The rise of messengers in corporate communications

Rarely has a digital trend been so abruptly stalled as the hype surrounding messenger newsletters. In just a few months, WhatsApp will be removing them from its offering. Oliver Diepes from Plan.Net Neo explains why the great era of messenger communication has only just begun.

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Oliver Diepes, Director Customer Experience, Plan.Net Neo

In just a few months, WhatsApp will be discontinuing its newsletter offering. Starting December 7, 2019, companies will no longer be able to distribute their push news via the messenger.

Just a year ago, messenger newsletters were considered the next big thing and every medium had to have one. Many companies followed suit. What was all the hype about?

Many companies used messengers, because the channel allowed them to reach users in a very private environment with a wide range of messages. People use messenger services almost exclusively to communicate with their private contacts, send pictures and videos, make appointments etc. Many companies saw this as an opportunity to place product advertising in a receptive environment. By actively storing the number in their WhatsApp contacts, users even willingly consent to be contacted by the company. Users who do this are a potentially interested target group for brands and companies and generally identify with the sender’s product, which indicates a greater willingness to buy.

"Companies have been pursuing a push communication strategy. But messenger services are based on the principle of mutual exchange."

Oliver Diepes

Now WhatsApp intends to abolish its newsletter feature. What went wrong?

On the one hand, the problem lies in the fact that companies only used the newsletter feature for push communication, which meant users could not enter into a conversation with a brand. Messenger services, however, are based on the principle of mutual exchange and, as such, active interaction between two or more people. That doesn’t work in this case. WhatsApp is also emphasizing the fact that they want to take action against spam and fake news by banning mass distribution of messages. According to the network, the feature has already been abused several times, for example in election campaigns around the world, to actively influence the opinions of the users who receive the messages.

How WhatsApp was sacrificed for short-term success

How popular was the feature? Was the effort invested by publishers and brands worthwhile?

A year ago, corporate newsletters were actually in great demand and many people saved the WhatsApp numbers of companies or publishers to receive information about current offers or news. Users were often motivated to register by way of a contest, for example. However, this only helps attract the attention of target groups on the short term, as they merely register to benefit from the campaign. Marketing managers often used their conventional newsletters as a starting point for the WhatsApp newsletter and simply adapted the tonality to messenger communication by adding emojis, for example. This kept the required effort within bounds. Brands were basically just experimenting with these newsletters to see how users would respond to this type of communication and whether they would actually click on a website or even be motivated to make a purchase online.

Chatbots in response to increased user expectations

What are the alternatives now?

WhatsApp has basically decided to exclude large enterprises from commercial use and focus the WhatsApp Business service on small and medium-sized business owners to provide them a way to connect with customers and engage in dialog. As such, the service will no longer include a conventional newsletter feature. Chatbots or customer communication using Facebook Messenger or chat features integrated in websites can and should continue to be used and are of great importance, especially for service-oriented companies that want to and have to answer questions or complaints from users about the company or its products. Users have come to expect extremely fast responses from companies due to the 24/7 chat possibilities now available. Chatbots are well suited for this.

There are two trends in messenger marketing. One consists of building mobile communities, whereas the other is focused on conventional one-on-one dialog. Which one will be more important?

“The tonality used in messengers should differ significantly from other means of communication.”

Oliver Diepes

In this age of short attention spans, it is becoming increasingly important for brands to get in touch with users with simple tools like messengers. One-on-one dialog is becoming more and more relevant. Brands can truly differentiate themselves from their competitors by exchanging information with consumers through dialog in real time or at defined service times using messengers. Many companies initially use chatbots to identify the general issue, but then have to have employees answer individual questions or problem cases to ensure sincere one-on-one dialog. This requires a lot of effort. Trained service agents have to be deployed, who know exactly how to communicate with customers in messengers to prevent problem situations from developing among users through the subsequent publication of dialogs. Communication via messengers is very different from answering emails or taking calls on a service hotline. Even the tonality should differ considerably from other means of communication.

"We estimate that approximately 30-50 percent of all user inquiries can be handled by chatbots"

Oliver Diepes

What proportion of customer inquiries can actually be handled automatically?

Chatbots can provide very efficient help up to a certain level of inquiries and customer communication. However, the more individual the questions are and the more specific the customer’s concern is, the more difficult it becomes to provide satisfactory answers via an automated chatbot. Once the chatbot can no longer provide meaningful assistance, people have to jump in and help solve the problem. We estimate that approximately 30-50 percent of all user inquiries can be handled by chatbots, but this heavily depends on the industry or the concrete inquiry, which is why it is difficult to make a blanket statement in this regard. Nonetheless, further development of chatbot features is on the rise. In the next few years, the use of artificial intelligence will make a big difference. Bots will get smarter and be able to handle an ever greater share of the communication.

How many companies are paying enough attention to this development?

We are witnessing the fact that companies are very intensively dealing with the subject, because they are well aware of the potential advantages of messenger marketing. However, they are also aware that they have to invest quite a bit of financial resources to ensure its success. This often frightens them away.

Which headline about messenger marketing would you like to see at DMEXCO 2020?

The next level of messenger marketing: why you can no longer ignore the need for one-on-one communication!

The bottom line: Messenger newsletters were an attempt to transfer conventional email marketing to new mobile platforms. However, the real strengths of the medium lie elsewhere. Messengers can be perfect dialog and service channels once the right mix of man and machine has been found.