Mobile messaging, and what it means for brands

For the last 6 or 7 years, the growth of social media has been a phenomenon that’s affected everything from the way we communicate with one another to the way we consume media and entertainment. But as Social Networks make the move to being de-facto media distribution channels, users have overwhelmingly started migrating to messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, LINE etc. to engage in more meaningful communication with friends and family.

It may come as a surprise, but in 2015, the Big Four mobile messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Viber) overtook the Big Four Social Networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn) in monthly active user numbers. So it’s official; mobile messaging is where it’s at.


From a publisher’s point of view, some media outlets are already using messaging apps to connect with their audience in interesting ways. The Huffington Post are using Viber’s Public Chats to publicly share real-time conversations between their journalists. BBC News are using WhatsApp for user-generated content, gathering reader photos, videos, and first-hand accounts that it later repurposes on its live news blog, and The Washington Post are using Kik’s Promoted Chats to attract readers through quizzes and game-like experiences.

Either way, it’s clear that where users go, ultimately, brands want to go too, thus providing the incentive to technology platforms to facilitate this connection.

Much has been made of Facebook’s desire to turn it’s Messenger app into a much broader platform, enabling users to do more than just communicate with each other. Plans include everything from facilitating customer service, to ordering an Uber directly within a conversation, and even allowing P2P micro payments, all within the context of messaging. This is much like the most popular Asian apps such as WeChat and LINE already offer. In a way, the messaging aspect is a commodity service used to build a broad user base to offer a wider range of add-ons to.

WhatsApp is looking to get in on the action too. At last month’s DLD conference in Munich, founder Jan Koum spoke about the plan to remove the annual subscription fee to use the service and eventually cater to businesses (he gave American Airlines and Bank of America as examples), offering them ways to deal with customer servicing directly through the messaging app.

How might brands utilise messaging apps?

But all of this just poses the question of how exactly brands might use messaging apps to connect with consumers. Perhaps it’s not too crazy to think of WhatsApp customer call centres springing up in the developing world in the not-too-distant future, but surely there are possibilities far more interesting than this. AI responses to customer queries have been touted, but aside from a responding to customer complaints, how else might brands utilize messaging platforms to enhance customer relationships?

Perhaps ‘conversations’ with brands can be used to maintain customer loyalty and rewards programs, a friction free way of opting-in and continuing to use them.  Mobile loyalty apps have been sold as the answer to the problem of having to constantly carry around rewards cards and the like, but in reality, downloading a standalone app and registering your details to keep track of this seems to be as much of a turn-off as carrying around a physical card in the first place. Brands could also use messaging channels to offer personalised deals or suggest new products that their users might like. Something akin to the “If you like this, you’ll love these” style prompts that work so well on Amazon etc. Either way, it sounds like a smoother way to interact with customers and prompt them into action.

But at what point might this become a nuisance, and are most consumers really open to engaging with brands on channels that they also communicate with their friends and family on? Well it would appear that they are. Recent consumer research in the area is encouraging. According to a 2015 MEC survey, 79% are not opposed to engaging with brands on chat apps. That sounds like enough of a mandate to me. Even if actual user behaviour turns out to be a little less enthusiastic about this once it becomes the norm.

I’m sure we’ll slowly start seeing some examples of these concepts over the next 6 months or so as Facebook and friends turn on the tap and unleash some of the functionality that third-party developers have been working away on since F8 last March. In the meantime, we’ll just have to put our thinking caps on and come up with some interesting ways to utilise messaging channels to connect with customers.

Posted by Rob in Facebook, Mobile, Retail, Social Media, WhatsApp

Scott Galloway’s take on the future of retail

Here’s another brilliant piece of industry analysis from Scott Galloway of digital innovation think tank L2, to add to his talk at last year’s DLD NYC event. In it, he proposes that an online-only approach to retail is not sustainable, and that ‘pureplay’ online-only retailers like have so far relied on a novelty factor to woo investors. These online retailers will face stiffer competition as traditional brick-and-mortar retailers get better at selling online and on mobile and, to defend against this, they need to make some sort of a move towards physical retail. Galloway even predicts that Amazon will acquire a company with a huge location base like a chain of gas stations or post offices.

