WhatsApp recently announced that from December onwards the platform will no longer facilitate bulk messaging from companies. The change will undoubtedly impact companies and start-ups that have previously relied on the messaging platform to interact with customers. In an interview, WhatsApp expert Matthias Mehner, CMO at MessengerPeople, explains the potential consequences of WhatsApp’s decision.
Matthias, how does messenger marketing work and what are some of the advantages this channel offers?
I prefer the term messenger communication, as for me this topic involves much more than pure marketing. There are several different ways for companies to communicate through messenger platforms, which are of course incredibly popular for personal use. In the past companies have used these channels for bulk messaging, where buzzwords such as conversational commerce and conversational marketing play a central role. More recently messenger platforms have become a replacement for SMS, with the channels facilitating the sending and receiving of notifications and alerts. Direct communication with the consumer is central to this, with companies able to address the needs and concerns of customers as soon as they voice them. This communication is essential for the overall consumer journey, whether it be for customer service or sales. Messenger platforms are the ideal channel for this.
Is it still common for companies to use bulk messaging tactics?
We had a long stint as one of the few companies that could offer this service in Germany. From the beginning of December we will no longer be permitted to do so due to WhatsApp’s recent decision to concentrate on one-on-one communication. Of course, there are other messenger platforms, including Facebook Messenger, however these are currently unable to match the performance of WhatsApp.
Now WhatsApp wants to turn this on its head and provide customers with the opportunity to contact companies directly. In the past there have only been two avenues available for customers to contact a company: through calling a hotline or writing an eMail. WhatsApp recognised the need for a more straightforward line of communication. So the big trend is now for customers to approach the company.
What do brands using messenger marketing need to be aware of?
Data security is a major concern when it comes to messenger marketing. Many companies, start-ups and small organisations use WhatsApp to communicate with their customers directly. This is a definite gray zone under data protection law. The bottom line is: companies are only permitted to use WhatsApp to contact their customers through the official WhatsApp Business API, which is available through so-called “solution providers” such as MessengerPeople.
Do you have any examples of companies successfully implementing messenger marketing?
There’s one company that, in my opinion, absolutely nailed it and that’s Women’s Best, an Austrian online store for activewear and premium sport supplements for women. The company’s rapid growth required a specific channel of communication to effectively manage the hundreds of customer requests received each day. Messenger apps in collaboration with our messenger communication platform proved to be the perfect solution to handle the increase in interactions.
Today Women’s Best manages their customer service through WhatsApp and Apple Business Chat. Telephone support is only used responsively and E-Mail queries have reduced by 70%. Through messaging platforms, customers enjoy a simpler customer service experience with faster response times. In fact, customer service at Women’s Best is now twice as fast. This has a positive effect on purchasing behaviour. Purchases from Women’s Best can be traced back to recommendations given during WhatsApp and Apple Business Chat interactions. The next step for messenger marketing is the integration of Apple Pay.
Are there differences between the platforms (WhatsApp, Threema, WeChat) and which ones should start-ups focus on?
My recommendation: focus on WhatsApp. In Germany alone WhatsApp have sixty million active users, whilst Facebook has half as many. At MessengerPeople we support almost 2000 companies with their messenger marketing and it is important to note that WhatsApp is the platform of choice within Germany. This differs from China, where companies communicate with their customers primarily through WeChat. In the USA, it’s through Facebook Messenger.
How can companies tell a story through messenger marketing?
There are many examples of effective storytelling, one of which is the world’s first interactive WhatsApp comedy series from Telekom featuring Christian Ulmen and Fahri Yardim. Users witnessed the two chatting via WhatsApp about their advertising contracts with Telekom. A range of innovative media forms were used to deliver the series, for instance a Chatbot provided users with additional content. The result: four times more engagement on Telekom’s Facebook page and three thousand hours of interaction.
How will messenger marketing change over the next five years?
Although the examples discussed throughout this interview have focused on bulk messaging, the trend is shifting towards professional two-way chats. An increasing number of companies are positioning themselves as experts in messenger marketing. Voice technology (Alexa and Siri) and messenger marketing are becoming more intertwined, with the user actively able to converse with these devices. I believe that voice technology will play a bigger role in messenger marketing in the future and I am very curious to see how companies use this to their advantage.