WhatsApp has been around for a few years now, and most online marketers have been struggling on how to monetize this tool that is used by so many people all over the world.
Today we also have a whole lot of other competing free chatting or messaging service providers like Skype, WeChat, Line, QQ, Kik messenger, BlackBerry messenger, and Viber to name a few.
However, the market leader among them is undoubtedly WhatsApp.
Today I want to provide some background on WhatsApp and then provide some “food for thought” on how IM people, corporations, large and small companies, and even individuals can start using innovative techniques to tap into the potential marketing power that this social app provides.
Many companies HAVE realized what potential this app has and have started to design innovate marketing campaigns, but there are a lot MORE companies that have not, so an article that drills down on the app, and give you ideas on what it can do for your business. is useful for everyone…
BACKGROUND OF WHATSAPP
The company called WhatsApp Inc. was started founded in 2009. Two employees from Yahoo, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, left their jobs after buying an iPhone and realizing that apps were going to be a huge market in the future.
They started by developing their own app where users could update their status’ for sharing it with others within their network. They called this app “WhatsApp,” a play on the words “what’s up”…and formed their company in California in February 2009.
It was launched exclusively for the Apple Store in November of that year. Two months later they rolled out a Blackberry version of WhatsApp, and of course this time was the beginning of the end for the platform of choice at that time, Blackberry’s BBM, but I digress…
The Growth Phases
Thereafter versions were completed and released for Symbian and Android in the year 2010, and finally, for Windows in 2011. It has grown by leaps and bounds since these points in time, and now there are over 990 million users globally.
The company was subsequently acquired by FaceBook in February 2014 for $19 billion dollars! I would say these two fellas did pretty well with their idea!
The app has continued to be refined in its capabilities and strengths, but until today there is no official advertising associated with the app.
How they generate revenues is explained a bit further down…
The early days of WhatsApp were not easy for the two. The program crashed often, it was not at all user friendly, and there was one problem after the other. Back in the early days you could only update your status and there was no feature of sending messages. It was nothing like what we are using today!
A couple of things happened that helped. Apple launched push notifications in June 2009, and just after that happend the app was also updated, so from that point on all the members in a user’s network got notified when their status changed.
When WhatsApp 2.0 was released, it had added a messaging tool… That addition in turn lead to a rapid increase in active WhatsApp users, a quarter of a million over a short period, and it has continued to grow ever since to be what it is today…
Millions and millions of users…
By December 2009, the original Apple version was updated so that it could share photos along with messages.
To go along with this period of growth and change, Mr. Acton was provided the status of being named as co-founder in November 2009, This was partially a result of his proactive move to get his Yahoo! Friends to invest $250,000 in seed funding for the company.
This initial funding was followed by additional funding of $7 million from Sequoia Capital and by February 2013, WhatsApp had grown its users to 200 million!
At that point Sequoia Captial agreed to invest yet another $50 million. They were set for the future!
The Switch To a Paid Service
Due to the rapid rate of growth, WhatsApp decided to switch from a free to a paid service to cover some of their costs. Early users apparently are not a part of this, I have never been asked to pay anything nor have any of my friends in various countries…The cost is not high, however, and I will gladly pay if requested to do so!
So Where Does WhatsApp Get Revenue?
Right now the company earns revenue only from the annual subscription fee they have implemented for users. It seems that in most areas the first year of their service is free and after that first year it is charging around $0.99 annually.
UPDATE: Per an update posted in Wikipedia, as of 16 January 2016 the WhatsApp founder annouced this fee has been done away with.
Read more here ===> NO MORE FEES FOR WHATSAPP
As I said, I have never been asked to pay this anyway, and I know of no one who has paid, so they were not fully tapping into this revenue stream in any case.
The reason they have not pursued much revenue is that they started it out with the idea of making things easier for their users and not complicating things by having advertisements or exorbitant fees for using the service.
Any small fee is bearable and most, like me, are willing to pay this small fee if ever asked for it. Heck I would even donate if they had this on the app download page!