Posted by Rob in e-Commerce, Retail, Tech

The state of mobile commerce in 2014

Criteo have just released their latest report on the state of mobile commerce this year as well as their predictions for 2015. While it’s obvious that people are using their smartphones more and more to shop, here are some of their key findings;

  • Mobile now accounts for over 30% of e-Commerce sales globally
  • Mobile is now about purchasing, not just researching
  • Top quartile retailers generate almost 40% of transactions from mobile
  • Smartphones have overtaken tablets in mobile transactions (could this be due to bigger smartphone screen sizes being easier to shop on?)
  • The average order value on mobile is reaching desktop levels
  • Android shoppers are starting to more readily embrace mobile commerce

In 2015, Criteo predicts that over 50% of e-Commerce transactions in Asia will occur on mobile with the West following closely behind. They go on to predict that smartphones will continue to take over from tablets as the go-to device to shop on as larger screen sizes become the norm, and that more and more brands and advertisers outside of the West will prioritize optimizing their sites for mobile. Understanding cross-device behavior will be the biggest challenge to marketers and retailers.

For a bit more detail, have a skim through the report summary below.

Posted by Rob in Mobile, Mobile Payments, Retail

Introducing ‘Nearables’; the love child of iBeacons & the Internet of Things

There’s been a lot of talk about iBeacons since they came onto the scene late last year with tech-savvy retailers hoping that they can live up to the hype and finally provide them with a way of utilizing those handy little devices we all carry around in our pockets and transform them into virtual personal shoppers.

While we haven’t seen many great examples of this in the real world just yet, one of the companies that has become synonymous with the iBeacon concept, Estimote (a quick Google Image search for “iBeacons” reveals pretty much exclusively their product), is already onto their second product iteration. Although the bluetooth location beacon that they released last year was not exactly clunky, most of the use cases that were highlighted seemed to involve it being placed in a static location such as the wall of a retail outlet.

With the company this week announcing that they have made the device smaller and thinner and affixed it to a sticker, something that can effectively be worn, it opens up a whole host of further use cases that fall firmly into the Internet of Things realm. Each ‘sticker’ includes an accelerometer to track motion, a temperature sensor, security authentication and a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transmitter that works up to 70 meters with the battery lasting up to a year. Estimote describe these sticker beacons as ‘Nearables’.

As well as being used in a retail capacity to give customers information on products that they come into contact with, the stickers can monitor an object’s movements so you can keep track of your pets or personal items, or map your bicycle route or trip to work etc. Smartphones and other devices can detect where they are in relation to the beacon stickers, giving them added context. For example, if your smartphone realizes that it’s in your bedroom (i.e. it is near your bedroom beacon) and you have an early meeting and the traffic is particularly bad, it will wake you up earlier.

I don’t think we’ll really start seeing these things making their way into the mainstream for another couple of years yet, but with other companies like Nest and Smart Things also blazing a trail in this space, the prospects are exciting.

Posted by Rob in Mobile, Retail, Wearables

Amazon has Square & PayPal in it’s sights

Following my post from last week about the imminent entry of the big tech giants to the mobile payment space, it was timely that another one of The Big Four made public their intentions. During the week, Amazon made it clear that they also want a piece of the pie and announced that they plan to launch a suspiciously Square-like mobile card reader and app platform called Amazon Local Register.

And guess what? – they plan to undercut Square and PayPal on the fees they charge retailers by a whole percentage point (1.75% to Square’s 2.75%,and PayPal’s 2.7%). No surprise there then as Amazon have certainly been upping the ante recently when it comes to throwing their weight around, brazenly squeezing their suppliers. They also take a swipe (get it?) at Square’s perceived lack of retailer support by highlighting their ‘awarding-winning’ customer service.

Let the games begin.

Posted by Rob in Amazon, Mobile Payments, Retail, Square