What The Rise Of Supercharged Messaging Apps Means For CMOs

This article was co-authored by Justin Marshall and Sean Weller, and first appeared on Forbes.

Forgive CMOs if their initial reaction to the rise of messaging apps has been a collective head-scratch. Brands often talk about one-to-one communication, but the reality is that, unless we have only a few customers, having two-way conversations with all of them is not practical. Regardless of the challenges messaging seems to present, brands should definitely be paying attention to it.

The first reason is numbers. Messaging is not only highly popular; it’s also the fastest-growing social behavior online. Today, more than 2.5 billion people regularly use a messaging app, a number that will grow to 3.5 billion within 2 years.

More important for brands, think mobile. Overall, mobile usage passed desktop usage in 2014 and its lead continues to grow. At the same, brands in the West have struggled to advertise effectively in mobile, where 50% of all ad taps appear accidental. And they fare little better with commerce. By one oft-cited study, mobile shopping cart abandonment rates top 97%.

Interestingly enough, messaging apps dominate mobile, currently accounting for 6 of the top 10 most used apps globally. In China, they have also evolved into powerful brand and commerce tools. There, 50% of all ecommerce occurs on a phone or tablet, with messaging apps accounting for a big percentage of transactions. WeChat, in particular, doubles as a mobile payments system, making it a one-stop app for doing everything from booking a ticket and hailing a cab to buying a car and getting a loan.

Not surprisingly, Western messaging apps seem to have WeChat-like ambitions. Today, Slack, Line, Viber, Facebook Messenger and the rest are already fully featured communication tools with each trying to outdo the others with new features.

What the future holds

Until recently, messaging apps have primarily been communications tools that were at best indifferent to brands. Most did not allow targeted ads, lacked the ability to scale, and required one-to-one or one-to-group communication.

Luckily, this was not a matter of DNA, but of product strategy. Just as with social networks before them, messaging apps sought to win as many users as possible before trying to monetize them. Now, they are predictably turning toward brands, which will provide the bulk of their revenue moving forward. With new features and an emerging set of APIs, they are trying to solve the challenges of reach and scalable engagement.

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