Right now they have over 990 million users! Think about that for a minute… What a reach this messaging tool potentially has!
The beauty of this application for me also is that they do not save user data nor do they need to sell and advertising. That is not lost on the users of course.
It simply works and is a good way to communicate quickly side-stepping sometime exorbitant fees that the mobile companies charge for calls, especially international calls!
HOW WHATSAPP INCREASES SALES
Using WhatsApp as a marketing tool is a much discussed topic among many a marketing professional today. WhatsApp, whose main objective is to connect people from around the world does not sound or act like a commercial service in any way.
WhatsApp has gained is commercial importance among businesses mainly after its acquisition by the social networking major Facebook for a whopping $19 bilion USD!
When a brand like Facebook, the most sought after online marketing platform, has turned its attention towards an instant messaging app like WhatsApp, we can only expect WhatsApp to indeed have some commercial use for businesses.
Brands big and small have started investigating on the possibility of using WhatsApp in their brand communications and some have done so already. WhatsApp has many advantages over other instant messaging apps, and I have listed out a few of them herein, which has made whatsApp indeed a valuable marketing platform.
It truly is as simple as that. It is a very quick way to get updates out to your customers, and these can include more than text…You can send pictures, coupons, audio messages, and other images to get the message across. Fast.
Marketers have traditionally used emails and more recently the social networks to establish a base of customers and then communicate with them.
With WhatsApp, they can take this to a new level and it has the advantage of going directly to the user’s smartphone, and the user will get an immediate notification that they have an WhatsApp message from your business.
People today spend more time on the internet using their smartphone rather than accessing the ‘net on laptops or desktops. It is the future, and that future is increasingly the here and now. WhatsApp taps into this sea change of how people surf today.
So the take from this is that traditional text messaging is not dead yet, but fewer and fewer people are using as in the early days, when it seemed everyone was sending SMS’ to one another, in some cases over a hundred a day.
The phone companies took full advantage of this at the start, but with the advent of wireless access almost everywhere, along with such applications for the smartphone such as WhatsApp, SMS use has waned, as has their profits from SMS.
For me, SMS is like the old electric typewriter: Kinda cute, works and does its intended purpose, but unfortunatley it is obsolete due to the technological advances that have left it in the dustbin of history and “remember when” stories….
The beauty of Whats App is that, just as the other social networks offer, you can to do text messaging along with images and videos I mentioned. UNLIKE the other Social networks however, the effort required to creating content is less and it is quicker, plus it gets it direct to the user almost immediately.
Let’s look at some example case studies today that I have read about doing searches on the internet. These are examples of real businesses planning for and implementing WhatsApp capabilities in their marketing campaigns, and likely for the same reasons you would consider using the app.
There is a brand of alcohol I am sure you are familiar with called Absolut vodka, and they have tapped into the simple WhatsApp’s capabilities and features to find a way to promote their campaign using the medium.
The idea was to focus on the young. The predominant set of users intially of WhatsApp was the young smartphone users of course, although now I would be interested to see how the demographics look, because I see everyone of all age brackets having it on their phones…
In any case Absolut Vodka focused on convincing young users to get themselves invited to a party, sponsored by Absolut Vodka. set up to celebrate the company reaching a milestone for them of having 4 million uniquely designed bottles (that IS a lot of designs!).
The engagement was overwhelming, and users were sharing a lot of rich content that contained not only images but in some cases videos.
Bottom line, Absolut Vodka accomplished what they set out to do: Get buzz going with young people about their brand, used WhatsApp capabilities to get the word out, and also spread the results and buzz.
With just $1 a year (IF you are asked to pay, see my experiences above), Whatsapp really can cost you absolutely next to nothing for your marketing efforts, and can instantly boost customer conversations around the brand.
UPDATE: There is no longer such a fee in place, This was done away with as of 16 Januray 2016. See above for more info on the link if you are interested in learning more.
