As we enter a new year and decade, one trend that digital marketing experts across the world have been talking about is WhatsApp marketing and how it can help brands reach out to their audiences effectively.
With close to 1.5 billion users across the globe, the Facebook-owned app is perhaps one of the most popular and frequently used apps in the world.
Recently at the Facebook Marketing Summit (FMC) 2019 that took place in Netherlands, the company announced that it will soon show ‘Status ads’ to its users where they will be able to see the name of the advertiser along with their associated advertisement. This is expected to open a floodgate of opportunities for brands interested in getting up, close and personal with their consumers.
However, while there is still some time for WhatsApp to launch ads, we explored the other ways that marketers can use the platform.
How marketers can use WhatsApp
Currently there are two products from WhatsApp that can be used by marketers to reach out to their consumers. Firstly, the WhatsApp for Business App, that can be used by small businesses and secondly, the WhatsApp for Business API that has been designed for medium and large businesses.
Explaining how these two products can be used by marketers, Sabyasachi Mitter, Founder and MD, Fulcro says, “The WhatsApp for Business App is meant for the use of small businesses. It is similar to the WhatsApp mobile app which you already use on your phone, with some additions like auto-responders and a basic product catalogue. This app is used manually and cannot really scale beyond a few 100 customers. The WhatsApp for Business API is solution that is aimed at enterprises and brands that wish to engage with their customers at scale. It provides an API-based interface that allows brands to communicate using the WhatsApp platform. There is no ‘app’ that a business can just download and get started, and requires a brand to setup a proper infrastructure. Brands need to invest time in the setup of the WhatsApp for Business API.”
The WhatsApp for Business API provides brands with the ability to communicate with customers in 2 ways – a notification message or a Session Window, adds Mitter. Notification messages can be sent to customers who have signed up to receive notifications from the brand. These messages have to be pre-approved by WhatsApp.
“When customers message to a brand, they open a ‘Session Window’. In this window, a brand can communicate with a customer for a 24-hour window from their last message in a free-form mode. Here they can send all sorts of content, including images, videos, and documents,” he shares.
For the longest time advertising was about one way interaction with consumers. However the advent of internet has allowed brands to get closer to its consumers, to have more two-way communications. That is exactly what WhatsApp allows brands to do.
Delving deeper, Vishal Rupani, Co-founder and CEO, mCanvas says, “There are some business teams which prefer to send out messages using their personal WhatsApp account, and not a business alternative and it works well on a small scale. But if we’re going to consider the use of WhatsApp as a marketing tool at scale, then it’s time to look at the bigger picture. Large brands are using WhatsApp Business API to send out personalised appointment reminders, shipping alerts, order notifications, product demonstration videos, verification codes, boarding passes, and 2-way customer surveys and support messages.”
So how can brands benefit from using the platform? Considering the wide usage of the app, it makes for a platform where brands can directly reach out to an already-engaged audience.
Citing some interesting figures, Rupani says, “According to Hootsuite, the engagement rates on WhatsApp are distinctly high, where 98% of mobile messages are opened and read, with 90% of them getting opened within three seconds of being received. Marketers can leverage the wide reach of the app to tap into consumer segments on a personalised level. Further, the messaging interface of the app makes it tempting enough for any user to click on. If that’s not enough, then the personalised nature of WhatsApp messages evokes a desire to engage with the message.”
Speaking about sectors that have been finding the most value out of investing on WhatsApp, Mihir Mehta, AVP – Digital Planning and Buying, iProspect India says, “Since it is a conversational and interactive platform, a lot of sectors like travel, diners, niche news channels prefer to use it to reach their consumers.”
The brands that have been doing it right on WhatsApp
Some brands that have been leveraging WhatsApp, primarily for customer service are Nykaa and BookMyShow. However, there are some other brands that have been innovating on the platform to reach out to its consumers.
Giving a few examples, Rupani says, “Brands in the hospitality industry have effectively used WhatsApp Business to create a flawless experience for users at every step. For instance, OYO, the Indian hotel booking site, assists their customers with personalised alerts regarding booking confirmation, directions to the hotel on the day of check-in and even makes cancelling their bookings easy and hassle free. Further, KLM, the flag carrier airline of The Netherlands also uses WhatsApp Business API to send booking confirmations, boarding passes, check-in notifications, and flight statuses to users, once they’ve completed a booking on the airline’s website.”
He shares that Absolut was one of the first brands to creatively use WhatsApp to promote its limited edition Absolut Unique vodka with branded social content. “In this campaign, consumers interacted on WhatsApp with a fictional bouncer named Sven. They were encouraged to send text and voice messages, photos and videos to convince him, that they deserve to receive one of the two passes available to the brand’s exclusive party. This was a unique twist to how WhatsApp can be used as a marketing tool,” adds Rupani.
WhatsApp v/s other social media platforms
While other social media platforms help brands get direct engagement with their consumers too, WhatsApp has a different set of benefits. Explains Mitter, “We have to realise that the two platforms are very distinct and have different purposes. WhatsApp allows a brand to engage with a customer one-on-one, while on Social media, a Brand will engage with a community, and both have a place in the consumer journey. For example, when seeking support, WhatsApp would present a better option to the customer, as they can be serviced one-on-one on a dedicated conversation.”
“Both platform types also help support each other. Communicating with a consumer on WhatsApp needs the recording of explicit consent, either through a form or through an incoming message, Social Media can be used to help inform customers and give them a viable reason to give consent,” he adds.
While WhatsApp and other social media platforms play different roles in a consumer’s life, it is important to understand that an effective use of these apps can help marketers get through to a really engaged audience. Moreover, the launch of WhatsApp status ads is set to take the game to the next level, allowing brands to put their thinking hats on and innovate. Brands will need to ensure that the ads shown on the platform do not become intrusive. Now how brands make the most of this platform is something we will have to wait and watch. Needless to say, we have interesting times ahead.