The world has changed. Your audience consists of impatient high-technology users who have access to any information within 10 seconds of unlocking their mobile phone, says Dean Withey of ubisend.
In 2015, the way your audience consumed data pivoted and now more people use messaging applications (such as Facebook Messenger, WeChat and WhatsApp) than social media (such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). Consumers have switched from social networking to social messaging.
Your audience expects you to fix their problems instantly and personally. How do you ensure your business is on-demand, selling effectively and providing customer support at all times?
Things are moving fast. A year ago, over 50 percent of consumers surveyed in the 2016 Mobile Messaging Report said a business should be able to respond to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With the increase of large brands going on-demand, I suspect the 2017 report will show an even higher percentage.
Depending on budget and legacy systems, there are a few options available for businesses to deliver personal communication at scale. Most recently, the hype has been surrounding chatbots and artificial intelligence, but the mainstay channel has always been mobile messaging.
Historically, mobile messaging consisted solely of SMS. After all, over two-thirds of the world's population can receive SMS direct to their pocket, making it an obvious choice for large brands. Over the last few years, SMS has seen some competition. In the East there's WeChat, and in the West, users are flocking to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. The top three messaging apps now boast over three billion monthly active users. These messaging apps are generally both free to send and receive messages and, combined with the ability to deliver rich media, an attractive channel for business-consumer conversation.
Although mobile messaging is a relatively new digital channel, particularly when considering messaging apps, there are some best practices businesses should consider:
1. Always ask permissionIf UK law governs your company, there are strict anti-spam laws protecting consumers. The Information Commissioner's Office has the full rundown.
Here's the headline:
You can only send marketing text messages to consumers that have agreed to receive them, unless they are a defined customer.
The ICO does not go into specific detail about messaging applications, but unlike SMS, most messaging applications are designed on a technical level to be opt-in. Your business cannot simply crawl Facebook or WeChat profiles and start spamming people.
So, opt-in means you need to encourage your audience to make that initial contact. Once they have, the first message you send should be clear instructions on how to opt-out. It could be a keyword to reply with, a URL to click or a number to call. Ideally, you want to make it as simple as possible for the user (and free).
2. Engage in Conversation, don’t broadcastHistorically, marketing has mostly been about broadcasting a message. Whether print or digital, that message would have been highly optimised based on a profiled segment of an audience. The goal is to get a read, click, visit, telephone call or anything else that shows some form of ROI. Modern technology now allows business and consumers to switch from send-receive to send-receive-send; simply, companies can now engage in two-way conversation with consumers using mobile messaging.
As an example, your business sells shoes. Rather than spending lots of money trying to find people that buy the exact shoes you sell and targeting them with your ads, you can just say: "Hi, we sell shoes. Can I help you find some?"
2016 saw the rise in the buzzword 'conversational commerce'. Broadly, it is the ability for a business to have a conversation with an audience and sell stuff. Perhaps by helping users through the buyer journey, answering their questions on products or even being there to tell them about your company ethos and sustainability.
3. Now is the time to learnSome of the world's largest brands are already testing and iterating their mobile messaging strategy. Some examples are Unilever, the Guardian newspaper, Domino’s Pizza and eBay. Although each is very different in industry and approach, the common theme is the fact they launched something early, safely and on-brand.
Technology is changing very quickly. Almost every month we see leaps in the ability and results of artificial intelligence. Mobile messaging can power customer service, sales and internal communication; it can speak in any language and connect to any API to pull in and send data. Although it sounds unwieldy and expensive, the vastness and scope of mobile messaging should not put you off.
Start small and deliver a simple solution that is on-brand and useful for the audience. Domino's Pizza is a good example. They spent almost eight months with a basic Facebook Messenger program that enabled users to learn about Domino's and quickly order their regular pizza. Only after multiple iterations did they launch the ability to build a pizza and meal from scratch then pay and arrange delivery without ever leaving Messenger.
Users (particularly the younger audience) enjoy shaping the future of services and products. Involve them in your mobile messaging; be open and honest regarding feedback and development. You never know, you might hit the Holy Grail of product development and build a service based on user demand and feedback.
Recent surveys show consumers are willing for your business to communicate with them via their preferred messaging application. Technology is now ready and able to deliver seamless conversational commerce at scale. By integrating mobile messaging into your marketing mix, you can serve your audience faster, 24 hours a day and on-demand.
Best of all, you can also delight and create memorable, lasting experiences.
Dean Withey isthe CEO of chatbot company, ubisend