Brands & Digital Content: The Messaging App Economy


On average, mobile users spend about 85% of their mobile time on their top five mobile apps. There are 3 million apps in the App Store alone. So where do users spend their time? Social and messaging apps.

But what are the best ways for brands to capture user attention and engagement in social and messaging apps? What revenue models exist for them? And can those models sustain?

For brands, the opportunity is to develop more engagement and revenue producing opportunities by opening some of these channels and investigating how users actually interact with these messaging apps.

To begin, messaging apps as they are today are designed for a 100% mobile audience. For example, when Tencent introduced QQ, it was designed for desktop. However, Tencent maintained a separate development team which created the WeChat platform completely for a mobile experience. WeChat is designed to be 100% mobile focused, without even acknowledging the desktop generation.

Further, many messaging apps – especially in the Asian markets but also recently in the U.S. with the new iMessage – are becoming a one-stop digital platform for their users. On WeChat, many of the apps that U.S. users access in a standalone capacity on their phones – such as payment, transportation, or messaging apps – are all consolidated into one place, letting WeChat users access all of their favorite services without needing to leave their favorite app.

So how should brands act in this type of ecosystem?

What Brands Can Do


1. New Channels of Engagement

Go where the users are. The key is to participate across multiple channels, so that the user continues to engage with that message wherever they are – and potentially introduce new revenue streams.

Of course, brands then must be sure to design exactly for the audience and the platform. They need to research who’s using each of these messaging apps, how they use them, and what’s exciting to them.


2. Be Organic

Messaging apps are usually employed for a peer-to-peer engagement. If the user loves the brand – and they are satisfied with how that brand is participating in a particular social channel – then they are more likely to engage with the brand’s content (emojis, stickers, etc.) to express how they’re feeling.

Indeed, this use case represents an extremely powerful form of brand engagement: Users are utilizing the brand to communicate their own emotions.

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But with the outsized opportunity comes risk.

Mobile is a highly personalized device. This heightens the stakes for brands, as people interact with this space in a time that feels like their own. The brand’s content could be perceived as a welcome engagement – or an invasion.


3. The Revenue Question

If securing engagement is one goal for brands, another, of course, is revenue.

For apps and games, several “tried and true” revenue models exist:

  • Premium, where users pay up front for the content and download it.
  • Freemium, where the initial content is free to download but comes with in-app purchase opportunities.
  • Subscription, where users pay monthly for continued access.

Now, stickers or emojis can be used as user acquisition funnels. Additionally, stickers packs – for example, Major League Baseball teams or a grouping of cartoon characters – can be sold directly for purchase.

But perhaps the most interesting new revenue opportunity comes from chatbots.


4. Chatbots:

Chatbots use artificial intelligence to provide virtual assistance or understand how users are behaving with content, and to surface relevant experiences. Many people think of them as a way to replace a customer service department, where users could ask a chat bot something, and it will behave like that brand or person.

But chatbots also could help users find the products they seek – even sending coupons related to indicated interests. In other words, even if chatbots don’t result in immediate direct sales, they could help users determine type of product they’re looking for.

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By having access to how a user behaves via the phone, companies can track the ways they interact with different types of contents or apps – even, of course, geo location. That can help with an in-store experience.

For example, say there’s a user who is strongly believed to be female based on ways she has registered for apps or other apps on her phone. Based on this data plus content choices she makes, you infer that she’s a parent (perhaps she has some kids apps on her phone as well). When she arrives in the toy aisle of a store, the store might offer: “Here’s a toy that you might be interested in for your two to four year old,” and give her a coupon that she could use right there.

Clearly, any of these tactics must take into consideration not only all privacy regulations, but also the appearance of intrusion. But for users who opt-in and want such offers, the opportunities are great.


5. Measurement

In spaces where the platforms own the data, they’re reticent to release all of it. For example, iMessage maintains privacy policies where content providers can’t tag individual stickers to understand if the heart face emoji works better than the crying/laughing emoji.

However, the content provider certainly can track how downloads, where users are participating globally, and of course, conversion on the other end.

In today’s emerging social & messaging app economy where users are spending nearly all of their time in just a few apps, the question remains: How can brands access and keep our attention, and how can they then grow sustainable revenue? If digital content trends continue, the relationships between consumers and the brands they love may be transformed forever.

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