As digital channels continue to proliferate, there is a seemingly endless number of platforms and communication capabilities that marketers must keep up with.
In the “Is Your Brand Ready?” series, we do the hard work for you, investigating all the latest developments across platforms and battling through the noise to identify the most promising emerging marketing opportunities that are netting impressive real-world results. Our last piece focused on the latest opportunities in social commerce.
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Here, we distill for you the incredible marketing ecosystem that has evolved across the OTT messaging platforms.
What are we referring to? OTT, or “over-the-top,” refers to media services streamed directly to the public through the Internet. A subset of this, OTT messaging platforms, are the platforms that allow people to send instant messages back and forth through the Internet, as opposed to SMS which runs through their mobile carrier. Most notably, this includes Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram and the direct message (“DM”) capabilities on Instagram, Twitter, etc. Billions of people send DMs back and forth through these OTT channels each day, so unsurprisingly, brands and businesses have found ways to capitalize on this exceptional volume of activity: this is called “OTT business messaging.”
Here, we dive into the best use cases leveraging OTT business messaging on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, RCS and Apple Business Chat. These use cases often encompass intermingled marketing and CRM functions, and this signifies a key trend going into 2020. According to top retail performance marketing agency ForwardPMX, “CRM capabilities underpin successful digital campaigns across channels….As we move into 2020, we expect that brands will even begin to view acquisition and retention under the broader CRM umbrella”
In the U.S., Facebook Messenger has been the pioneer in facilitating OTT business messaging, providing developers with evolving capabilities to build “Messenger bots” that live inside a brand’s Messenger page and maintain automated conversations with users. How has this been leveraged most effectively by marketers? A number of ways:
Ads/Acquisition: First, Messenger bots can serve as interactive “landing pages” for ad campaigns. Facebook’s Click-to-Messenger ad units are reaching maturity, with proven results across a variety of goals, acquisition king among them. In a nutshell, marketers run Facebook ads that lead directly to an automated “conversation” between the person and the company’s bot in Facebook Messenger. A great example of this is Saks Fifth Avenue’s Holiday Gift Concierge, consisting of an ad campaign run on Facebook and Instagram offering a curated gift-giving guide. The ad leads directly into Messenger, where they interact with a bot that recommends gifts from Saks’ inventory.
Reviews/Surveys: Most recently, Headliner has been designing and deploying additional innovative use cases for Messenger bots to great success. Notably, eBags.com, a division of Samsonite, has partnered with the company to leverage Messenger to maintain a customer survey panel. After eBags’s web visitors opt-in to joining the panel, they are presented with exclusive purchasing opportunities via Messenger DM, and then prompted at several points to leave on-site reviews for purchased items. The results have been incredibly strong: According to Erin Gregory, director of marketing at eBags, “Messenger has been a really effective channel to run this program in, because the open rates on these messages are consistently above 85 percent, leading to exceptionally fast redemption rates on our offers. Plus, by reaching our customers in their messaging inboxes with many links back to the site, we have boosted overall mobile sales in addition to generating reviews.”
Retargeting: Additionally, in a previous piece,Headliner outlined in detail how Messenger can yield exceptional results in e-commerce retargeting, by sending DMs to web site visitors for cart abandonment, appointment alerts, refill reminders, price-drop alerts, checkout confirmations, and other high-yield follow-up messaging. With a 98 percent open rate on these campaigns, it’s one of the most effective channels in which to build a list and send behavior-triggered automated messages.
Facebook’s other active OTT messaging platform is WhatsApp (Instagram doesn’t currently facilitate any automated business chat functionality). With more than 1.5 billion monthly active users, WhatsApp is the world’s most popular messaging app. In 2018, WhatsApp introduced WhatsApp Business, essentially a profile designation, to help businesses communicate directly with customers. Much of the functionality associated with the designation is designed to help businesses reply to inbound customer queries with automated FAQs and business information. WhatsApp also released a stand-alone WhatsApp Business app, which provides a CRM-like interface to help businesses reply to individual customers.
Additionally, WhatsApp’s newer Business API is designed for enterprise businesses to communicate with customers. Currently in a beta, businesses can only access the API with certain third-party vendors. Brands using it successfully include Wish, which sends out order tracking alerts, KLM, which sends flight information and documents, and Uber, which provides support for drivers.
November 2019 brought a groundbreaking development in RCS communication, paving the way for big marketing opportunities.
As a quick overview, RCS — or Rich Communications Services — is technically distinct from OTT messaging. RCS is not run over the Internet and downloaded through an app; instead, it runs inside your phone’s built-in texting app. It is thus considered the successor to SMS; in phones that have RCS enabled, the native SMS capability is automatically upgraded with RCS features that make SMS function more like an OTT messaging app. This includes features like chat over Wi-Fi, sending and receiving high-resolution photos and videos, read receipts, typing indicators, and group chat naming and functionality.
Back to November 2019: After years of delays, Google announced that it was turning on RCS messaging for all U.S. Android users in the default Android Messages app. This massively upgrades the native messaging experience in Android to be more like an OTT app for any Android-to-Android messaging.
Brand Use: Brands are taking advantage of RCS capabilities in numerous different ways. Movie rental company Redbox allows users who message them to search available movies and games, reserve and find a box in just a few taps. On the post-purchase end, Overstock.com leverages RCS to send purchase, shipping and delivery confirmations, and connects users directly with customer service.
4. Apple Business Chat
Apple’s answer to OTT messaging is Apple Business Chat Services (BCS), which launched in 2018 and enables verified businesses to chat with customers through iOS Messaging (aka iMessage).
Apple rolled out BCS with today’s mobile consumer in mind; its objective is to make “connecting with your favorite companies as easy as texting your favorite people.” Customers can initiate chats with businesses through various Apple applications including Safari, Maps, Spotlight or Siri. While no traditional advertising or marketing is currently available, BCS enables the automation of key business activities, such as appointment scheduling, payments (via Apple Pay) and finding business locations. Apple also requires that businesses have live agents staffing their chats during business hours, so it’s a fast and easy way to get personal assistance.
Brand Use: BCS originally launched with a few select partners, including major companies like Delta Airlines and American Express. Delta leverages BCS at the top of the purchasing funnel; users can search for flights, select seats, and even purchase Delta airline tickets through messaging. AMEX leverages BCS to connect customers with live agents for support.
This year, Apple opened up BCS to all businesses; companies can leverage the platform directly or can use it through third party messaging platforms that provide a user-friendly interface. In June 2019, Shopify announced it will be offering all of its merchants the ability to integrate their store’s services or products into Apple Business Chat, opening the door for 800,000 merchants globally to chat with more than 2 billion consumers who have an Apple device with the native iOS messaging app.
While the past two years have seen a proliferation of new, rich and exciting OTT messaging functionality, we’re just at the very beginning of large brand use. Customer behavior around the globe is increasingly mobile, and the ability for brands to reach customers directly in native chat apps is quickly becoming a requirement. In the U.S., the robust functionality and global scale of OTT platforms mean they are quickly becoming critical components of today’s Martech and CRM stacks.
Dana Gibber and Caroline Klatt are cofounders at Headliner Labs.