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In-depth: WhatsApp marketing vs spamming: Here is how brands can avoid being blocked

With WhatsApp emerging as an indispensable tool for conversational marketing, it is crucial to not bombard consumers with ‘cold messages’, like sales promotions and discounts, as it often leaves a bitter taste. Hence, brands need to experiment more with giving a ‘personalised touch’ and overcome the barrier of being blocked, say experts

With the entire world developing a penchant for everything digital, Meta, Google and Amazon have become the perfect spot for marketers to roll out their initiatives. Of these, WhatsApp enjoys the utmost amount of daily usage in the consumer’s life.

As per marketers and agencies, consumers tend to use WhatsApp for making general inquiries about products and services, scheduling appointments, getting support, etc.

In a recent global survey done by Kantar Research titled ‘Business Messaging Usage’, it was found that in India 86% of adults tend to message a business at least once a week which is considerably higher than the global average of 66%. Another finding of the survey was that 75% of the consumers are more likely to do business with or purchase from a company that they can contact via messaging.

Vartika Verma

Speaking to BestMediaInfo.com, Vartika Verma, Sr Director - Global Marketing, Gupshup.io, shared that today customers expect communication with brands to be as easy as chatting with their peers and owing to this behavioural shift, there has been a rising demand for brands to be present on conversational channels like WhatsApp, WeChat, Instagram, and more.

“WhatsApp is the most popular messaging channel with a global customer base of two billion spread over 180 countries and has the highest read rate of over 80% when compared to email, SMS and other forms of communication,” she pointed out.

Verma also went on to highlight that it is the best channel to retain users through WhatsApp OTP registrations on websites, or collecting data through various gamified campaigns that help generate new leads.

“With assisted buying, two-way conversations and personalisation, WhatsApp checks all the right boxes for modern-day consumers and helps brands reach and engage with their customers to drive meaningful business outcomes such as revenue growth, customer retention, end-to-end commerce and so on,” she opined.

Vivek Kumar Anand

Agreeing with Verma, Vivek Kumar Anand, Director- Business and Innovation, DViO Digital, said that consumers increasingly want to get in touch with businesses during their pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase journey, and WhatsApp is the most preferred channel for communication today.

“Even though the effectiveness of WhatsApp marketing depends on the category and product or services the brands are trying to market, we have seen that the product and services need education and explanation as some of the pre-set consumer biases need to be addressed, which is why ads that click to WhatsApp work better than any other CTA,” he added.

Citing an example, he also pointed out that when one is marketing financial services, holiday packages, or trying to sell a car, users generally tend to have some follow-up questions, and in that case, redirecting a user to a landing page, getting a lead form filled and then calling them back (that generally gets delayed) breaks the flow and leads to a missed opportunity.

Manav Sharma

Manav Sharma, Marketing Automation Manager, Schbang, said that WhatsApp is a boon to marketers who want to retain their users, generate leads, get feedback, and increase sales.

To support his take on the matter, he emphasised that WhatsApp Marketing (WAM) provides some amazing numbers that give the messaging platform a huge jump over email. Citing statistics from the AiSensy report, he added that WAM can lead to a 98% open rate and 45-60% click-through rates.

“One can simply attribute the convenience, two-way communication and the catalogue features that WhatsApp provides as the reason why it’s preferred so much,” Sharma stated.

Himanshu Sukhwani

As per Himanshu Sukhwani, Founder, WhatCX, because customers are there to chat with their peers on WhatsApp, the brands should craft their messaging and the customer experience responsibly and in a way that’s respected on the platform - rather than just blasting out their pockets on WAM and making it a similitude to SMS marketing.

“If you just keep sending out broadcast messages on the platform in the hope that people will return, that’s not going to happen. In fact, even Meta has taken cognisance of this issue and have thus revised the marketing pricing on the platform - increasing it by 70% effective June 2023 - along with introducing Utility Messages feature,” he pointed out.

According to an online survey firm LocalCircles in February, around 76% of respondents claimed that they have noticed a rise in pesky calls or SMS based on their conversations with WhatsApp business accounts and their activity on Facebook or Instagram.

The survey further stated that 95% of WhatsApp users in India indicate that they get one or more pesky messages each day, out of which 41% claim to get four or more such messages daily.

Sukhwani also went on to add that currently, WhatsApp is the only platform which allows brands to reach out to their entire network of consumers, vendors, etc. on a one-on-one basis which is why there is an increasing need to be more responsible and understand what do people expect from brands on the medium and tailor-make the messaging for that rather than using it for a purpose which the medium cannot meet.

Commenting as to what portion of the ad-marketing budgets are actually allocated to WhatsApp as a medium, DViO’s Anand mentioned that the digital marketing agency is currently allocating around 20% of their Meta marketing budget to ads that click-to WhatsApp campaigns for businesses with WhatsApp infrastructure and post that the budget reallocation happens based on the efficiency of the campaign.

Gupshup.io’s Verma added that brands have historically looked at their ad and marketing spends bucketed under TV, Digital, and OOH, but with the rise of conversational engagement marketing automation, an increasing portion, nearly 10% and growing, of the overall ad-marketing budgets are being allocated to conversational engagement across multiple messaging channels.