SMS is old school now and not only that, it costs a lot of money if you use it in any volume. Audiences have moved on in any case to Whatsapp for such messaging purposes, less costly and more features that convert.
WhatsApp is a way to get or keep your marketing costs down, or if you do not have a large budget, allows you to get exposure for little to no money.
Especially for small businesses, WhatsApp marketing is proving to be a boon. Small businesses have to cut costs in every area of their business and keep those costs down continuously to maintain a healthy position in their niche.
To get a marketing campaign on Whatsapp stood up is so easy. If you assign one of your staff to to manage whatever your campaign may be, to track responses to the campaign, and respond in turn in a prompt manner, you can get a huge amount of engagement and new and recurring business.
The power of marketing has shifted a great deal over the past 10 years from the producers to the consumers. There are several reasons for this, and one is that with the advent of social media in a big way. This is possibly the greatest factor in this sea change.
Today’s consumers are now using these platforms to register their concerns about products and brands as a matter of course. WhatsApp is a perfect tool for them, and they most certainly using it, and using it a LOT.
Since this is the case, you need to be where your customers are now. Smartphones are used more now than laptops and desktops to access the internet by users, and this change has enabled you to have easy access to your customers, using WhatsApp.
Today, to get directly to your customers as never before, you just need to have their phone numbers saved in YOUR mobile phone. That is the key to using WhatsApp to connect with them. Once you have this, you now have communication ability directly that you can tap into 24/7.
So how is this useful?
Here is one case study that shows how powerful this can be: In Kazakhstan there was a rampant rumour spreading that their top 3 banks were on the verge of shutting down due to a pending bankruptcy. It caused a panic and there was a rush of people to these banks to withdraw all of their funds before this happened.
This panic snowballed, and the situation soon seemed to be on the verge of getting out of control. So what did the banks do?
They used WhatsApp to inform their customers that all was fine via message direct to the customer’s phones.
This immediately calmed things down and the panic was over. This shows just how powerful WhatsApp can be, particularly if used to spread a message at the right time.
Because the communication with WhatsApp is more personalized, with messages directly sent to an individual , you can work to know what your customers want and be ready to support and provide further communications based on their interests.
The customers, on their part, will notice that you are taking an interest in THEM, not just shooting out your message to the masses, untargeted and not knowing what kind of affect the message may have (i.e. a Facebook post) .
You can address your customers concerns in real time and do it using real people. Your brand can represent one that cares to these consumers, and people shop and buy with their instincts, so you definitely are getting a leg up on the competition .
A good example of this is the homeshopping TV network called Homeshop 18 . They have used WhatsApp to their advantage to over time change their customer’s perception about the brand.
They ran a successful WhatsApp campaign called “Shopping Makes Me Happy,” intended to position the brand as an one stop shop for the consumer’s shopping needs.
Part of the process was letting them know using direct messages sent via WhatsApp that this brand was more than another run of the mill television shopping network. Plus they added a fun element to their messages,adding a father and son duo called Billy and Sunny for their voice messages.
The marketing campaign was wildly successful.
What Steps You Should Take
OK now you have heard an example or two, so now what can you do now to be ready to use the power of WhatsApp?
Here are some suggestions:
Your profile picture is the starting point for users to see you and your business. Make sure that the image used is appropriate and fits what you are trying to project as a brand.
Whatever image you use, whether logo or something similar, make sure that it will generate interest when consumers see it, and that it induces them to want to know more about you and your brand.
Here are a few other things you can do:
- Include a phrase in your status option that is catchy, again something that will entice the customer to want to know more. You are trying to sell them something, Get their attention so you can do this effectively. This can be short and to the point.
- Set up a series of posts that will include messages that are of interest to the customers, add videos to the group site, interact with the group members, promote discussions, and overall keep the group lively with activities. In your posts send useful tips, any sales or coupons available, maybe run a contest with a prize for the most active member, and other things like these tips. Use your imagination!
