9 steps to master marketing through messaging apps

Viber cristina-constandache
Cristina Constandache
Chief Revenue Officer at Rakuten Viber
9 steps to master marketing through messaging apps

(Originally published on The Drum, February 2021)


As the last year has shown, messaging apps are an incredibly powerful way for marketers to communicate with their customers. In fact, for many marketers, they have become something of a lifebuoy keeping them afloat.

During 2020, instant messaging boomed even more than in recent years as people were forced to turn to digital means of staying in touch with friends, family and colleagues. This increased demand spurred brands on to accelerate processes and, for those yet to dip their toe into the messaging apps space, to dive right in. Those who adapted quickly were able to profit. And those whose endeavours were less successful (or nonexistent) learned the hard way about messaging apps’ potential for reaching customers.

The bad news is that, in terms of the pandemic, 2021 has started in much the same way as 2020 ended. The good news? Pretty much any brand can start using messaging to their advantage to reach customers and increase engagement. These new consumer behaviours are here to stay, so messaging is quickly becoming an essential marketing tool, rather than a ‘nice to have’.

So how do you get started? We’ve put together a list of tips on how to master marketing through messaging in order to engender loyalty, maximise conversions and drive revenues. Whether you’re a seasoned marketer, or a first-timer looking to get started, you can make this year much better than the last one.

Step 1: Assemble your toolbox

If you are an advertiser looking to invest in a new channel, you should first understand what the channel has to offer and how it can help you with your marketing goals. Each messaging app offers different tools, including banners, native advertising, notifications, chatbots, and so on. For each, it’s vital to understand the user journey and how you can touchpoint with the users at different steps along the way.

Step 2: Choose the right tool based on your customer journey stage

How you use a messaging app is just as important as which one(s) you choose. The more advanced ones offer brands a range of tools to help them communicate with their customers at each stage of the user journey: attract, interact, transact and stay in contact. It’s a multi-pronged approach, and it will help marketers reach their customers wherever they are in the funnel.

For example, say you need to attract more customers. You can use a range of messaging tools like ads, stickers, targeted messages and offers to increase your visibility and reach a wider audience. And if your customer would like to make a purchase, you can make it easy for them by integrating a buying option right into the messaging app. That way the experience is completely native – they don’t have to leave the app to buy your product.

Step 3: Automate for the people

Chatbots are the holy grail of automation, but not all brands have sufficient resources – a fully-fledged chatbot should connect to your CRM tools to monitor the user journey and keep track of their history. But chatbots are not the only form of automation that can help your business within a messaging app.

Notifications or messages that remind customers to book a dentist appointment/service for their car/buy a gift for an upcoming special occasion can also prove invaluable. Communications like these delivered by messaging apps are far more likely to be seen by customers – different studies put messaging apps’ open rate at 80-90 percent, versus 33 percent for email. And once it’s automated, it’s out of your hair and off your to-do list – you know it’s taken care of, so you can forget about it, and so can the customer.

Step 4: Speak their language

Because of the personal nature of messaging as a medium, you can afford to be a bit more informal with how you connect with your users. Your tone of voice should reflect your user’s situation, like their age, interests, outlook, and so on. But this can also change on a case-by-case basis – because it’s a real-time conversation, you can pick up on their mood and alter your tone accordingly (if they’re frustrated at poor customer service, maybe park the banter for now). You can also adapt your reply format, for example by customer care agents sending shorter messages rather than long email-like missives. It’s another unique benefit of messaging apps – no other channel offers this level of flexibility.

We’ve seen retailers that appeal more to women (like Yves Rocher) do this particularly well. The results of their campaigns with Viber went beyond their expectations precisely because they could offer a very personalised experience. But it’s not only these types of brands that have seen great results – more traditional sectors like banking have prospered too, by aiming a certain type of credit card at a younger audience and adding gamification elements to their messaging, like gifs and funny images. It’s a much more informal approach than you would traditionally expect from a bank, and more interactive, too. It helped them achieve a conversion rate of around 30-45 percent above their expectations. 

The key is understanding who you’re talking to, and making sure you adopt a communication style that really matches their needs. It’s applying traditional marketing skills within a new technological framework.

Step 5: Integrate messaging comms with CRM

By integrating your messaging comms with your CRM, you’ll be able to see your whole customer history – in other words, you can track the steps the customer took and see the interest they’ve shown in different parts of your business. This is invaluable, as it stops you sending them irrelevant, out of context messages, reducing friction. And because everyone within the organisation – from marketing to sales to customer service – can have customer communications in full context, it will create a more fluid end-to-end experience.

Step 6: Keep your customer database up to date

It’s an old marketing maxim: The more you know about your customers, the better you’re able to serve them. But messaging apps add a new twist to this. Because of the gamification elements that exist within messaging and bots (like stickers, points and rewards), you can garner all sorts of information about a user without them having to fill out a tedious questionnaire, which for them will just feel like work for no reward. It’s a much more intuitive way of getting to understand user preferences.

So what kind of data should you collect? All kinds of customer data can provide excellent insights, but the most valuable data focuses on customers’ preferences and likes/dislikes when it comes to your business. Once you know what your customers prioritise, you can create a customised customer experience in order to drive conversions. 

The customer data you collect should always be focussed on increasing transactions – don’t lose sight of that. It’s too easy to become fixated on collecting as much data as possible with no end goal in mind, but that can actually be counterproductive.

Step 7: Use digital coupons

Coupons are a great incentive for customers to convert. But they need to be presented in the right way. They should appear as a customised experience for the customer, one that is timely and relevant to what they are doing. If you see they have viewed a product you offer, you could give them a gentle nudge with a coupon sent via a messaging app to convince them to buy.

There are other techniques you can employ to make the process even more native and fluid. For example, making coupons easy to find from within the messaging app will save a lot of scrolling. And you can have them accepted in stores too, giving your customers more options of how to shop with you.

Step 8: Prioritise shopping cart abandonment

If someone abandons their online shopping cart without completing checkout, it’s a missed opportunity for your business. Messaging apps provide the perfect opportunity to bring these customers back and help them convert.

Using the tracking functionality available through the bot, you can send them personalised messages to remind them that they have an abandoned cart, or that there is a time-limited special offer on this particular product, thereby encouraging them to complete their purchase. This approach can be applied across a wide range of sectors, like holiday bookings, or financial products. And we know that shopping cart abandonment is causing retailers huge losses – one study says over 75 percent of global consumers abandon their shopping carts.

Other channels have similar functionality, but are much less effective than messaging apps. That’s because messages sent through messaging apps: 

  • have higher open rates than email
  • allow click-throughs without leaving the app (i.e. offer a native experience)
  • are more personal
  • aren’t filtered into any spam, promotional or junk folders

Shopping cart abandonment is such a big issue, that for most brands, even a small improvement will have a huge bearing on revenues. Because sometimes, it’s the small changes that have the biggest effect.

Step 9: Choose a messaging app that serves your needs

Most users use at least three messaging apps for different purposes – maybe they like the functionality of one, but one particular friendship group (or family members, or colleagues) use another. Nobody is restricted to using just one app, so it’s a fallacy that your customers are present in just one place – the reality is there’s much more overlap than that. 

There are lots of different messaging apps offering all sorts of different functionality – it’s a wild west out there. Hence it’s crucial to focus on the messaging app or apps that offer your brand most – if not all – of the functions that you are looking for. In that case, it’s ok to educate your customers in how to find you.

How do you do this? You’ll have to develop a broad knowledge of what apps are available, what they offer and the strengths and weaknesses of each to your brand. Then it’s a case of mapping the user journey to meet your marketing needs and choosing the right channel thereon.