July 30, 2016

by Alex Membrillo,CEO, Cardinal Web Solutions

Each month, an average of 275 million people log onto Kik, a free instant messenger app for mobile devices.

Realizing the potential associated with that many users, the beauty brand Sephora decided it was worth its while to get on board. Now, by conversing with a chatbot designed by the company, Kik users who communicate with Sephora can take a quick quiz to receive:

• Specific product recommendations
• Reviews
• Video tutorials & beauty tips

Users can even purchase Sephora products directly from the app.

Pretty impressive seeing as the entire conversation between user and brand was conducted by a machine. But that’s the power and potential of the growing number of messenger apps out there: use technology to personalize the customer experience for thousands – or even millions – of customers.

Face it: 3.6 billion people can’t be wrong

Advisory firm, Activate, states that around 2.5 billion people are registered to use at least one messaging app. By 2018, that number is expected to rise to 3.6 billion or, in other words, 90% of people on the planet who have access to the web.

While many people use these apps, initially, to remain connected with friends and family, it’s inevitable that messenger app users will discover the benefits of connecting with brands as well. Rather than sift through dozens of webpages, monitor and maintain a flurry of phone apps, or endure the frustrations of a call-center conversation, users could simply use their existing messaging apps to reach a company.

Brands, conversely, will realize that they can address the needs and requests of most of their customers, and attract new prospects, through automated chatbot conversations. In other words, it’s a win-win for all.

While messenger apps include the likes of Yik Yak, Kik, WeChat, and even Snapchat, the two biggest names in the game at the moment are both, not so surprisingly, Facebook related:

• Messenger
• WhatsApp (acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $19.3 billion)

As you introduce yourself into the world of messaging apps as a way to engage with your customers, it’s best to start with these two juggernauts. Once you’ve mastered – or at least warmed up to – the concept of messaging and chatbots, you might consider expanding your reach.

First, understand who uses these messaging apps

Just because 2.5 billion people are registered with at least one messaging app, doesn’t mean they use them regularly … at least not yet.

Those who do actively engage on messaging apps tend to be young, connected, and used to having conversations with brands in a personal space (so long as the conversations are of worth to them). That means you (and by you, I mean your chatbot, of course), have to speak the language of this audience. When striking up a conversation with a customer, don’t start with: Hello, or even How do you do?

The former is stale, and the latter comes across a bit Eddie Haskell-esque (the wise-guy neighbor in Leave it to Beaver).

Try using more fluid language, like: Hey there, or Got a minute?

Now, how can you engage these users?

No matter what direction you eventually take with your messaging strategy, remember the purpose of these apps: conversations.

Social media introduced the notion of brands conversing with customers; but apps like WhatsApp and Messenger take it to a whole new level.

Take Colgate India as an example. The company created a contest-based campaign, using WhatsApp, where they invited users to send smile selfies to a specific phone number displayed on the toothpaste packaging.

By submitting these selfies, the users entered to win a makeover by the brand’s ambassador stylist, and Colgate India found a way to connect on a personal level with its customers (not to mention they were also provided with invaluable user-generated content).

Brands are also harnessing the convenience-factor of these apps as well. Remember, users have no problem connecting with brands on a personal space (like a phone app) if the connection offers value.

So, offer value to your audiences.

Uber and Lyft, for example, allow users to hail drivers right from Facebook’s Messenger app; Taco Bell is testing out a Slack bot that will let users order without leaving their desk or picking up a phone.

Don’t forget the fun factor

Users love convenience, but they remember fun experiences, and share those experiences with others.

That’s why, for all if its shortcomings in terms of user analytics, Snapchat is a pretty exciting messaging app for brands to use.

Brands can create specialized filters which people can use as part of their snaps in the hopes of becoming a part of the brand’s limited time story. Sporting events have harnessed this approach well.

Users love these filters because it gives them the opportunity to flex their creativity; you should use them because it gives you the opportunity to use this user-generated content for future marketing purposes, even outside Snapchat.

The conversation era of marketing is here. Don’t be the wallflower

For years, brands had only television, radio, and print ads as a way to “connect” with their customers. I’ve branded the term “connect” with quotation marks because, well, connections were hardly formed.

These traditional marketing channels allowed brands to merely speak at their audiences. Now that your audience has the power to speak back, brands need to join in on the conversation or risk being left behind.

About the Author

Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal Web Solutions, an award winning digital marketing agency based in Atlanta, GA. Named Technology Association of Georgia (TAG)’s 2015 Digital Marketer of the Year, his innovative approach to digital marketing has transformed the industry and delivered remarkable results to clients of all sizes and markets. Cardinal has been 3-time consecutively named on Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing privately-held US companies. Visit www.CardinalWebSolutions.com to find out more about Cardinal Web Solutions. Follow him on Twitter @Alex_Membrillo

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