- If you are posting images or video, make sure to add text to the post to add to its effectiveness. Add a Call To Action maybe. Keep it brief and on point.
- Be sure to send out greetings to members and also highlight those having birthdays – start to generate a sense of community where members want to be reading what is posted on your group on a regular basis, and where they will be eager open and respond to posts.
- Keep up with new capabilities of WhatsApp. For instance, recently the ability to make VOIP calls has been added, unique backgrounds for the app can be selected by users, and new emoticons were added. See how some of these may be able to be incorporated into your campaigns. Maybe point out some of these new additions to your members for their use that has value. An example would be letting members know that WhatsApp calling feature has been added, and of course that is a very useful feature that can cut down on your monthly calling charges
The versatility that Whatsapp offers is huge. You can include this versatility in many of your marketing activities. For instance, it is one of the best places showcase a product’s image.
You can also add in an short explainer video detailing the product’s features, send out discount coupons, and let members know about social events and festive seasonal offers.
This tool can also be a great way to receive and respond to complaints or feedback. This can be done on a one to one basis and live.
Another excellent use for WhatsApp is to conduct surveys or a group discussion between the producer and the customers about a product or service being offered by the brand. A lot of good and blunt feedback can be gathered, and again you are showing that you care.
Brands have already started using WhatsApp to send marketing messages. Here is an example:
A radio station called “Red FM” asked their listeners to engage with them on WhatsApp…The listeners were to sing a line from any song and send it through the radio station’s Whatsapp Group chat to the station, using WhatsApp, and in return had an opportunity to be selected as a “RedFM WhatsApp Star.”
Good stuff and fun. Also: Effective…
There are a number of big name stores using WhatsApp as well. Managers of stores of such brands as Diesel, Cartier, and Armani are using WhatsApp to effectively send out their offers and promotions, according to an article published by Economic Times.
If you can establish and maintain a good relationship with your customers they will remain with you for a long period of time. They will buy from you again and again, if you have gained their trust.
WhatsApp can help you do just this. Using it, you can be in constant touch with your customers. This brings into action the fundamental principle of the rule of attraction, and results in a long lasting and action-taking customer base.
Adding to the above, the chance to have two way communication will build your reputation and WhatsApps interactive nature offers a perfect way to do this. It will help promote your brand as one to pay attention to and frequent.
The app can be used for both new customers and existing customers.
With existing customers, you can better take care of them and, over time, you can promote many new products or services offered by your business.
New customers can be introduced to the platform by you and an offer made for them to join and get in on the constant updates. They will note that your company or brand is on the cutting edge of technology available, and when they see the advantages, will not forget.
Members, new or existing, can instantly be updated regarding any discounts or coupons in play, and these can be sent via an image.
As mentioned above, such action on your part using WhatsApp, can result in repeat orders for your products. You have the leads already, likely some business to start, and like email marketing, if you are continuing to be of value to the customer, you will have MANY opportunities to sell to them over time.
Be careful of new customers on your contact list and in your groups. There is a high chance that sending too many promotional messages to your new sign ups/customers may not be advisable in some cases.
It could result in a negative perception of your brand, products or services, due to unwanted bombardment of posts, images, or advertisements.
Let’s Look At Examples of WhatsApp as a Social Media Tool
- Colgate. The folks from Colgate set up a campaign where they invited people to send selfies of their smile via WhatsApp to a certain phone number. This number was to be found on the outside on the packaging of the toothpaste. This went viral with teenagers who seem to use WhatsApp quite a lot during their free time. Very successful.
- Absolut Vodka. The South American advertising agency supporting Absolut Vodka in that region put together a marketing campaign to celebrate the launch of Absolut Vodka’s “Limited Edition Absolut Unique” collection. The marketing campaign ended up very being very effective, engaging a wide audience and creating a huge buzz in the community.
- Government. There have been some political parties in India that have used WhatsApp successfully. They delivered their messages direct to their members and the public in general where possible, and it turned out to be a very effective way to keep members up to date. The impact was huge for them, and at very little cost.
