Totally OTT: Neville Doyle on how marketers can tap into the rise of messaging services

Messaging apps are coming of age and Colenso BBDO’s Neville Doyle has some suggestions for marketers who want to test the waters.

When numbers start to get into the billions they cease, for me, to lack any real context. So when I heard that Facebook had purchased WhatsApp last year for US$19 billion the fact that stuck with me was that this was over twice the value of Disney Pixar. Seriously. 

So, how are these unbelievable valuations justified? Simply put, people love messaging. Around the world, there are now 12 ‘over the top’ (OTT, meaning they run on the internet rather than the cellular network) services with over 100 million users. Year-on-year growth is sitting at an unbelievable 203 percent and in 2014 there were 50 billion instant messages sent compared with just 21 billion SMS. 

The digital landscape is fundamentally changing. With three billion smartphones versus 1.5 billion computers, the future of consumers’ online experiences are going to be mobile and personal. Couple this with the explosive growth in mobile messenger apps and a new communications paradigm starts to emerge, one that moves away from search or display advertising in favour of a more direct approach. 

Messaging apps are a means of tapping this new paradigm; an opportunity to reach a huge (yet highly targeted) audience in a personal, yet easily shareable, way on a platform that is always in people’s pockets, the smartphone. 

The popularity of mobile messaging is helped by a growing dissatisfaction within youth demographics of the one-size-fits-all approach of the traditional social networks. The messaging space offers an antidote to those platforms that are trying to be everything to everyone. 

As Heather Galt, head of marketing at Kik Interactive (a Canadian based OTT service) says: “There are many public spaces where you can find content but people don’t want to talk to each other in public, they want to talk to each other one-to-one and have real conversations.”

For brands looking to test the waters, there is one overarching golden rule. Remember why people are there. If you are not improving the experience for consumers then not only is it a waste if your time, but you will also be creating a negative impact on/experience of your brand. With that in mind, here are three simple places to start. 

Gone in six seconds 

The fundamental of the most effective ways to get noticed in this space is to create content that does not hang around. 

Ephemeral messaging—content that vanishes after a few seconds—by its very nature is hugely interesting to brands as the scarcity of the content means people place more value on consuming it and give it their full value for the short time it exists. 

This of course in turn raises the bar for content providers. If consumers are going to give you their full, undivided attention then you better not disappoint. 

A great example comes from the NFL where the Philadelphia Eagles use Snapchat to provide continual, year round behind the scenes content, giving their consumers a view of the team and the organisation they wouldn’t usually see. Their social media director Linda Thomas notes, “the engagement rates on this platform are huge, averaging between 42 percent and 56 percent”. When compared with a Facebook average of around one to two percent the value of this platform starts to become clear. 

Emoji action 

A study last year, published in the Social Neuroscience journal, found that the human brain perceived symbols such as 🙂 and 😉 in the same way it does with actual faces. This means, as we understand them instantly, emoticons actually speed up communication.

So, love them or hate them, we are all now increasingly using icons to convey what we mean when it comes to messaging apps. In a 2014 interview, Benedict Evans of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, noted: “There’s a frenzy of experimentation going on with future of messaging with new ways of communicating on mobile that go beyond typing something and hitting send”. 

Leading the charge are apps such as Line that’s developed more than 500 sticker sets for users to pay for, download and use. From Hello Kitty and Barcelona FC through to the slightly unexpected, such as Paul McCartney, these mean big business. From mid 2013 to mid 2014, Line earned over $500 million for sticker purchases alone. 

The opportunity to Discover 

New ways for consumers to consume content on these platforms are being introduced constantly, the latest coming from Snapchat. Its new ‘Discover’ functionality allows its users to view articles, images, and videos from a variety of publishers inside the app.

Discover separates content into a variety of ‘channels’ from media organisations like Comedy Central, Vice and National Geographic. Users see previews of the content, decide if they’re interested in it, and then view the entire thing in the application. 

When announcing Discover, Snapchat stated that it’s “not social media,” which tells people “what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular.” Instead, it’s focused on making it easier for publishers and brands to distribute their content to as many people as possible. It’s the work these organisations are proud of, not the work that’s most viral.

Publishers will certainly be quantifying how well their content performs in Discover, but Snapchat’s positioning the feature as a tool meant to create a real connection between brands and their audiences. It won’t require the perfect headline, or the right mix of hashtags to make something go viral — it’s all about the content. So the creative gauntlet is thrown: can your content stand out and genuinely engage your audience? 

Understand the platform

Ensure you are targeting the right platform for your audience. Focus on adding to the consumers’ experience (think about what is of genuine interest to them rather than just ramming a product down their throats). The ability to create bespoke content on these platforms is key. Shareable-by-design thinking needs to be at the heart of everything a brand does, as does understanding the mobile-only nature of these new networks (and creating content accordingly).  

  • Neville Doyle is the digital planning director at Colenso BBDO/Proximity NZ. [email protected]
  • This article originally appeared in the March/April edition of NZ Marketing. 

About Author

Comments are closed.