What’s Up With WhatsApp Marketing Outside of the US?

Prior to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil last year, shoppers at a busy bookstore in Sao Paulo that specializes in literature for children were invited to read bedtime stories before they left the shop. The shoppers were enthusiastic about putting on their warmest and friendliest voices, which were recorded on their Android, iOS, or Windows-powered smartphones.

The customers of PanaPaná were likely to be adults looking for a new entertaining or educational title for their children. However, the bedtime stories they recorded on their smartphones were not for children in their families; they were actually intended for children without families.

The stories were recorded on the popular mobile messaging application WhatsApp, and they would later be played for the enjoyment of children under the care of Casa de Criança Santo Amaro, an orphanage located in Sao Paulo.

The WhatsApp storyteller project was a collaboration between an advertising agency, a non-governmental organization (NGO) and a retail bookseller. The mechanics were simple: A book shopper was invited to read part of a story, which was recorded as WhatsApp voice message sent from the customer’s own smart phone. The next customer would continue the story at the point where the last shopper stopped, and eventually the stories were put together into an audiobook for children at the orphanage. The bookstore and the NGO both captured the storyteller’s WhatsApp ID, which in return was used to send special offers, coupons, and – more importantly – information about how they could provide support to the orphanage.

The project above is just one example among many similar marketing efforts involving WhatsApp in Brazil, where it is estimated that one in five business entities are using the messaging app to reach their customers for marketing and customer service purposes.

It is not difficult to understand why nearly 71% of Brazilians are connected through WhatsApp; after all, this is a country where wireless communications are considerably more expensive than in the United States.

Understanding the Potential of WhatsApp for Marketing

In a way, WhatsApp is similar to other communication networks such as Facebook (which just so happens to be the owner of this successful mobile app). The similarity is actually closer to the BlackBerry Messenger, Skype, or even the old AOL Messenger (AIM). The difference between WhatsApp and its predecessors and peers is its sheer potential for marketing.

Part of the mass appeal of WhatsApp is that it is a cross-platform network that was truly “born mobile,” even more so than Twitter or Facebook. Linking user IDs to existing mobile numbers is also a nice touch; however, the fact that WhatsApp presents an attractive alternative to the short message service (SMS) and instant messaging (IM) protocols is good enough to understand its charm among users not just in Brazil but also across Latin America and Asia.

Since WhatsApp is a multimedia messenger, initial marketing efforts were misguided in the sense that they were mostly limited to bulk messaging or massive sharing of media that would be deemed appealing to prospects. There is a problem with this approach; whereas advertising has already been accepted across social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, this is not quite the case with WhatsApp. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has mentioned more than once that his company does not intend to turn WhatsApp into an advertising platform.

The type of targeted advertising that is a trademark of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social networks is not found in WhatsApp. This is a closed network that does not offer much in the way of browsing, search, or discovery. Given these facts, WhatsApp may not seem so attractive for a business or brand that wants to attempt a native approach at marketing.

To understand the potential of WhatsApp marketing, one must first consider where it is growing and why: It is growing in regions where wireless telecoms do not give breaks to their customers, who have found an optimal tool for communications that is inexpensive and engaging. Thereby, WhatsApp marketing prospects must be approached in a manner that is engaging and reasonable.

The Right Approach for WhatsApp Marketing

It may be tempting to use a bulk marketing approach on WhatsApp; after all, this technique was successful for SMS and IM marketing in the past. User sentiment in WhatsApp works a bit different; users enjoy the act of manually adding a new contact, and this is something that skilled marketers are keeping in mind. Let’s take a look at another successful WhatsApp marketing example, this time from Costa Rica:

A radio station that broadcasts Top 40 and electronic dance music has ditched the traditional “call the radio DJ to request songs and enter contests” routine. To entice listeners to provide their WhatsApp IDs, which more than likely are their smart phone numbers, the radio station may organize a contest with a cool giveaway. This is basic engagement on a social network; if a WhatsApp user shares a number, he or she will not mind future engagement. Armed with WhatsApp IDs from their listeners, the radio station can make lists, announce contests, remind users about live music performances, fulfill song requests, etc.

Naturally, getting a WhatsApp ID from a prospect may entice a brand or business owner to create a list for bulk SMS marketing, but this would be missing the point. In the two examples provided herein, both brands utilized an outside factor to invite WhatsApp users into their network: The bookstore used an affiliation with an NGO while the radio station used the airwaves.

The Takeaway

These two situations called for creativity and a leveraging of existing resources in order to achieve a marketing goal, and this is the type of marketing mentality that marketers in the United States must adopt if they would like to see success with WhatsApp.


Image Credits

Featured Image: bilciu via Shutterstock
Image #1: Denys Prykhodov via Shutterstock