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OTT messaging apps are booming – but what’s the opportunity for brands?

By Julian Smith |

July 1, 2014 | 5 min read

Wherever you look nowadays in the global mobile landscape you cannot avoid the explosive growth that is occurring in OTT (Over-The-Top) messaging apps. Whether it is WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Viber, KakaoTalk, Snapchat – and the list goes on – mobile consumers are adopting IP-based chat and socialising applications faster than the proverbial ‘hot cakes’.

The uptake among smartphone and tablet-enabled users around the world has been phenomenal. It is estimated that there are now over 2 billion OTT apps installed around the world, and at least 700 million monthly active users. And this is from a base of less than 100 million users just two years ago. According to Analysys Mason, the total volume of messages sent from mobile devices via OTT IP services in 2013 totalled a staggering 10.3 trillion. And is already now exceeding the once dominant SMS messaging.This rapid consumer adoption of a new form of communication (and increasingly, content) platform is having a disruptive effect on the status quo. It’s causing a headache for the mobile operators who are seeing their once lucrative SMS messaging revenues being significantly eroded as one of the key attractions for consumers is the free messaging offered by OTT. It is causing the well-established social network Facebook to sit up and pay attention – witness its preemptive purchase of WhatsApp for $19bn (an incredible sum given its lack of current monetisation). From an advertising perspective it is leaving many in the industry scratching their heads. How, they wonder, can brands and businesses become a part of this new, trending consumer behaviour, which is taking up an ever greater proportion of an audience’s screen-based media consumption time?To answer this question it helps to consider the, still nascent, marketing communications opportunities emerging within OTT messaging through the lens of paid, owned and earned mobile media.Paid:Most OTT messaging apps do not currently support advertising. Hence the current dilemma for most media planner and buyers. And rightly so, users would not be accepting of intrusive advertising within their personal and private chats. Only a few have tried where it has been appropriate, Nimbuzz and Tango. What currently seems to be working for some of the platform owners, the users and the brands is sponsored stickers. These static or animated cartoon-style images and icons are especially popular at present in the Asia-Pacific region and might be on their way to the Western world soon. KakaoTalk, Line and WeChat all offer this vehicle to deliver branded content in the conversation stream.Alongside these types of branded content we might see the emergence, over time, of new forms of ‘native’ advertising within more of these platforms. But for now, let's discount this approach.Owned:An opportunity that does exist at present in some, if not all, the apps out there is to establish a brand account and host a consumer dialogue, as you would in other social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. These have been capitalised on in Asia by a number of luxury brands looking to connect to the affluent Chinese consumer. Harrods recently set up shop in WeChat. And Montblanc increased Chinese awareness with WeChat gamification.
French fashion label Chloé also unveiled glimpses of its spring 2015 collection through a new account on social media mobile application Tunepics.
And there have been some early examples of brand and personalities infiltrating other platforms with content, such as on Snapchat, Kik and Line.Earned:Perhaps the biggest opportunity at present still remains for marketers to encourage the creation and sharing of user generated content through these closed chat platforms. If brands can encourage their target audience to create positive conversations on their behalf then word-of-mouth will spread rapidly through these channels. We are seeing a growing number of hashtag campaigns, as well as hashtag activism, emerging on Twitter. Brands might want to consider how they can spread this to the newer platforms also.But perhaps what will win out for brands and businesses in the end on OTT messaging apps is m-commerce. As more and more of them enable in-app purchasing, expect to see revenues generated by those offering bespoke content for these channels.


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