“Among these channels, SMS and WhatsApp are the main ones, each accounting for roughly half of the spend as conversational experiences are transforming virtually with every touchpoint across the entire customer lifecycle and offering great rewards to early adopters,” she stated.

Similarly, Schbang’s Sharma also pointed out that despite sounding as amazing as WhatsApp marketing, one of the biggest issues in such marketing initiatives is the message cost and that sending out WhatsApp messages to the whole database can get pretty expensive.

“Because the cost per message can be anywhere from Rs 0.35 to Rs 0.55, the best way to avoid wastage of money is to cut the database down to smaller segments and only share relevant information with people to whom it is targeted - like users who have read festive messages or have made purchases to offers to an extent to push messages to users who haven’t made a purchase since a certain time,” he added.

Beginning June 1, 2023, businesses will be charged based on the category of the conversation. Utility messages will cost Rs 0.3082 per conversation while marketing messages will cost Rs 0.7265 per conversation. Pricing for authentication messages will be announced later, prior to the June 1 launch.

Although the new pricing will start from June 2023, businesses will be prompted to select categories for their messages starting April 2023. WhatsApp is excluding business-initiated conversations from its free tier, which offers businesses the first 1,000 conversations per month for free.

Throwing light upon the challenges of WhatsApp Marketing, Gupshup.io’s Verma asserted that for traditional brands, one of the big challenges is to capture the first-party data of their customers such as name and mobile number.

“While a lot of retail brands have been successfully running their business for years, they often don’t have customer data and in the absence of that database, it is impossible to engage with consumers on WhatsApp,” she opined.

Furthermore, she also went on to point out that brands in the current time frame also face the challenge of getting consumers to opt-in to engage on WhatsApp. The conversational marketing platforms aim to solve this problem by offering opt-ins over WhatsApp, web and even IVR while consulting the brands on how to build the first-party database with the required permissions from offline and digital channels.

DViO’s Anand also emphasised that the challenges start from having a robust WhatsApp infrastructure to enough resource bandwidth to respond on time, escalation path, and approved templates.

“Most of the time, we automate this journey with a clear and direct path to human escalation. One of the most critical aspects that marketers should be mindful of is the value we are communicating in ads; our agent/bot should be able to deliver it upon clicking the chat button,” he added.

Schbang’s Sharma also went on to point out yet another challenge that brands face when it comes to WhatsApp marketing - the threat of being blocked as no individual likes companies that spam them, which is why finding the right number of messages to be sent in a week is very important.

“If you are an information/blog-based brand, you can send out more communication compared to an e-commerce or DTC brand that is always pushing offers,” he opined.

In the opinion of WhatCX’s Sukhwani, brands don’t have the right tools as the ones that are currently present in the market are only about broadcasting and getting reports as to who read the message, who replied to the message, etc. which is why the communication platform is trying to provide a complete trackable journey of the users and have the ability to do that while communicating at scale.

He also emphasised that the benefit of having a chatbot is that the consumer should find it easy to gather information and ensure that there is no pressure on them to wait for a certain duration to receive an update and they can do it at their own pace.

According to a survey conducted by McKinsey and Company, 71% of customers expect businesses to deliver personalised interactions, and 76% of them become frustrated when it doesn’t happen.

Therefore, when questioned as to what innovative ways can brands tap in to ensure that they overcome the challenge of consumers actually turning a blind eye to brand communication on WhatsApp, Gupshup.io’s Verma stated that in her belief, the devil is in the detail of how well brands are able to segment their customers, and personalise engagement in the form of customer personas as deal lovers, new product adopters, seasonal shoppers and so on, and tailor the messaging accordingly.

“For example, if a customer has been looking for sneakers on a brand’s website, but hasn’t purchased yet, the brand can send a catalogue of highly rated sneakers and if the customer also falls in the deal lover persona, perhaps share discounted sneakers to choose from,” she added.

Additionally, DViO’s Anand also opined that any push marketing without understanding the intent, insight and context can be irritating, but when done right, it can delight, inform and add value to the consumer’s life.

“WhatsApp should not be used as a tool for cold messages; once blocked by the consumer, you lose that consumer for life. Instead, brands should ensure that the messages are personalised, mapped to the intent, and add value,” he said.

Sharing a similar viewpoint, Schbang’s Sharma also suggested that spamming users get the brand blocked very quickly, which is why informative communication, blogs, recommendations, and festive/social compliments should be some of the other forms of communication that the brands can send out to their consumers on WhatsApp.

“It does make sense to send offer-based communication to the users so that expenses can be covered, but once the user realises that other than offers and discounts, the brand isn’t providing any additional benefits, they will tend to ignore or block them,” he stated.

Citing an example, WhatCX’s Sukhwani also pointed out that through the communication platform, brands also unlock the ability to communicate with the end users in the local languages that are in use in tier III and IV towns as well, and that too on WhatsApp as they have limited exposure to emails and SMS.

“If your consumers are in Tamil Nadu and they’re already talking in their local language on WhatsApp and you happen to send them English messages, that’s simply a waste of both money and resources. So, one needs to understand their consumers, the segment and then create a conversational interface or messaging that resonates with the audience,” he suggested.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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