest of the marketing mix. The task is to remember we’ve really been doing this for years as consumers. It’s simply a question of integrating slightly new features from messaging with our existing communications strategy.
We recently helped Queens of the Stone Age promote the release of their new single “Evil has Landed” by asking fans to scan a Snap code that the band posted on their social channels. A conversation was sparked that let fans receive exclusive snippets of the upcoming single on Snapchat. This generated 3 million fan engagements and 700K unique sign ups. And this was for a band whose fan base skews older than Snapchat’s core user – exactly the demographic Snapchat is trying to grow on their platform.
Takeaway: Every new marketing language generates new codes, and this one shouldn’t take long to become familiar with as we are using it everyday across several platforms already as users. Start piloting. It will be more familiar than you expected.
Ben Jenkins is the co-founder and CEO of messaging marketing start-up Sympler.