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In the last 10 years there has been a shift from SMS texting to other forms of communication. Most notably messaging alternatives such as WhatsApp (1.5 billion monthly users), Facebook Messaging (1.3 billion monthly users) and others have stepped in to fill the gap. These top platforms offer advertising potential for businesses looking to reach potential clients in the increasingly cluttered online space.

In the UK in 2014, for the first time, the number of messages sent via instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp was higher than traditional text messages. And the trend has continued. In fact, in 2018, according to a report released by Juniper Research, Whatsapp alone generated more than 3 times the daily traffic volume of SMS worldwide. And looking forward, in 2020, it is estimated that the volume of chat messages will be as much as ten times higher than the volume of SMS messages.

The Move from SMS to Chat Apps (including Whatsapp)

There are three key reasons that worldwide people and businesses have moved to internet-based messaging apps from SMS: they’re flexible, free and social.

It’s Flexible

One of the best things about Whatapp is that it’s not just a free texting app; you can send messages, your location, voice messages, voice calls, videos and documents. With this flexibility, there are limitless opportunities for businesses to engage with their customers.

It’s Free

The only cost of Whatsapp is the data cost. This is an exciting proposition for European and Asian businesses who have been hamstrung by the high costs of sending texts. This is less of a factor in US markets where unlimited SMSs are generally included in monthly plans.

It’s Social

The major drawback for chat apps is that both parties in a conversation need to have the app downloaded and installed on their phones, whereas with text messages the app comes already installed. But it also presents an opportunity known as the ‘network effect’, where individuals follow their peers to adopt specific chat apps.

WhatsApp Usage 2018

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The Top Messaging Platforms in 2019 Worldwide

The three top messaging apps are Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat, and each are the preferred app in different countries around the world. However, there may be changes in the near future as Google has announced their newest messaging app ‘Chat’ that aims to replace SMS on Android phones. Similar to iMessage that comes standard on iPhones, it will be integrated within the Android operation system and if the intended recipient of a message does not have a Chat-compatible device, the message will be sent by the old SMS system.


Europe is split between Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. Worldwide, Whatsapp has the most users (1.5 billion) making it the preferred messenger app. It is the primary messenger app in the UK, South African and South Asia. Facebook Messenger is also popular in much of Western Europe.

United States

Following closely behind Whatsapp (with 1.5 billion users) is Facebook messenger. It is the messaging app of choice for Americans, (as well as much of Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.)


In Asia specifically, business communication is increasingly moving to Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat, in many cases bypassing traditional communication methods such as email and phone calls. WeChat, with more than 1 billion users, is the most popular messaging app in China. Whatsapp is popular in South Asia, and Line, with 203 million users worldwide, is the most used social messaging app in Japan and Taiwan.

Opportunities for Companies to Use Whatsapp As an Advertising Platform

The volume of people using messaging apps is growing, and there are important applications for businesses wanting to take advantage of this opportunity. Whatsapp is an exciting messaging platform that companies are slowly beginning to tap into. It is particularly important to look at Whatsapp if you are targeting a younger demographic.

Since its launch in 2009, Whatsapp has grown quickly. In 2014, when it was acquired by Facebook, it had 450 million monthly users, and in 2019 it has over 1.5 billion users worldwide. Every day more than 60 billion messages are sent using the app, and with open rates on messenger apps at around 80%, it’s no surprise that this untapped method is getting businesses excited.

There are several features that Whatsapp offers that may make it the perfect marketing and communication medium for your business.

Marketing Strategies for WhatsApp

A creative, integrated approach to marketing and advertising is needed for WhatsApp as you cannot push unsolicited messages like you can with SMS. By combining one of more of the different contact options available such as broadcast lists , group chats and the WhatsApp business API, it’s possible engage with clients and drive sales.

