staring at his phone
WhatsApp may not be as popular in the US as it is in other markets, but it's time for marketers to start paying attention PHOTO: Hernán Piñera

WhatsApp boasts over 1.2 billion monthly active users: more than Twitter and Snapchat combined. And yet, most marketers leave WhatsApp out of their marketing strategy.  

Marketers, it's time you start taking WhatsApp seriously as a marketing channel.

The Growing Relevance of WhatsApp

WhatsApp may not have the same following in the US as it has in other countries, but most marketers are aware of WhatsApp’s prowess as an instant messaging app. What they may not realize is the platform’s growing relevance as a social network.

Along with Instagram, WhatsApp is part of the Facebook family, following its acquisition for $19 billion in 2014. When Mark Zuckerberg 'borrowed' Snapchat’s stories feature and released it on Instagram, he also rolled it out on WhatsApp, giving the app its first truly social feature.

Furthermore, a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism survey found a number of countries consider WhatsApp a trusted source of news. Over half of Malaysian respondents and 46 percent of the Brazilians said they used WhatsApp for news. News consumers in Chile, Singapore, Hong Kong, Spain and Turkey also held WhatsApp in high regard.

What’s more is, WhatsApp recently took steps towards making itself more appealing to marketers:

“We still do not allow third-party banner ads on WhatsApp,” according to its website.

“[However,] in the future, we will explore ways for you and businesses to communicate with each other using WhatsApp, such as through order, transaction, and appointment information, delivery and shipping notifications, product and service updates, and marketing. Messages you may receive containing marketing could include an offer for something that might interest you.”

Rotem Gal, VP of Marketing at Inbound Junction, told CMSWire engagement was the key reason why his team are planning a WhatsApp marketing campaign:

“What I'm looking for as a marketer is engagement. I'm not looking for impressions or clicks as those are metrics that can be easily misunderstood. With 175 million daily active users, WhatsApp has a large, engaged audience, making it a very lucrative marketing tool.”

How (and Why) to Get Started With WhatsApp Marketing

One of the key benefits of WhatsApp is that there's almost no barrier to entry — all you need is a smartphone. With WhatsApp marketers can:

  • Send images and video content
  • Leverage it as a survey tool to get feedback and customer data
  • Use it as a messaging app to send alerts about new events and sales
  • Back up messages to Google Drive for training purposes and record keeping

One of the first things marketers should do when getting started with WhatsApp is to stop thinking of it merely as a messaging app. With WhatsApp marketers can bring messaging to an art form:

  1. Broadcast Messages: With a broadcast message, you can send a single message to multiple contacts. This feature could be used to carry out a campaign similar to an SMS marketing campaign, although WhatsApp currently sets a limit of 256 contacts per message.  
  2. WhatsApp Status: If you’re familiar with Instagram and Snapchat stories, you’ll know the drill here: You can publish videos and images to keep your audience engaged with your brand throughout the day. After 24-hours, your story will delete itself.  
  3. WhatsApp Text Status: Temporarily removed from the app when the WhatsApp Status feature went live, you can throw up a text-based status to spread a discount code, invite your audience to chat with you or for any other call to action.

WhatsApp Marketing Examples

To help kindle some ideas for your brand’s first foray into WhatsApp marketing, here are three companies doing it right:

1. Hellmann's

Mayonnaise manufacturer Hellmann's did something notable with WhatsApp in Brazil via its “WhatsCook” campaign.

Hellmans on WhatsApp

The company invited its audience to send in photos of the contents of their refrigerator via WhatsApp so chefs could suggest dishes based on the available ingredients. In most cases, Hellmanns’ chefs responded within a few minutes via WhatsApp to discuss the refrigerator menu.

2. Persil

Cleaning detergent company Persil leveraged Africa’s mobile-first population with a WhatsApp marketing campaign that invited their audience to send in 15-second cleaning tips via WhatsApp.

The best tips would be rewarded with free shopping coupons and Persil hampers. Check out Persil's promotional video for the details:

3. Starwood Hotels

Starwood Hotels leveraged the power and popularity of WhatsApp, BBM and iMessage to give its guests an easy way to make requests during their stay. 

Starwood hotels

Starwood’s VP of Marketing Daniel Kerzner said response times averaged in the minute range, and that the use of chat apps in hotels feeds into the desire from guests to “access their own technology on their terms.”

How Big Is Your Phone List?

As previously mentioned, the barrier to entry to WhatsApp marketing is almost non-existent, so if haven't started stockpiling customer phone numbers just yet, today might be a good day to start.