Why Chat and Messaging Apps Are a Crucial Customer Engagement Tool for Multichannel Marketing

5 min read

Marketing means reaching customers in the places they choose to spend their time. In the modern world that means the digital venues they visit online. Social media has been around for decades. Arguably (if you include user groups, chatrooms, and IRC channels) since the early days of the commercial internet.

Since the mid-2000s dedicated social media sites have become huge: worth millions, talked about in the news, and becoming a part of everyday life. They are also capable of generating huge revenues, primarily by offering themselves as platforms for advertising and marketing.

However another communication channel has been growing as fast — if not faster — than social media: chat and messaging apps for customer engagement. According to a GlobalWebIndex’s ‘Messaging Apps Report’, almost 90% of the global internet population use some form of OTT app to communicate.

But that’s not all — they also suggest that this reflects a growing tendency for people to share content on more private platforms, meaning that apps have rapidly caught up with “traditional” social media websites. As evidence of this they point to the added control social media sites have introduced over who can and can’t see posts and messages.

the growth of private messaging channels 2014 - 2018 GMS Messaging apps for customer engagement
Source: GlobalWebIndex Messaging Apps Report. Question: “Which of these have you used in the past month?”

Anthropologists from University College London argue that the more private approach to sharing — represented by one-on-one chats, “broadcasting” to controlled groups, and the self-deleting messages of Snapchat — is actually best described as ‘scalable sociality.’ In effect, users are exercising autonomy over what they say and to whom.

Prior to social media, we mainly had private and public media. Social networking sites started… as a kind of broadcasting to a defined group rather than to the general public, in a sense scaling downwards from public broadcast. By contrast some of the recent social media such as WhatsApp and WeChat are taking private communications… that were mainly one-to-one and scaling upwards. Often these now also form groups, though generally smaller ones…

Daniel Miller, UCL Blog

Marketing socially

It is unsurprising then that businesses and brands are looking to follow their customers to messaging apps. Nor is it surprising that the app owners are happy to oblige, as a way of monetising their platforms.

This opportunity was no doubt partly the reason Facebook bought WhatsApp in the first place, on top of the potential competition that came from the aforementioned shift in user behaviour.

Messaging apps allow businesses of various sizes to communicate directly with their customers in a much more personal format. And that, crucially, can create the feeling of a “personal touch” as brands reach out over channels that feel more intimate and private.

GlobalWebIndex’s analysts note that users who communicate with brands over messaging apps are more likely to prefer individualised recommendations, and to feel part of the brand’s “community.” They choose to make the brand one of their collection of overlapping identities.

This situation actually represents an opportunity for marketers, given how important personalisation is. It can also be a way of combating a kind of generalised ad fatigue, whereby people are simply tired of seeing ads everywhere. Messaging apps open up ways to reach customers in a personal way that builds a lasting connection.


By making audience engagement more personalised, interactive, and relevant, marketers can ensure their mobile marketing efforts are more memorable and effective. Conversely, the more personal format of chat app messaging requires a more targeted and personal approach. Irrelevant messages won’t just be ignored but will be actively annoying.

The platform demands that brands take into account customer preferences and interests (for this reason, apps are not the best place to attract customers about whom brands know nothing, but to build rapport with those they already know a little about).

WhatsApp users are not accustomed to ads on the platform, which has been a highly personal communication tool for most users. This will present marketers with a challenge to set the right tone with audiences, but also offer an opportunity to enter an unexplored territory.

GlobalWebIndex, ‘Messaging Apps Report’

Canny companies can also find ways to engage with audiences without directly bombarding them with communications. Come up with something that is useful to the consumer in the context of a messaging app, and they will freely share your message.

For example, Viber sticker packs give users fun new ways to interact with one another, so by creating branded packs (as we at GMS did) a company can become more visible without resorting to ads.

This also feeds into that desire some users have to feel they are part of the brand’s community — by incorporating the brand’s image and style directly into how they communicate. This kind of exposure is invaluable to brands.

Customer service

Excellent customer service is important. And a common refrain in advice on customer service is the recommendation to make it personal, responsive, and convenient.

A presence on a chat app’s business messaging platform makes this really easy to achieve, since it places a company right at the user’s fingertips. Two-way messaging can turn an app into a text-based support channel, and one that can be as responsive to individual customer needs as traditional call centres.

This is already happening on social media platforms, especially Twitter where many brands have curated accounts that respond to people who tweet at them or even simply mention them.

For example many people cite the experience of one Jet Blue airline passenger who received a coffee from the airline when he didn’t have time to pick one up himself. Obviously, this would be difficult to achieve for every customer, but incidents like this create word of mouth and help demonstrate customer service that goes above-and-beyond the call of duty.

Chat apps are ideally positioned to replicate this kind of service, and there are increasing opportunities to automate the two-way messaging experience through chatbots.

The advantage of messaging apps is the ability to build one-on-one relationships, and chatbots can facilitate and enhance this through conversational interactions that go deeper than one-way messages yet do not require a human agent to be involved (or to run around buying people coffee). And of course, they are, once again, more private, keeping customer support between the customer and the brand they choose to interact with rather than broadcasting it to the world.


Messaging apps offer an opportunity to create a deep, personal attachment from the customers’ side; to become part of the way they communicate; and to provide exemplary customer service.

Far from closing people off, the more private environment of an app — compared with social media and traditional advertising — offers brands new ways to engage their customers: through conversation and relevance. GMS has seen how apps like Viber can be used to retain customers via customised offers and conversational messaging.

Our team knows just how important it is to create a tailor-made service that really speaks to the customer, which is why we offer that same attention to detail to our clients.

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