A few weeks ago, Apple released their new iPhone and mobile operating system, iOS 10. Barely mentioned in all the subsequent hubbub, however, was a major upgrade to the Messages app, which includes its own built-in "app store." This intrigued me—we are still talking about chat, right?
Not really. Apple's latest approach to Messages seems less like a simple application and more like a platform. That makes sense given that Facebook basically did the same thing a couple years ago when they spun their in-app chat and messaging applet into Messenger, a full-fledged app in its own right.
Why would they have done that? At the time, Facebook mentioned how bloated and clunky the mobile experience had become. They felt separating Messenger from Facebook proper would streamline both experiences. But they surely thought about positioning themselves alongside applications like WeChat as well.
WeChat is the king of all apps in China, where basically everyone uses it for almost everything. Sure, they use it for text messaging. But they also use it like Snapchat, Twitter and Tinder—and to find restaurants, order cabs, book flights and get their dry cleaning done. And to pay for everything.
But it's still, at its heart, a chat app.
The point is this: The way we share, find and use digital information changes all the time, and clearly ”chat” is an important emerging venue. It’s one that marketers can't afford to ignore.
Some companies here in the U.S. already use messaging in a variety of ways. Some hotels offer text messaging notifications and updates, but they're starting to offer automated "chat bot" interaction with customers as well. In response to customers’ questions, they’ll suggest and provide directions to nearby restaurants and attractions. A few fashion stores also use Facebook Messenger to process sales and returns.
The implications of using messaging platforms for inbound marketing are pretty strong. We may be used to going to the web to find goods and services and to answer our questions, but it's easy to see how moving to a more "chat-based" interface could make things simpler and more effective for buyers. Why poke around a website when we can just shoot a question directly to a manufacturer?
The technology is wide open for a very personalized approach to communications, as well—even considering the use of "automated chat." Automation can handle initial conversations, like answering simple questions, and then hand the lead over to a sales rep when appropriate. In fact, HubSpot is building an integrated chat bot feature right now. "GrowthBot" is still in the early stages of development, but its capabilities are already impressive. Visit growthbot.org to find out more.
Today, potential return on investment for manufacturers probably isn't that great in the still growing message platform space. But as the technology becomes more prevalent, we need to think about how to incorporate messaging apps into our ever-expanding inbound toolkit.