News & Views

Opinion / Direct Messaging Meets Marketing

by Contagious Contributor
Fernanda Saboia, senior product strategist at digital agency Huge, Rio de Janeiro, argues that direct messaging tools like WhatsApp are transforming digital marketing



Since entering the market in 2009, WhatsApp has become one of the most popular forms of communication in Brazil. The fact that it’s free and easy to use has led to its widespread adoption, with 96% of Brazilians with smartphone access using the tool as their primary method of communication. As its popularity soared, it’s no surprise that businesses have begun to explore how they too can communicate with their customers via the app. Furthermore, this trend isn’t exclusive to Brazil or even to WhatsApp itself. The rise of direct messaging in business is gaining worldwide traction and emerging markets, like Brazil, are leading the way.

For brands, the motivations for using direct messaging apps as a way of communicating with consumers are significant. They are easy to use, mobile-first, and customers are increasingly expecting brands and organisations to interact with them in this way. The personal feel of a direct message also means that they have a high open rate. Where a well-performing Facebook post is seen by 7% of its audience and a good open email rate sits at 22%, direct messages are read by an incredible 98%.



To gain a deeper understanding of how small businesses in Brazil are using WhatsApp to engage both new and existing customers, I carried out a small-scale research project. The results have allowed me to identify four ways in which WhatsApp is currently being used to create stand-out and engage customers in new and effective ways.



WhatsApp is proving to be a successful customer service tool. It’s being used to answer customer queries, share information and offer support. As a one-on-one customer service platform, it has replaced Twitter, phone and email in Brazil.




In addition to private messaging, businesses are tapping into WhatsApp groups to build communities among loyal customers. Creating a forum where topics that are relevant to brands can be discussed is a great way of building engagement. For example, a local gym might have a group for its regular clients where class pictures and videos are shared, new classes announced and timetable information updated.

Another growing trend is text-to-shop, where messaging is used to facilitate a purchase. WhatsApp is not only being used to showcase new products but customers and businesses are able to arrange payment and delivery through messages. Businesses are even using WhatsApp as an internal communications tool. Some employers have turned to the app as a way of reaching their colleagues. With inboxes becoming so cluttered, our research showed that direct messaging is an effective way of sharing news internally.

Of course there are some golden rules to follow when using direct messaging for business, one of which is to ensure customers aren’t being bombarded with promotional messages that they didn’t sign up for. However, if it’s used in a way that adds value to the customer experience, then it can be highly effective. One thing is for sure, direct messaging is becoming an essential part of digital marketing and those marketers who embrace the opportunity will reap the benefits.