We live in an on-demand world: Consumers want a brand to be available in the moments when they need them, for everything from purchase decisions to customer service. Therefore, marketers need to develop messaging strategies that make it easier for consumers to connect, and for the brand to deliver content one-to-one, with regularity.

That's why companies that don't start to support messaging apps run the risk of creating a negative experience for consumers—and having competitors step in to fill the gap.

If you're looking for a way to leapfrog competitors or win market share, a messaging app program—with or without chatbots—is an ideal way to be responsive to consumers as well as to humanize the brand through conversation.

If your brand isn't using messaging with customers, now is the time to start.

The four leading messaging apps (Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Viber) have more monthly active users among the consumers than the top 4 social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+). The most popular social messaging apps serve hundreds of millions of monthly active users. Messenger boasts 1.2 billion users—that's nearly one in seven people on Earth. WeChat, a favorite in China, is nearing one billion users, and WhatsApp has 1.2 billion users worldwide.

In fact, a recent study found that US smartphone users spend, on average, 23 minutes and 23 seconds daily on messaging apps—and that's growing every year.

Enterprise brands need to become more conversational with their customers

One of messaging's strengths is its ability to provide personal conversations and create deeper relationships with customers. Think of messaging as brands and customers coming full circle, harkening to a time before digital commerce or even catalogs made shopping convenient but impersonal.

Messaging takes the most powerful form of marketing, a two-way dialogue between consumer and brand, makes it scalable, and gives everyone immediate access. The combination of personal, real-world relationships and media-rich, digital connectivity is what gives messaging much of its power, blurring lines between physical and online commerce.

Brands that take the time to understand this—and, better yet, start testing and scaling messaging app marketing—will outperform their competitors.

Companies that use messaging channels to communicate with customers are way ahead of those who don't in various metrics, including customer win-back rates and Net Promoter Score (NPS). And that translates into bottom-line results through greater profit margins and increased cross-sell and upsell revenue.

Connect with customers on their own time

Customers are online and shopping around the clock. Their questions and service needs don't stop at 5 PM—and customers don't want to wait until tomorrow for answers. According to the 2016 Mobile Messaging Report, 51% of people say a business should be available 24/7.

Messaging apps give customers 24/7/365, almost-instant access to service representatives. They also have the power to create more of a real-time impact than waiting on a phone tree ever could.

Enrich customer profiles for more personalized messages

From a marketer's perspective, one of the greatest strengths of messaging apps is the ability to know who each customer is and then customize the message accordingly. Brands now have an extensive, cross-channel view of consumers to segment, connect, and convert prospective customers at a greater rate.

Plus, marketers gain the ability to track customer engagement across social media and messaging platforms, improve their understanding of consumer preferences, observe dialogue patterns, and deliver personalized offers.

Use messaging apps to reach customers where they are

Smart marketers are using messaging apps to provide personal, direct, and private dialogue their customers want—where and when consumers want to have them. Brands can therefore increase engagement and win loyalty by conversing with their customers in their preferred messaging channel, while also respecting the customer's need to receive transaction or tracking updates on a different channel, such as SMS.

Choosing the right channel, with the right message at the right time, is key. The beauty of messaging apps is that they give the brand the ability to test and learn different audience segments in a nimble way, along with the ability to scale regionally.

Another plus for messaging apps is that there are many more active users of messaging apps than any mobile app. The usage frequency, duration, and reuse is much higher on messaging apps than mobile apps that need to be downloaded, promoted, and maintained.

Chatbots enable scale

Starting a messaging program sounds daunting, but it's not, thanks to chatbots.

Chatbots are autoresponders, enabling rapid response and the ability to handle large volumes quickly, saving the more complex interactions for human engagement. Chatbots enable a brand to quickly scale engagement and reduce costs of adding human teams to handle the 24/7, multilingual, incoming and outgoing communications.

Plus, technology gives marketers the ability to link customer profiles across multiple touchpoints, thus enriching consumer data and enabling greater personalization.

And though chatbots can create great customer experiences, they also have limits. It's important to integrate chatbot technology with live human agents. When the chatbot reaches its limit or the customer wants to connect with a human or wants empathy, the system can roll over to the live agent to deliver a complete solution.

* * *

It's time for brands to start talking with their customers again—an old-fashioned premise that's becoming increasingly trendy.

Now, through the unbeatable combination of dialogue, messaging apps, and chatbots, brands can engage in real-time conversations with customers no matter their location or time of day. Your company will be able to shrink response times, deliver personalized promotions, and efficiently manage the sheer scale of these customer conversations.

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Messaging Apps for Marketing: Drive Sales With Chatbots or Live Agents

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image of Peter Friedman

Peter Friedman is the founder, chairman, and CEO of LiveWorld, a trusted social media partner to some of the world's largest brands. He is the author of The CMO's Social Media Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide for Leading Marketing Teams in the Social Media World.

Twitter: @PeterFriedman

LinkedIn: Peter Friedman