Messaging is about to transform marketing — but maybe not in the ways you expect. In a culture obsessed with technology, messaging apps are poised to take marketing back to the basics of commerce and relationship management.
Over the past few years messaging apps have exploded in popularity; now these social networks are about to have their big moment. Whether you’re one of Facebook Messenger’s 900 million monthly active users, or your family and friends are logging into Snapchat, Kik, and WhatsApp, messaging apps are already part of your life. But now smart marketers are taking notice: messaging apps are growing into platforms that will transform the way brands manage e-commerce, information, advertising and customer service.
In China, 650 million people a month use the WeChat messaging app for everything from transferring money to hailing taxis and sharing photos. Eight million businesses transact their ecommerce through WeChat. Now U.S. companies are following Chinese brands’ lead to realize messaging apps are rife with possibility. Messaging is marketing’s real-time responsive, media-rich future that simultaneously harkens back to a pre-digital — pre-Sears catalogue, even — era when commerce and customer relationships were rooted in conversation. Messaging takes the most powerful form of marketing, a dialogue with a salesperson, makes it scalable and gives everyone immediate access. There’s no place in messaging for anything short of a real conversation, if customers don’t care about what you’re saying, or feel slighted by your brand’s mis-use of bots, they’ll leave and may never return. It’s time to let go of everything we believed about marketing, or rather get back to age old basics. But how will messaging transform your business?
1. Marketers will get personal, not just personalized.
Over 100 years ago, the Sears catalogue ushered in a new era of shopping. While it provided more choice than a trip to the general store, shopping at home failed to provide the same emotional experience and personal connection. The 20th century saw the rise of major retail with shopping malls, department stores, chain stores, and big box retailers providing more human contact than catalogue shopping. Big retail also offered consumers savings due to global manufacturing capabilities. But these businesses still didn’t compare to the personal shopping experience consumers found with local merchants.
When the digital age arrived, Amazon and other online shopping behemoths attempted to improve upon the model with algorithmic personalization. Through consumer product reviews and real-time recommendations, e-commerce giants tried to combine the best of near-limitless selection and shop-from-home convenience with the personal experience of a brick-and-mortar store. But personalized isn’t personal: keyword and past purchase-based recommendations aren’t the same as speaking to a friendly salesperson.
Now and in the very near future, mobile, social and messaging apps will converge and combine the best of online and offline shopping, enabling brands to engage customers in one-on-one conversations via smartphone and act as personal, on-demand, smart shopping assistants.
2. Marketers will embrace their brand’s human side.
Broadcast advertising was marketing’s keystone for decades. In the age of messaging apps, creative concepts will give way to the art of conversation. Although clever copy, graphics, and video can reinforce your message, the future of marketing lies in brands’ ability to have contextual conversations to sell products and build long-term relationships on customers’ terms.
Brands will have to learn to take risks and react — basically, to act like real, live people. But beyond conversation, brands will be expected to facilitate interactions between customers and anyone else who might have insight to offer: from industry experts to fellow shoppers. For travel brands, this could mean connecting weary road-warriors with local guides. For trendy boutiques, this could mean fashion fiends scan tags to get styling tips from designers and shop with their friends virtually by their side.
3. Marketers will invite customers to participate.
People use messaging apps to communicate, watch, share, play and learn. If brands inundate customers with broadcast-style marketing messages they’ll leave or even block them. Forget traditional ideas about product placement: Messaging apps enable marketers to embed experiences driven by conversational engagement. When both the real and digital worlds are in play simultaneously, and seamlessly integrated, there’s no shortage of content to share, games to play, and adventures to embark on — plus opportunities to invent new ones.
An increasingly-fragmented media landscape means customers, armed with choices, turn away from advertising and mass marketing techniques. Smart brands will re-imagine marketing as conversational, collaborative and organic. Because messaging apps travel everywhere customers carry their smartphones, the boundaries between physical and digital are blurred.
Messaging apps make the most effective marketing method — a conversation with a real, live person — scalable, and integrates it into a media-rich app ecosystem that looks a lot like the future. Which means in the age of messaging we’ll no longer think point of sale, we’ll think point of conversation.
by PETER FRIEDMAN