Marketing Strategies – Instant Messaging Apps

With the emergence of new technologies comes a whole new avenue of supplementary and complementary products which try to create and snatch a space in the market for themselves. One such recent trend has been the development of smartphones with platforms such as the Android, iOS, Windows, Blackberry etc. No sooner did this technology came into being, the techies around the world channeled all their thoughts to find out ways to reach to the newly created market. This was how the inception of the mobile app took place. The penetration of smartphones in the world market has been increasing at phenomenal rate thus it makes sense for the app developers to cater to the needs of this fast and dynamic group of people and lure them into embracing their apps.
Quite recently there has been an explosion in the IM (instant messaging) apps due to the entry of WhatsApp and the likes. A possibility to attain huge profitability lies ahead and so is the kind of effort required that goes into it. Making the app fulfilling one’s need is one thing but marketing it in this nascent market is the most crucial aspect.A lot of new tactics have been used in both online and offline space resulting into success or the marketing liability for the companies. Any day, the purpose of a texting app is to make people using it to “stay connected”. This is why people download it so that they can get in touch with others in as easy a way as possible. This is a Win-Win situation for both the company and the subscribers. The company will attain more popularity if it can expand the boundaries of its market and at the same time, the users will have bigger social circle and people to talk to if they connect to more people.
Figure 1: Penetration of smartphones and feature phones in several continents


Following are the various successful strategies used by app companies to attract and retain users (The details obtained are by observation of the social media campaigns and otherwise).


Initially, WhatsApp did not do any type of promotional campaign. They prized their privacy. They were just a bunch of engineers with a motto “Less talk: Let the product speak for itself”. Later on, it took the help of a big PR company called Covered Co. for strategic positioning and marketing development by being covered in top-tier press releases and social media marketing. Also, they helped it in designing goodies like t-shirts, bottles etc. to be distributed at various events.
Figure 2: WhatsApp Logo

WhatsApp started off on social media with posting things like the importance of apps in general on smartphones, top 10 android app updates for the week, top ten iPhone apps, updates about new smartphones coming up etc. Then it moved to more WhatsApp specific news like, WhatsApp was chosen the best overall app in Mobile World Congress. Then WhatsApp TV ads and other promotional campaign started coming up. They also started posts for openings for employment in their company both (permanent and for the interns), this showed the company is in a healthy state and is growing exponentially, thus requires more and more people to keep pace with its projects. The users also are frequently updated about the latest version launch of WhatsApp and the reviews about it. So they get to receive the first-hand information of the app and also get to discuss the same with others. In its latest updates, they said ‘we are really excited about the partnership with 3HK and new Roaming Pass we have introduced together for customers to benefit most when roaming and using WhatsApp!’, as a show of their customer-centric mindset.
It also started a WhatsApp confession page which has attained more than 40,000 likes and with more than 3000 confessions. Since confession pages at different levels were gaining popularity, WhatsApp took this opportunity to develop the buzz. People like to read confessions and the admin keep showing up and asking people to try to speak their heart as much as possible. People also get pegged at WhatsApp jokes page which keeps posting funny pictures and text jokes making people keep returning to it and keeps reminding people to “keep laughing and make more friends” implying the more use of WhatsApp and also by posting funny conversation snapshots of the WhatsApp itself. This received one of the highest responses from the public in terms of likes and comments.
Figure 3: Statistics on usage of WhatsApp

Another “WhatsApp stuff” page is there which usually contains some fun, creative, philosophical and as well as intellectual videos. Apart from this, a number of movie and TV serial related news and clips are displayed. They would also sometimes take videos of some novice performers from YouTube and post them on the wall telling to rate the performance out of 10, thus a lot of discussion goes into it. A number of funny commercials and Indian ads are also showcased. Quite frequently tells the users to “Download Our App And Share Links With Ur Friends”. The official blog of WhatsApp keeps updating the customers how to obtain the best of the app and the reasoning behind the various features of their service in addition to the latest add-ins. The posts from the founders like “Why we don’t sell ads” gives a personal touch to the customers and tells them that everyone in the hierarchy is concerned about their well-being.

