Messaging apps have access to a potential goldmine of advertiser-friendly data, given the access they have to conversations between users, but most users are uncomfortable with the idea of their chats with friends being mined for advertising purposes. Speaking to VAN, messaging app Viber’s VP of global partnerships Cristina Constandache explains how her company monetises its product without dipping into chat logs, and why the mini-ecosystems creates by the likes of China’s WeChat are difficult to replicate in the West.
For many in Western markets, Viber is remembered as an early competitor to WhatsApp, but you’ve seen spectacular growth in many markets. Where is Viber performing best?
We have 30 countries where we are a leader or co-leader around the world with a strong presence in key markets, mostly Eastern Europe, the EU, Russia, Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia. We also have sizable audiences in the UK, US and Canadian markets. For Viber, it’s much more important for us to have a strong user base who is deeply engaged with our app than to have billions of people who simply have the app and don’t really use it.
In terms of your advertising, are you as data-focused as WhatsApp?
While I can’t really say how data-focused WhatsApp’s advertising is since they have only just begun to monetise the app, they do have the ability to be as data focused as their parent company, Facebook. And unlike other messaging apps that listen in on your private conversations and turn your chats into valuable data for advertisers or that share your personal data with their parent company for marketing purposes, Viber is end-to-end encrypted so we simply can’t see or hear what users are saying. That means we do not sell our users’ private conversations or personal data since we can’t access or read them in the first place. We offer our advertisers multiple options, such as display ads or the ability to use chatbots, stickers and chat extensions to better segment their audiences and we target users on their behaviour and actions taken on the app than on traditional data points because with end-to-end encryption and lack of storage of data or messages, we put consumers’ safety and security first.
Branded stickers are a big part of your offering. How well do they work?
Every 60 seconds on Viber people send over 300,000 stickers. Half of them are branded. It’s a very native format of communication between users and brands and one that works well because users love stickers and share them often. Companies that we have done stickers with are LÓreal, PepsiCo, Glamour Magazine and Addiko Bank, etc.
Viber is owned by Rakuten. Does Viber work with any of the other Rakuten companies?
We have been working on more projects with Rakuten companies in the last year. From product innovations to co-marketing, joint events and volunteer outings we have continued to grow our efforts with our Rakuten family. Rakuten even created a Global Marketing and Communications Team, where they discuss the latest marketing updates from each business unit and how we can grow these partnership efforts on a regular basis. We have a huge opportunity to use each other’s strengths and expertise to grow the various businesses.
In other markets — particularly China — we have seen messaging apps like WeChat evolve into mini-ecosystems in their own right. Does Viber have similar ambitions?
China is a very unique use case where you have one messaging app dominating the marketplace and where the app itself is integrated with government agencies and is pretty much your phone, your wallet and has lots of mini-apps and an app store built directly into the app. It has had lots of support and a close relationship with the Chinese government, who subsidised the app from the very beginning and censored foreign apps. Outside China it does not have the same dominance that it has there.
Viber’s focus is on our users’ experience. We were finding that users spend a lot of time in our app and check it many times throughout the day. They really want to do more everyday things directly in chat without having to toggle back and forth between apps, like sharing and booking restaurant choices, sending a favourite video clip when words just won’t do, sharing a favourite song or crowdsourcing which dress to buy via their closest friends. Users can now shop directly from Viber’s shopping catalogue (available in the US and coming soon to other markets) to search, share and buy fashion and beauty items with friends. Viber Wallet is available in Russia so there is no need for users to leave Viber when they want to transfer money, pay bills or subscribe to streaming services. These are just a few of the Viber solutions that add value to users’ lives. For us, user engagement is most important and it’s all about finding a middle ground between making sure we deliver value to our users and not just a marketing channel.
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