How are WhatsApp engaging with brands?

This week news emerged that WhatsApp, the instant messaging app recently acquired by Facebook, have made the decision to change their existing revenue model and instead utilise brands as part of their strategy. 

Historically, WhatsApp has been free to users for just the first year after which they are charged $0.99 as an annual fee. Whilst this was the chosen revenue stream for WhatsApp, there have been concerns that many users of the app may not have access to a credit or debit card and that users may abandon the app in favour of free alternatives such as Facebook Messenger rather than pay for something that was previously free. 

Jan Koum who is the founder of WhatsApp spoke at a technology conference recently, discussing his reasons for the changes. He spoke of how the subscription fee “doesn’t really work that well” and that WhatsApp now intend to focus on making money from businesses paying them to connect with the 900million world wide WhatsApp users. 

So what does this mean for brands and will WhatsApp provide a channel to create immersive connections with customers that have been unavailable to brands?

WhatsApp has close to a billion users. And most of these users use the App as a group messaging tool. But WhatsApp is also used by shops and restaurants and other businesses to communicate with the world at large, and, now that audience numbers have reached such high levels the company can refine this kind of communication—and eventually charge a fee for it. 

Examples that have been used are brands such as airlines and banks utilising the platform to inform customers of fraudulent activity on their accounts or as a means of finding out flight information real time. 

The popularity of WhatsApp and the ability of it to be used as a mass broadcast channel (similar to Twitter) can mean that brands can broadcast a message in a medium that still feels like a text message, a personal communication. Unlike Twitter or Facebook where a mass communication doesn’t make anyone feel directly targeted, WhatsApp gets around that. You see a personal message regardless of the fact that it has also been sent to thousands of other people.

And trends are pointing to consumers requiring and demanding more tailored and personalised experiences from the brands they engage with. 

Brands who are ahead of the game will utilise WhatsApp to create more interaction and communication with not only their existing customers, but also their potential ones. 

Another major advantage of WhatsApp is the need for real-time information and responses. Where previously an email query may have been sent and responded to in a few hours if not days, the assumption is that WhatsApp would be an almost instantaneous method of communication and information exchange between customers and brands.

Therefore, we really see a potential here for WhatsApp to offer a unique service. The trick will be to keep the platform personal, as opposed to messaging being marketing led, it needs to be information led. 

This is where the content strategy of brands and what WhatsApp allows to be broadcast needs to be carefully thought through. Useful information, warnings, even offers will work, but unsolicited discounts, promotions (think of your common email marketing campaign) will mean that users may leave the platform and seek other private methods of group messaging.