Messaging is now our primary means of digital communication, having overtaken SMS around 2012/2013, with 73% of UK internet users also being mobile users. The scale of messaging across Europe has grown exponentially, with a frankly staggering 65 billion (yes, billion, with a B) messages sent on WhatsApp globally every single day.
When you think about the scale and reach of these messaging platforms across Europe and the volume of communication between them, there has never been a technology with such significant reach in our collective history. The world has truly become connected.
Remy Brooks, principal strategy consultant at Mubaloo.
Consumer preferences for messaging platforms across European countries, however, vary wildly, and consequently the scale, options and opportunities available to brands vary as you move across borders. With WhatsApp dominating in countries like the UK and Germany, Facebook Messenger is the platform of choice in France, Belgium, and much of the Nordics. While lesser known platforms such as Viber have a strong presence in the Ukraine, Serbia and Belarus.
However, the brand and marketing opportunity, so far, has not scaled to match. And it’s not hard to see why if you really think about it. Our messaging apps are where our most private conversations take place with our most trusted friends and family. It’s not difficult to see why brands or marketers might struggle to get involved in the conversation. With recent announcements by Facebook indicating a privacy first, encrypted-by-default approach to messaging in the future, the hope for access to user data and brand opportunity might feel further away than ever.
Yet opportunity remains, so where are we headed? Alongside its privacy announcements, Facebook also made it clear that it is really doubling down on messaging, with WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram soon to become interoperable. Meaning, I can use WhatsApp to message a friend on Instagram and vice versa.
Businesses, particularly on WhatsApp, are now able to talk directly to their customers privately in one-to-one conversations. This channel is also set to grow as brands look for less public ways to manage their customer service. This means having internal clarity around tone-of-voice, speed of response and the brand personality.
Innovation can also be seen on platforms like Viber, where brands can take advantage of community building tools and promotional sticker packs available for customers to purchase and share across their networks, a less intrusive more valuable way to be involved in the conversation.
Not only this, but for brands a new media opportunity will open up in 2019, with the opportunity to use WhatsApp’s Status tab (and Stories-like interface) to serve advertising to a previously untapped audience. Questions remain about the reach of the Status tab and its usage, but as the opportunity opens up, brands will be able to experiment and innovate to discover what works for them, and importantly the audience.
Cast your mind back to 2016, back-to-back technology conferences from the likes of Facebook, Microsoft and Google gave us an exciting glimpse into a chatbot-powered future. We were promised a world where through simple chat interfaces, an army of intelligent bots would scurry across the internet doing our bidding.
We would issue simple, natural language commands and the bots would be daisy-chained and seamlessly talk to each other to find us the best deals on flights, hotel bookings and airport car hire without us really having to lift a finger. However, a few years later, the reality has fallen a little short in both customer adoption and the maturity of the technology.
It’s not for the want of trying. Brands have invested a huge amount in conversational technology over the last five years and we are starting to see the seeds of that investment begin to bear fruit. Chatbots have been used for a huge range of applications. From Duolingo using a chatbot to help users practice learning a foreign language by having a conversational back-and-forth with an intelligent assistant, to Cleo, a fintech startup, enabling its customers to ask direct questions to their assistant, who helps them to stay on top of their finances.
Since 2016, a key technology enabler has rapidly matured to allow these new experiences that live up to the 2016 promise of machine learning. Machine learning enables us to now truly understand natural language queries coming in from our customers, and when combined with developments in AI, deliver truly intelligent responses back in an equally conversational manner. For the first time, technology is able to have a very ‘human’ conversation on our behalf.
And progress is only seeming to move faster here. Google’s Duplex service, now live in the US, allows customers to book restaurants at tables with their voice and the Google Assistant will literally call a human being and have a real conversation. You really have to see it to believe it. And the company has plans to extend its automation into booking haircuts, hire cars and so on.
Now, most brands don't have Google-sized budgets to enable these experiences, but the successful chatbots are those which have a clear and focused purpose and don’t promise the world. They automate the mundane and streamline previously lengthy processes. As artificial intelligence and machine learning mature to become a service brands can purchase to power chatbot experiences, they can begin to leverage the work Google, Amazon and Microsoft have done to their advantage to create meaningful, useful and purposeful chatbot applications for their customers.
Remy Brooks is principal strategy consultant at Mubaloo.