A Billion People Use WhatsApp, But Messaging Apps Still Stump Market

michael-africkData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Michael Africk, co-founder and CEO at Inmoji.

Just hours before Facebook announced that 1 billion people now use WhatsApp, Fidelity Investments cut Snapchat’s valuation by 2%. That’s the second write-down of the messaging app maker in three months, largely due to challenges balancing privacy, discovery and the very real need to monetize.

It takes more than big audiences and access to them on mobile messaging platforms to drive meaningful outcomes. The proliferation of ad blocking, with Samsung recently joining Apple in blocking ads on mobile, is only adding to the confusion.

With headlines like these, it is no wonder why both brand marketers and messaging apps are stumped when it comes to cracking the code for connecting with consumers on mobile. Everyone who touches the industry needs to rethink how they approach the mobile experience by focusing on heightened creativity, thoughtful consideration of shrinking attention spans and the need to produce a steady flow of fresh, highly engaging content that surprises, delights and entertains.

Rethink Approach To Mobile

We are in the midst of a massive shift in global behavior that will continue to change the marketing and media mix forever. This shift stems primarily from the authenticity of the mobile messaging platform. People covet their contacts on their phone. The dialogue with these people represents the true, intimate conversations in our lives.

As a result, mobile messaging will be the biggest growth area for innovation for all consumer advertising and media. Unlike traditional vehicles deployed by advertising, such as banners, video and display, experiences on mobile messaging are largely organic. Consumers provide the context for branded conversation and become the brand ambassadors for peer-to-peer conversations.

The data implications on both the messaging and brand side are significant. Messaging apps are quickly becoming the most effective platforms for marketing and ecommerce, just as texting is the new talk. They provide unprecedented insights into data, such as age, time, location and interests, along with potential access to the moments that drive billions of conversations.

The importance of messaging apps is what makes them different from traditional communication channels, such as broadcast or social media. While social media makes it easy to broadcast messages from one to many, messaging apps foster one-to-one interaction. Viewed this way, brands can provide timely, relevant and meaningful content enabling consumers to share anything from a latte to concert tickets, all within a message.

Cultivate Community

Make no mistake: Consumers reign supreme and are in complete control in this new media environment. They get to arbitrate over their community and make their own rules of engagement. If they don’t like something, they will reject it. Or they will leave one app for another where they can find a better experience.

With power in the hands of consumers, brands and marketers must find ways to be good citizens within these communities. They have to make themselves likable and integrate with the culture in authentic ways. If not, the community will tune out completely. It is always about building relationships. When consumers love brands, there is more the brand can offer its audience and vice versa. If brands decide to push their way into conversations arbitrarily, they will find themselves in a difficult place when it comes to collecting data for measuring sales conversions and other metrics.

As messaging apps respond to the demands of explosive growth, challenges arise around analytics and privacy. Some app companies have publically stated they will not collect personal data for advertisers. Others collect basic information like age and location for targeting purposes but shun hypertargeting.

I believe the middle ground is for platforms to see the value of targeting anonymized data that enables marketers to reach consumers based on interest. As the landscape continues to develop and mature, marketers will need to innovate reverse engineering strategies to mine data that respects user privacy but still tells the entire story.

Be Authentic

Nothing is as authentic as the conversations that are happening via messaging. Unlike social media networks, where people broadcast their posts to the masses, these conversation are intimate with people we know and trust. The conversations happening on messaging apps replicate in-person conversations.

Instead of walking with a friend and pointing to the local restaurant on the corner or to a billboard for a new movie, conversations on mobile can and should allow consumers to digitally “point” to their interests.

Brands are already accustomed to reading expected signals, such as the Grammys or the Super Bowl, and connecting with consumers. Messaging apps raise the ante. Brands and publishers alike can now capitalize on the serendipity of spontaneous moments to provide the most authentic, organic and engaging content at precisely the right time. That is the true power of innovation in messaging.

Follow Inmoji (@Inmoji) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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