Personalise Your WhatsApp Account

This can be done in many different ways such as:

  • Your profile name – this can be personalised to a specific person, persona or brand but should be immediately recognisable for users
  • Personal profile picture – this should be clearly linked to your brand, either a recognisable face of the company, or the company logo
  • Your ‘About’ – you have 139 characters to communicate who you are and what customers can expect from your WhatsApp account
Build Your Phone Contact Database by Creating Great Value

The key is to get customers to contact you on WhatsApp. This means that they will have added your number to their contacts so you are able to contact them directly in the future.
Key ways to do this:

  • For local businesses such as restaurants or beauty salons, create broadcast lists and regularly update your customers with any special offers
  • For boutique businesses that offer a specialised product or service such as a custom jeweller or upscale clothing store, offer a personalized shopping experience where you answer questions and make suggestions over WhatsApp
  • For larger businesses that use the WhatsApp business API for notifications, invite customers to respond to the notifications and, when they reply, use the opportunity to up-sell and cross-sell
Drive Sales

There are different ways to do this – and it depends on your business what would work well. Some ideas include:

  • Include your business contact number on your website and on all communications that get sent out including social media posts, email newsletters, and customer service emails
  • Ask users to add your details to their contacts in exchange for a coupon or discount
  • Run a competition that requires entrants to use WhatsApp to enter
  • Use the WhatsApp business API for notifications, but encourage customers to respond to the notifications which will allow you to start up an interactive conversation with them.
Build Brand Engagement

Companies are beginning to use competitions and special offers that can only be accessed via WhatsApp to build brand engagement. Creating exclusive competitions and offers on WhatsApp opens up a conversation between the brand and end users. This allows companies direct access to customers, on a channel that has one of the highest rates of engagement.
These competitions and offers spread quickly as customers can easily share the promo information with their contacts on Whatsapp. This engagement can then be leveraged to drives sales and gain insight into your customer base while, at the same time, building your contact list.

Deliver Real-Time Customer Service

A great customer service experience builds customer loyalty, encourages repeat business and builds your brand through referrals. The high open rates of WhatsApp messages mean that, using the business API, you can deliver superior customer service and outperform your competition.

If you promote WhatsApp as a medium for customers to get in contact, you can solve issues and answer questions quickly. And, best of all, you’re doing it in a medium that suits your customer, making it more likely that they will engage with you.

With the fall of SMS and the subsequent rise of feature-rich instant messaging apps, companies are looking for opportunities to market directly to potential customers using these apps. People have become more and more savvy when it comes to filtering online ads and installing ad blockers, which means that companies need to find new ways of sharing and engaging with clients. WhatsApp offers an engaged platform for marketing that will require the development of creative campaigns to target potential customers.

WhatsApp for Small Businesses

Whatsapp recently launched their Business API making it easy for businesses to integrate the app into the communication and transaction process for users.
The API can be used for notifications such as shipping updates and booking reminders, but it cannot be used for any type of promotion. Customers can respond to these messages and interact with a business and it also allows customers to initiate a chat with your business.

These services can be combined creatively with Broadcast Lists and Whatsapp Groups to effectively engage with your clients.

Broadcast Lists

When you send a message to a broadcast list, it will go to all the members on the list who have your number saved in their phone’s address book and they will see the message as a normal message in their app. When they reply, it appears as a one-to-one message in your Whatsapp chats (and can’t be seen by anyone else on the broadcast list).

The major limitation of this is that Broadcast Lists can have only 256 contacts each, so it is not a good solution for large businesses. But for small, local businesses such as restaurants, or beauty salons where customers are likely to have saved your number in their phonebook, there are exciting possible applications. This includes sharing special offers and promotions, and new blog posts or news updates.

Whatsapp Groups

Whatsapp Groups allow you to add up to 256 contacts, and you can message everyone at once, sharing messages, documents, videos and images. Everyone in the group is able to share and view each other’s responses. A company could use curated groups to build influencer campaigns, local communities as well as sharing promotions and news updates. This is a niche approach that would be best suited to small businesses.

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