17 Nov 2017 15:38 IST

It’s time to get the message across

How Indian brands are using messaging apps to market themselves

Your phone is a part of your body, or so it seems. Your face is always stuck to it, your fingers are always tapping on it, whether you’re commuting, having dinner, or in the toilet. Consider these statistics: Ninety-two per cent of time spent on the mobile is spent on apps, according to Yahoo!’s mobile analytics unit Flurry’s State of Mobile report 2016. A chunk of that is spent on messaging and social, and grew by 44 per cent and 52 per cent globally and in India. Another study, by app data firm AppAnnie, says Indians spend four hours a day on apps. Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2017 says Whatsapp and Facebook are the top two most downloadedAndroid apps in India. Messaging apps are being hailed as the next frontier for marketing, and how far along are Indian brands?

“Now that everyone’s using them, messaging has become a tool for B2C (business-to-consumer) communication, not just one to one,” says Beerud Sheth, Co-founder & CEO, Gupshup, a chat bot platform. He adds that the big difference, though, is that businesses have millions of consumers, and one-to-one chat is not possible, and hence, automation/artificial intelligence in the form of chat bots.

This marketing encompasses various efforts: customer engagement, user queries, customer service and support and e-commerce as well. Of these, the biggest function now is customer engagement, says Sheth. Companies are keen on using technology to build relationships and send customers timely information.

Better engagement

Across businesses, many Indian brands have begun rolling out chat bots that will be available on FB Messenger, apart from the company’s websites and a few other apps, says Sheth. Titan is one of them. Alokedeep Singh, Head - E-Commerce, Titan Company, says that the usage and queries from Facebook Messenger are much more than those from the same chatbot on the website. Conversion to sales is very high, as these queries are user-generated and the intention to buy is strong. “If we are able to answer, it converts to a sale,” says Singh. Humans intervene if the bot gets stuck, but the intention is to humanise this ‘learning bot’ as far as possible.

“It’s very effective at handling queries and gives us phenomenal insights into which new products to add and how to enhance our categories,” adds Singh.

Recently, nacho chip brand Doritos collaborated with Snapchat to offer a snack-based face lens. Says Dilen Gandhi, Marketing Director, Western Snacks, PepsiCo India, “In 24 hours, it gave us as much impact as a six-week campaign would.” This lens was developed specifically for India. Stories on Snapchat live only for 24 hours.

Hike Messenger, an Indian messaging app that’s a joint venture between Bharti Enterprises and SoftBank, does many Bollywood-based promotions. It associates with movies to create animated stickers, filters, and bytes from the actors. Some movies which teamed with Hike include Golmaal Again, VIP2 and Bahubali. Short films featuring the actor promote both the movie and the app.

Sharing such activities on social networks amplifies the impact. With over 100 million registered users, Hike sees an average spend of 24 minutes per day with deeply engaged users spending up to 48 minutes per day, making messengers a great platform for promotion for brands. A spokesperson says that on an average, 300 million stickers are exchanged every day on the app.

Happy hunting ground

India, says Hike, is a high-potential market for app usage and download. Its core users are aged 18-24, and so very attractive to marketers. India’s over 400-million millennials are expected to drive smartphone and e-commerce growth.

Conversational devices such as messaging apps, voice-enabled devices and bots are revolutionary tools for business, says Reshmi Roy, Senior Growth Manager, Skyscanner India. Skyscanner has already released bots for FB Messenger and Skype as well as skills for voice-enabled virtual assistants such as Amazon's Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana.

“Consistent innovation in this space provides Skyscanner new platforms to open up to new audiences and engage with travellers in a rich and meaningful way,” says Roy. In India, the travel fare aggregator website is currently experimenting with new channels to connect with travellers, including WhatsApp.

WhatsApp, also owned by Facebook, has one billion daily active users across the world. Its monthly active Indian users numbered 200 million in February 2017. It has not yet gone commercial in India, though it has rolled out a pilot project. Online ticketing brand BookMyShow is its first collaborator – it is experimenting with WhatsApp being its default ticket confirmation channel. Users will now receive a message on WhatsApp with the confirmation text or an M-ticket (mobile ticket) QR Code, along with an e-mail.

No cookie-cutter solution

Are brands using messaging apps consistently or still experimenting with them?

“The point isn’t brands using them, it’s actually messaging platforms opening up enough opportunities for brands,” says Varun Duggirala, Co-founder and Content Chief of digital-first creative agency The Glitch. “Consistency will come with messaging platforms building more opportunities for brands to use them.”

Titan’s Singh says usage is not a one-off, though it’s not yet mainstream. According to ComScore’s Global Mobile Report, 70 per cent of Internet users are mobile-only. With mobile going mainstream, and first-time Internet users getting introduced to the Net on the mobile, messaging will become more popular as a marketing channel, says Singh.

Pepsico’s Gandhi says the huge fragmentation in the app space is a challenge. “Each app has specific user requirements. Figuring out the right way on each app is an ongoing journey.”

Glitch’s Duggirala says building enough tools for brands to use to respond, communicate and spread value to consumers is vital. “That requires a different thought process for what is largely a consumer-focused medium like all social media platforms were ... messaging apps need to take a leaf out of that playbook but ensure they don’t spam consumers.”

According to eMarketer, mobile messaging app usage will reach a significant milestone in 2017: For the first time, over three-quarters (76.3 per cent) of the world’s smartphone users will use one. It also says the number of mobile messaging app users worldwide is still growing at a significant rate, even after three years of double-digit growth. This year, China, India, the US, Indonesia and Brazil will account for the bulk of new users (63 per cent). That, then, will make for exciting times in marketing and messaging in the near future.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)