In Digital Marketing, WhatsApp Is Fueling a Global Trend.

In Brazil, a majority of people, regardless of their culture, level of education, or technological know-how have one thing in common: WhatsApp is the main way they communicate. About 96% of the Brazilian population with access to internet uses WhatsApp regularly — that’s around 91 million users. In a landscape of Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter, WhatsApp is beating all of its competition. And with such widespread adoption, Brazilian businesses have started using the one-on-one messaging to connect directly with consumers.

But this isn’t exclusive to Brazil — it’s a worldwide digital marketing trend that’s gaining major traction. In India, for instance, premium brands encourage sales managers to use WhatsApp to reach out to customers and offer exclusive, personalized services. Conversion has been noted to be as high as 80%.

Why? The motivations behind this is trend are plenty.

  • It is truly mobile first: For messaging, it all started with mobile. There is no full experience to be had on desktop.
  • It’s simple: Simple enough even for the least savvy of users. There is no UI that needs to be learned.
  • Everybody reads texts: Seriously. About 98% texts are opened and read while good open email rate is 22%. For Facebook, a post performing well has a 7% read rate.
  • It’s personal: No bulky introductions or email signatures needed.

With that in mind, I set out to talk with small businesses owners and solo entrepreneurs in Brazil to understand how they use WhatsApp to talk to customers. I interviewed a total of 30 people, and 29 of them told me they’ve used WhatsApp to communicate with both new and existing customers. Through that research, though the sample size was small, I was able to identify the four main ways businesses use WhatsApp.

One-On-One Customer Service.

This is the most popular way all businesses, regardless of size, use WhatsApp. It serves as a way to talk directly to your customer, answer questions, and offer support. Of those 30 small business owners interviewed, 29 use WhatsApp to talk to existing customers. That’s more common than phone calls (22), and Facebook pages (19). Still, this trend isn’t limited to small businesses owners. It’s estimated that 87% of all doctors in Brazil use Whatsapp to talk to their patients.

“As a one-on-one customer service platform in Brazil, WhatsApp has replaced Twitter, phone, and e-mail.”

Because of the upcoming Summer Olympics, Rio’s streets are under construction and major routes are sometimes closed. In order to inform locals of the best way to get around town Rio City Hall has set up a phone number for The Explainer, a spokesperson who answers questions about the streets, public transportation, and major events happening in the city. As a one-on-one customer service platform in Brazil, WhatsApp has replaced Twitter, phone, and e-mail.

Community Building.

Private messaging is only half the fun. Most users are a part of several groups ranging from classmates and colleagues to fan clubs. In Huge’s Rio office, for instance, every employee is a part of about 17 groups with some participating in up to 56 groups. If Tumblr is the way to geek out about your favorite band, WhatsApp is where you chat with fans in your city going to the concert next month. If you use Coursera message boards to talk about a class you’re taking, there is a WhatsApp for Brazilian students that get together to discuss topics.

Businesses have tapped into WhatsApp groups to create a community. A local gym might not have a strong presence on Instagram or Facebook, but most of their members are likely part of a WhatsApp group where they share pictures and videos from their workouts and the instructors inform them of different hours and new classes.

Text-To-Shop.

WhatsApp is great for talking to people who already know who you are. Still, it falls short in ways to reach new customers. This is where WhatsApp meets its most loyal partner — Instagram.

In this new trend of shopping through messaging, Instagram is the storefront, and WhatsApp is the cashier. Major Instagram accounts, some with as many as 1.3 million followers, serve as a showcase of their products. With no website or web presence, the only way to purchase is through WhatsApp.

This is how it works: customers and businesses arrange payment and delivery through messages. Users then wire transfer the amount, most of the time through their bank’s mobile apps, then share the digital receipt through WhatsApp directly from the bank app. There’s also an incredible ease of use presented when these two apps join forces: there’s no need to install anything, just list your phone number on your profile and users will get in touch. As a transactional tool, WhatsApp replaces simple ecommerce platforms such as Woocommerce, Shopify, and Squarespace.

Internal Communications.

Keeping employees on the same page can tricky. Our inboxes are overwhelmed with unread emails and urgent tags, and for this nothing is faster or more efficient than WhatsApp. Some employers have turned to WhatsApp as the primary method of reaching their employees and peers. In some cases, the messaging app has replaced email as the preferred way to connect with coworkers.

One of the users interviewed, a startup founder, says he has a WhatsApp group for the company executives and the PR firm responsible for his company. According to him, WhatsApp is the fastest way to communicate urgent information. But isn’t just true for small businesses and startups. Recently, Distrito Federal’s governor Rodrigo Rollemberg used WhatsApp to share a video to all public officials of the state explaining how a change in taxes will impact salaries and benefits to be paid.

In Brazil, small business owners and entrepreneurs are using their creativity to solve almost every business and marketing problem through WhatsApp. How will you incorporate WhatsApp in your company's marketing strategy?

This article was originally published at Hugeinc.com/ideas.

I spoke about this at SxSW 2016. See the presentation here.