Back in 2009, I remember explaining that social networks were an amazing way for brands to create long-term relationships and that they were the new marketing platforms.
By marketing platforms, I mean tools that have somehow become compulsory for brands to be active on, or at least to explore, in order to follow consumers’ usage. Six years later, things have changed dramatically.
First, social networks have become mostly advertising platforms with a decreasing organic reach. Next, usage has changed with the arrival of Vine, Snapchat, What’s App and Viber.
Also, social network platforms now have to compete globally. Asia has developed very specific and rich messenger platforms such as Wechat or Line (and Snapchat has been bought by Alibaba).
In the UK messaging apps, coupled with social networking, represented up to 37% of total daily time spent on apps in 2014. Moreover, Japan, Africa, India and China have shown us the way to a mobile-first world where mobile is used for everything including payment.
Desktop will soon be dead (except for in the office and for specific use) and mobile will be first. In fact, both places and tools have changed, which leads us to a new era of marketing platforms.
Looking at this evolution, it is easy to imagine how messenger apps and digital wallets will revolutionise the customer experience and therefore marketing. If you believe that messenger apps are made to only have private conversations, or that digital wallets only enable you to pay, think again!
Don’t get me wrong. Payment has a huge impact on customer knowledge. Until now, we knew that banks were the companies that knew you best, because they can track where you are and what you’ve bought. Now mix this information with your social graph, add relevant services and use this to serve targeted advertising. As no one has yet cracked the advertising business on mobile, it’s easy to understand why GAFA, Microsoft and Paypal are battling it out. This will no doubt have a huge impact on marketers, so you’ve got to be prepared. Now, let’s dive deep and see how the market is changing.
Messenger Apps Are The New Face Of Social
Back in July 2014, Forrester published a report “Messenger apps: the new face of social”. As pointed out by Forrester expert Thomas Husson, “Messaging platforms deliver the three things that determine digital platform power: frequent interactions, emotional connection and convenience". Facebook has proven them right with its announcements about Messenger at the F8 conference.
A messenger app is not only a free way to communicate, it is mobile’s Trojan horse. It serves as a content portal and provides one-to-one interaction with friends and “fans”.
Messenger apps can access people’s address books and their photos. They go everywhere with you, as an icon on your smartphone. This means that they can reproduce your social graph and potentially know you much better than any other available tools.
But this is a touchy subject, because messenger apps are based on private mobile conversations, which are very intimate and therefore delicate to work with. Brands won’t be able to send directly advertising through these networks.
Improving The Customer Experience Of Messaging
As said earlier, the marketing of these services is mostly focused on improving the customer experience. Wechat took the lead and clearly morphed into a digital platform. So did Line, to a certain extent. Wechat connects the dots between media, commerce, payment and social capabilities. In cities like Paris, with many Chinese tourists, brands that don’t accept payment with Wechat seem totally outdated. Imagine Western tourists getting their Visa cards refused!
And in fact, Facebook is following We Chat’s lead. It has just announced it plans to add 40 apps that will work with Messenger. As it recently enabled users to send money to their friends (as SnapChat with SnapCash), Facebook gets users’ credit card data. That is a huge deal, because it is the last, but also the biggest, barrier to commerce and an important step in consumer knowledge.
Once they have your credit card, anything is possible. It will be as frictionless for the consumer to pay through Facebook as it is for them to use the "login with Facebook” functionality.
With this in mind, commerce and customer services have been announced. For brands, this means that they will have the possibility to integrate Messenger into the user experience in order to replace payment, emails (confirmations and so on). They will also be able to provide real-time business-customer interactions (before or after the purchase), with rich notifications that include any kind of promotions, if the customer gives consent.
Beside pure players, there are a few brands offering chat features on their website, and some of them (mostly in the service industry) have an effective customer service on Twitter. Messenger will bring a easy tech plugin to enable brands to bridge this gap on their sites. Brands that don’t use these types of functionalities will be outdated.
Digital Wallets Are Transforming The Real-Life Experience
If Google, Apple, Amazon or Microsoft aren’t on the forefront of messenger apps (which doesn’t mean they are not present at all), they are working very hard on digital wallets.
Digital wallets start with payment, but that is just the beginning. From a customer point of view, it is a better, faster payment experience which will be more secure. Digital wallets will also bring a series of services such as product information, reviews, shopping list, digital receipts, coupons, and loyalty cards (that you never lose or forget). Also, just like messenger apps, they will enable people to transfer money to friends.
At the same time digital wallets are also providing an amazing marketing tool for brands. In fact, for brands, this means eventually replacing loyalty cards and ID but also generating foot traffic and increasing sales (through the likes of geolocalisation pushes and location triggers through relevant coupons). By the way, experience has proved that coupons are more effective in mobile wallets than offline or even mobile coupons.
It’s All About Trust
It is very interesting to look at how banks are moving out of the picture and how the new players are trying to gain the consumer’s trust.
If Mark Zuckerberg has to insist on the fact that Facebook is people-first and that privacy is an important issue, in between the lines this indicates that he knows Facebook isn’t as trusted as a bank. However if banks are still number one and credit card services (as Visa or Mastercard) are number two, Paypal is already third (and second in some countries like Germany).
Right now, it seems that brands will have to work with messenger apps for online sales and digital wallets for offline sales. But as we all know, this frontier between off- and online is a total blur.
We still don’t know who is going to win the battle. But marketers need to get ready, and try to offer an always improved experience to the user.