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Figure 4: Statistics on WeChat users

With numerous features, the most fascinating being the shake-shake feature to meet new people by shaking your phone simultaneously with another random user, WeChat was initially branded as Weixin in China in January 2011 was re-branded in April 2012 with the globally acceptable name of WeChat. Today it caters to more than 100 million users. The strategy for WeChat is to get the coverage of the existing product/service and bringing out additional features on a regular basis with an upgraded version of the application.
Approached by Starbucks, they collaborated with it, putting a question to fans: “How are you feeling today?” the response was in the form of an emoticon and then Starbucks replied with a song to match their mood. The campaign added to Starbucks 270,000 WeChat friends in 4 weeks. WeChat on social media has created country-specific pages on Facebook like WeChat India, WeChat Australia, WeChat Malaysia, WeChat Thailand etc. In general, it gave the WeChat updates of launches, asking users what they enjoy most about WeChat, and WeChat App tip of the day to better the customer experience.
Figure 5: Marketing Campaign of WeChat


Figure 6: WeChat Print Ad

WeChat India contains India specific promotions like the use of mythological characters, Hinglish expressions, cricket players, political parties and their members, Rajnikanth jokes, movie clips and photos, Indian festivals etc. They keep reminding people to send voice messages. They also provide updates about several contests conducted by them using their QR code on Facebook. It showed the WeChat snapshots where people are talking to each other about WeChat services, thus giving more credibility to the customers about the cool services provided by the app.
Another contest where a question was put “What do you think has been India’s proudest moment since independence?” and prizes were distributed to touch the heartstrings of the Indian’s. A near similar thing happens on WeChat Thailand but in the local vernacular i.e. Thai and on the WeChat Malaysia page with a mix of English and Malaysian language. In Malaysia, they tied up with Dominos so the users get 1 Regular Pizza when they purchase it at Standard Menu price. Indonesia is a country with the lowest internet penetration rate so WeChat aired TV ads and it claims to have started adding 90,000 new users per day after this.

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The additional features/strategies here are context-related, such as photos, locations, and doodles. Users can also easily share songs and music/videos with each other straight off iTunes or YouTube. It is one of the apps that have had the quickest growth to reach 1 million users. A great insight drawn is that people love sharing media for instance in the US alone, more than 10 million doodles were shared, which the company is trying to make its competitive advantage. They are not willing to put ads on their app but instead thinking of raising money by using stickers which are popular among the Asians and used heavily by LINE and Kakao Talk.

  • Social Media – It started with social media in 2012 launching its beta version of the app. It gave latest updates and functionality of smartphones and the apps in general. Then it moved to more MessageMe specific updates like “MessageMe is faster and easier than traditional text; you’ve got to try it to get it so check it out now:” twitter links are also given. It shares the links to other tech tracking websites and blogs where MessageMe was covered like Mashable, TechCrunch, Bebga, Edublogs etc. The MessageMe blog went live on March 9, official source for all the latest news and happenings with MessageMe. They had a feature where people can connect to each other using their PIN. This resulted in people commenting on the MessageMe page their PIN’s. They also created a buzz where the famous American rapper, Soulja Boy, was shown quoting his MessageMe PIN so that others can connect to him.
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Figure 7: MessageMe



  • The HackPSU Contest: MessageMe tried to increase its presence by going to the school students (The lower end of the target market). The students were required to represent their school and get an opportunity to win a FREE iPad Mini. The procedure was- downloading MessageMe and inviting friends from the respective school to the app to create a New Group Chat to represent the school. The HackPSU participants with the largest group for their school will be entered into a raffle to win the iPad. Winning such a contest was a big thing for school students thus it resulted in a large-scale installation of the app with less spending. As was said the best feature for MessageMe’s popularity is the doodle facility, so even in their blogs, they picked up some of the most creative doodles that were made by the users and showcased in their blog so as to appreciate the effort, creating a sense of belonging to the company.

We see that marketing in this space is as of yet very nascent in stage. People are still trying to discover how to reach their customer better. Many of the ads and the promotion campaigns that have been tried went viral while a great many of others failed to produce results. In general what the upcoming companies are doing is that they are closely watching the successful companies/campaigns to find out what has been successful for others then see what we have to offer to the customers and finally how do we market our competencies. Thus by asking the right questions, they will get the right answers.
The first step to the promotional campaign is to create awareness about the offerings we are making. This creation of awareness will lead to building of trust if the service shows consistency of performance. Generally, this trust building happens mostly by Word of Mouth when we hear about the richness of the service by our peers and colleagues. Thus making a great texting app preferably with differentiation is imperative. After the trust building process, it will result in repeat usage of the texting app which will further help in creating awareness among the user base and expand their network. It is worth noticing that just creating awareness by spamming the customers can backfire as well. So awareness campaign should be done spasmodically.
Figure 8: Key Takeaways from Marketing Campaign of various Messaging Apps

Thus we see a lot can be learned by looking at these examples to reach to a coordinated and coherent approach. The first step is to make a great app and then do consistent pre and post-launch promotion with various different channels. With this hard work put in, we can build a hugely successful mobile app going viral and claiming large-scale acceptance by the users.

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