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WhatsApp’s Meteoric Rise and Marketing Potential

June 1st, 2014

Facebook’s decision to acquire WhatsApp seems to have increased the chat app’s popularity even more than most analysts expected. Recently, the founder of the popular social app, Jan Koum, announced that WhatsApp has hit 600 million monthly active users. Just in April the messaging app had 500 million active users, which means that it has been pulling in more than 20 million users every month. This is a testament to why WhatApp is the most popular messaging app in the world.

Now five years old,WhatsApp allows users to chat, share photos and videos. Facebook still has to get international regulatory approval before it can complete the purchase, but it already has approval from the Federal Trade Commission.

It’s quite clear now that 600 million people love using this app and that brands want to capture the attention of this growing user base.  So the big question for most marketers is how can they achieve this, without a built in news feed like Facebook. Apart from the fact that its founders are opposed to any form of advertising (no ads, no games, no gimmicks), you also cannot follow anyone on the app like Twitter.  So brands need to get creative.

Let us look at some of the ways brands can use this record breaking chatting app.  To begin with, companies can use the WhatsApp platform to thoroughly engage consumers.  Engaging consumers is a smart way to build customer loyalty, which is criticalto compete in most industries. It is this type of constant engagement that endears brands to consumers—but it must be done right.

For instance, the chocolate company, Klik, added their phone number to their Facebook page and started a game called Simon Says in a group on WhatsApp. The company’s target audience, (teenagers) took to the “question and answer” game immediately and it became a huge success. This same strategy can also be used to engage other demographics not just a younger audience, but because the user base is primarily young, first the brand must convince older users to download and try the app.

Another wonderful way to use this app is to create awareness about a new product launch. However, this must be fun first and foremost or risk failure.The key is to encourage simultaneous brand-consumer interaction and consumer-consumer interaction. Just posting photos of your new product or messages on WhatsApp is not going to cut it.  Everybody needs to connect into the social ecosystem created by the brand and share and receive benefits all around.

Take for instance what Absolut, the popular vodka company, did in Argentina. They wanted to create buzz around the launch partyfor their newly designed Absolut bottles. So they allowed people to persuade the party bouncer Sven through WhatsAppto include them in the guest list. People came up with all types of creative photos, messages, videos and songs to kiss up to Sven’s ego to get an invite to the party.

This launch also created new brand ambassadors who expanded the promotion far beyond WhatsAppto other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Absolute brilliantly struck gold with this promotion.—reinforcing their cutting-edge brand while creating an effective and fun way for everyone to engage.

So the emerging standard to for brands to create awareness about something new is to create an engaging social ecosystem where their target customers will want to share also. It doesn’t have to be a party, it could be a game, treasure hunt or even a meet up with celebrity or mascot.

Finally, WhatsApp has potential to be a very effective and inexpensive tool for customer service—a critical way for a brand to retain its customers. Through the messaging app, a company can send out quick updates, service follow-ups and announce new product features. They can also use the app to deal with users’ questions, concerns and complaints before they turn into dissatisfaction. Dealing with these issues transparently and on time will help the company avoid losing customers who are already loyal to their brand and also offer opportunity to draw in new customers.

WhatsApp’s amazing rise to the top is not about to slow down, according to analysts.  However, we can be certain the next big app will follow—and brands should be continuously test new channels and platforms to reach and service customers.

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