SOME WHATSAPP “DO’s and DON’Ts” CONSIDERATIONS
1. Place your WhatsApp Contact details on all online platforms, to include your website, and any other social media platforms you may be using.
2. Start using WhatsApp for marketing with others only after you have established a relationship with them…It’s not mandatory, but common sense, you do not want to be considered a spammer and get blocked or sully your brand name or products.
3. Remember that although WhatsApp is very much an informal platform, you as a business promoting your brand, products and services need to maintain a level of decorum while speaking/interacting with your customers.
4. Be VERY responsive to your customers. Remember this is one of the advantges WhatsApp offers you that will separate you from the competition. By the way this applies to any form of interaction, but especially on WhatsApp.
5. Make use of lots of images, videos, logos, coupons, etc. Visual messages have proven to have a much greater impact than text .
6. Consider where you can add some elements of humor into your messages. Maybe a joke or a meme could work, make it fit with the message you are sending.
7. Mention the times you will be active on the group WhatsApp site. Unless you are available all the time, they need to know the hours or days you will be there. That way they know when to expect responses. Be specific as possible when you provide the date and times.
8. Be sure of the people that join. Make sure they know what is involved so there are no surprises.
9. Add WhatsApp to your communication process when posting a new product offer or product, or coupon on FaceBook, Twitter, or elsewhere. This will increase the effectiveness of the effort, and WhatsApp adds a very targeted element to yourcampaign.
1. Do NOT send messages to every mobile number that you may get your hands on. There is no point in this because you are looking for people that actually want to be in your group. Such an action is the same as spam – most would likely block you anyway.
2. Do NOT overuse or abuse the confidence provided to you by the customers who provide their mobile numbers. If you blast them with too much information, or send them nonsensical information it will be a negative on your brand image and negatively affect your business.
3. Do NOT ignore any of the customer feedback or queries you may receive using WhatsApp. Answer them promptly and solve their problems. If you don’t, customers may lose interest in your WhatsApp program and maybe in your brand.
4. Do NOT stay silent too long. I know this seems to be the exact opposite of what was said above, regarding not posting TOO much, but there is a happy medium of activity that will let your customers know that you are active and interested, but not inundate them with unwanted posts. Keep your profile also updated. Nothing says disinterested like having bad or outdated information there to the customers to look at when they go to your WhatsApp group site..
5. Do NOT create groups of people who do not have some kind of bond. There should be something in common, i,e, a school, church, club, gym, etc. Think about what makes sense for your business or market niche.
If you follow the above points this will be the start of a good WhatsApp strategy. There is likely more things that could be added, maybe in the comments below people will offer more points.
Following these will help you minimize any hassles you may have for your WhatsApp marketing program. Remember that WhatsApp is text marketing gone wild, and blends the SMS marketing, email marketing, video marketing , etc, together.
Using some visuals will spruce up the text side of WhatsApp a lot, and can be used as appropriate. With a few visuals you are good to go.
Remember that while WhatsApp is not a permission based marketing such as SMS or email marketing at the moment, likely it will at some point. Better to start acting accordingly now.
Also remember that WhatsApp marketing is just one ‘spoke’ of the ‘wheel’ of your overall marketing program, so it should fit into that program and help make the marketing wheel a sturdy one by taking on its intended role.
This “spoke” of the wheel is a potentially VERY powerful spoke for you. Do not be afraid to take on the extra effort to make it your own and be ahead of the competition!
Recent studies have indicated that more and more, users are substituting their time spent on Facebook for mobile messaging services like WhatsApp.
The changes in surfing habits if intenet users is definitely changing the face of online marketing. You need to stay ahead of these changes and ahead of your competition!
I hope that this article points out to you clearly the benefits and features of WhatsApp and why it makes a very useful tool for your online marketing.
Now that last step is…
Make use if it!
Whatsapp Marketing must be a part of YOUR well integrated overall marketing plan.
Please add in your comments and thoughts below!