Consumers have become blind to online advertising. And who can blame them? The digital space is so cluttered, consumers are bombarded with ads from all directions. Is it really any wonder that they do everything in their power to avoid them? At a recent conference I saw facial recognition tech that analyses viewers’ facial expressions as they watch video ads online. They could actually measure the sadness on a consumer’s face when confronted with a pre-roll advert, and how that sadness diminishes as the time remaining ticks down. We always knew no-one liked pre-rolls, but now we can actually measure how much people despise them.
So increasingly, brands are turning to the messaging space in order to reach consumers. Messaging has enormous promotional potential. Use it correctly, and you’ll work your way into customers’ affections, increasing brand loyalty and, in turn, transactions. But misuse it, and you’ll prompt a backlash the likes of which you’ve never seen before…
Answering a customer need
Messaging is a very private space. People use it to chat informally with friends, family and colleagues; they don’t want to get messages from anyone who isn’t in their immediate circle of friends. Warranting an entry in someone’s address book is like being invited to one of their social gatherings: it’s not open to just anyone, you have to earn your place. It’s a hallowed place, and one that brands should feel privileged to be allowed into.
When you have a brand that you like – or even need – so much that you feel comfortable messaging it, it elevates the customer relationship to a whole new level. It might start with promotions, but it’s also true from a transactional point of view. If you as a brand are able to solve a customer’s issue quickly and painlessly, it’s going to engender loyalty. We’ve all had bad customer care experiences – the website doesn’t answer your question, so you have to find their phone number, but that’s buried on the website because they don’t want anyone calling them, and once you’ve been on hold and finally been able to speak to someone they might ask you to put your query in writing and email it in, or even sent it by post. It’s the 21st century, this is not how things are supposed to work.
But messaging is fantastic for answering customer needs. I had direct experience of this recently, when I had to change my flights for a business trip. I couldn’t do it through the airline’s website, because that would only let me cancel my flight, so I had to search out the phone number, call them up, dig out my booking reference from an email, cross-reference that with the new flight times I wanted, and so on. It’s a lot of hassle.
If I could do it all by sending a message, that would be perfect. I could do it while I was on the phone, or commuting. And it would mean I wouldn’t have to shout at them.
It’s not just for bookings. Nowadays, almost every transaction we make involves some kind of interaction with the company after the fact. Even if you buy a pair of sunglasses and they break, you’ll need to contact the retailer for a refund. So it applies to almost every transaction we make.
Some of the use cases are quite surprising. Dunkin’ Donuts did a promotion through a chatbot on Viber, and managed to increase their in-store sales. I thought, donuts? Really? Who would’ve thought? So it can work for almost any brand, selling any product, providing they use it correctly.
It’s simple: answer customer needs with immediate, to-the-point messaging, and you’ll increase brand loyalty, which leads to a higher level of engagement and more sales. No other digital channel can do that.
The rise of conversational commerce
We call this kind of interaction conversational commerce. It’s on the rise because increasingly customers need to contact companies that they buy from, and they don’t want to pick up the phone. So it makes sense to do it through messaging instead.
Very few brands are properly capitalising on this, despite the fact that consumers are spending more time in messaging apps. Messaging is the one space that lets you increase brand awareness through pure branding campaigns, as well as convert undecided consumers into paying customers. It’s the one digital channel that offers a truly customised approach.
How so? Unlike other online channels, which essentially deliver the same content, messaging allows you to come in at the exact point that a consumer is making a decision. You can qualify a consumer’s level of interest by asking them questions about themselves and respond with specific products or services that meet their needs. Because you engage in this dialogue, this type of interaction belongs to the messaging space much more than anywhere else. Think of it as a throwback to old-school independent shops, where the staff took the time to get to know their customers and could dispense expert advice based on their requirements.
In the second part of this two-part series, we'll look at the best ways to put a mobile messaging strategy into practice...
Cristina Constandache is chief revenue officer at Rakuten Viber