Last year, it was rumoured that Facebook was going to introduce advertising to its enormously popular WhatsApp platform, despite vowing to remain ad-free when it launched. Its creators first claimed that WhatsApp was going to be built on the ‘commitment to staying focused on building a pure messaging experience’ but seemed to change its tune with the suggestion of advertising powered by Facebook’s native advertising system.
For brands, this could have been exciting news; a new and extremely popular platform for reaching consumers at almost all hours of the day. With technology advancing at such a fast pace, brands are seeing a proliferation of new mobile communications channels through which to speak to consumers. Consequently, consumers are receiving more marketing messages than ever before via apps they use sometimes on an hourly basis. However, after much criticism, Facebook backtracked on its advertising plans, looking instead to focus on WhatsApp features that will “allow businesses to communicate with customers and organise those contacts”.
A good move?
Although at first, WhatsApp may seem like an ideal place to reach consumers with marketing messages, brands need to consider how, when and where consumers want to be contacted. According to our research, there are nuances to when customers are open to receiving marketing communications throughout the day, and they are very clear about when and where they do not want to be disturbed.
Our research revealed that only a tiny 5% of Brits would be open to receiving marketing messages from brands on WhatsApp, suggesting almost everyone (95%) is very much against this. 9% said they wouldn’t mind getting adverts on WhatsApp during the working day, under the proviso that the messages are relevant to them and from brands that they have previously engaged with. In addition, 31% said that the thought of being disturbed by marketing messages from brands during the working day would put them off their jobs and they would find it distracting. On top of this, it was revealed that consumers are relatively unimpressed by the brand experiences they are getting from companies they share their data with. As a result, people have started to become more conscious of the data they share and being more selective with whom they provide this personal information.
With this in mind, for brands to see return on investment, marketers need to choose more effective techniques of cutting through the noise in digital communications and focus on delivering better experiences in exchange for personal data.
Building valuable experiences
Rather than rushing to use new channels and new tools simply because they are novel, more traditional channels of communication often encourage a better response. By taking control of customer data and leveraging this insight intelligently, brands can deliver thoughtful, unique brand experiences without accidentally overstepping the line.
When customers interact with a new retail brand, for example, more often than not they tend to sign up with an email address and subscribe to regular email communications. According to the DMA Consumer Email Tracker, consumers have said that key to their decision-making when opening marketing emails once signed up is this brand recognition. Consumers are more open to hearing from brands they know of, which is why leveraging first-party data is extremely important.
There are several different tools available for intelligently using first party data to create high-impact and impressive experiences. For example, product recommendations have been the bedrock of successful personalisation techniques in email; creating a relevant, useful and memorable experiences for the recipient. A recommendation engine will take all the data it has available from the subscriber on the database, with other data sources on the website to make a prediction about which products or content is likely to be most interesting for the user.
However, it is still always important to be mindful of overstepping the mark with subscribers; whilst product recommendations can be helpful, a brand doesn’t want to appear too ‘creepy’ and all-knowing of the user’s movements on the website. Similarly, customers should be given a clear explanation about how the brand is using their data and be given the option to opt-out or unsubscribe at any given time and as easily as possible. This is much more beneficial to brand reputation and sentiment than bombarding customers with unsolicited messages on platforms they consider more personal and private.
Introducing WhatsApp ads could not only have been damaging to the platform and the WhatsApp brand itself, but also for those companies looking to use it as an effective communications channel. Our research has shown that customers are indeed open to being contacted by brands, but during more specific times of the day and in ways that give them slightly more control. In terms of digital communications, the DMA consumer email tracker revealed that consumers prefer email as a marketing channel ahead of any other (59%).
The best way to cut through is not by bombarding people with unsolicited messaged but by creating positive experiences through mutual exchange of information. If a customer likes the messages they are receiving, it’s easy for email marketers to see this and refine strategies in line with tactics they can see working. Customers are human beings and individuals, so should therefore be treated as such. Thanks to AI, machine learning and other innovative new tools, it’s possible to execute highly personalised emails at scale. With this, brands are likely to see increased positive sentiment and better customer engagement as a result.