WhatsApp ads are coming! Well actually, they’re already here.  But they are expected to be coming again in 2020, only this time, in-app.

It was just over a year ago, in October of 2018, that Facebook enabled “click to WhatsApp” ads, which allowed marketers to deploy ads that allowed users to click directly into a WhatsApp conversation with a business. These features further evolved into the concept of “WhatsApp Business.” This is a separate app specifically for business owners using WhatsApp, that launched in April 2019.

Facebook’s development of its WhatsApp advertising offerings has been a slow burn since it acquired the platform in 2014. Until recently, WhatsApp was treated more independently from Facebook’s other major acquired property, Instagram. Instagram fully opened to advertisers in 2015, just three years after it was acquired.

WhatsApp Business includes the ability to set up Business Profiles on WhatsApp as well as more distinct tools for business communication, such as auto-responses, and away messages. These WhatsApp changes are foundational, and a necessary step to fully unlock the advertising potential of the WhatsApp platform, with the expected launch of new ad formats that originate in WhatsApp, rather than taking users to it. It’s clear that Facebook likely has bigger plans in store for WhatsApp.

Investing in WhatsApp’s advertising functionality is an obvious choice for Facebook. WhatsApp represents one of Facebook’s largest, most engaged properties:

  • 1 billion WhatsApp accounts are active every day.
  • 1.5 billion WhatsApp accounts are active every month
  • 2 billion minutes of calls every day.
  • 450 million WhatsApp accounts are active on WhatsApp Status every day.

With such a massive user base using the Platform regularly, WhatsApp promises to be the next evolution of Facebook’s social advertising tools. However, though it should be mentioned, there is just one major caveat to the rise of WhatsApp, Facebook’s home market, the United States, doesn’t really use it. Facebook’s answer to this, has been to position Messenger as the go-to messaging option for advertisers in the US. In either case, WhatsApp’s emergence is a sign of the times. Messaging is to become a bigger part of the consumer experience and advertisers will be required to evolve to meet this new challenge, and we have every reason to believe that WhatsApp will be the first battleground.

What opportunity does WhatsApp represent? Better consumer data and experiences namely, in addition to considerable ROI potential for businesses large and small. A few examples from Facebook on early adopters:

PlayKids,  an education Platform for kids, saw a 90% decrease in lapsed subscribers when they started using WhatsApp Business to communicate directly with their customers over phone and email.

Sorabel, an Indonesian fashion business, took a similar approach and began using WhatsApp Business as their primary communication channel. It quickly became their number one source of inbound chat traffic, with 90% of the messages delivered by Sorabel (formerly Sale Stock) read by their customers.

What makes WhatsApp and messaging-based social activations so exciting is their ability to generate both positive customer outcomes in addition to ROI for the business. This is especially true at scale. One additional case study comes from the Dubai-based logistics company Aramex. To date, they’ve served over one million customers through WhatsApp Business and saw a 19% decrease in inbound call volume to their support center since making the transition. What’s more, 41% of all shipment inquiries are now handled through WhatsApp.

One thing these case studies all have in common is they all involve integrating WhatsApp into customer service channels – the advertising elements only surfacing in the very bottom-funnel, where messaging is deployed to drive retention and re-purchase. In part, this is not unexpected given that it’s much easier for businesses to communicate with existing customers rather than potential ones through direct messaging. To think that messaging could lead a customer acquisition strategy is a notion fraught with caveat and complication. While it may not ever be the leading strategy for some industries, it can be a compelling strategic element even in cases where proactive conversation is not already embedded in the sales process.

Imagine running an awareness or traffic campaign in WhatsApp, and retargeting people who viewed the ads, watched X% of the video, or viewed a product page with a direct message. Alternatively, immediate follow-ups off the back of WhatsApp ad clicks present another interesting frame, to instigate driving conversions via direct or bot-driven consumer communication. The possibilities are endless, but it can’t happen until Facebook’s tools catch up.

In the last year, Facebook has made the foundational steps for both WhatsApp and Messenger to play a larger role in advertising. The next step is a fuller integration with existing advertising tools by launching WhatsApp Ad formats with direct placement on WhatsApp and lowering the barrier of entry for advertisers.

I suspect 2020 may finally be that year where messaging as a distinct tactic, rather than an afterthought, within the Facebook marketing funnel will be fully realized. And soon our notion of a “social media campaign” might just change a bit to not only include targeting consumers on social media but talking to them as well. Who knows, you may even find yourself reporting on “Conversations Started” in-between discussing impressions and CPCs.

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