Facebook Marketing Partner Summit 2019: What’s All the Hype about Messaging?

The Facebook Marketing Partner Summit is an annual coming together of Facebook Marketing Partners. It is a two-day event with numerous presentations and breakout sessions, and serves as a chance for Facebook’s leadership to share their vision of how marketing can evolve on their platform. Aside from some brief sessions on earlier best practices, updates, and API changes following Facebook’s F8 Developers’ Conference, the major theme of the event was messaging. I think I speak for a lot of the attendees in that we all left considering Facebook Messenger more than we ever had previously.

Facebook highlights a shift in consumer behavior, with consumers moving away from traditional communication channels such as phone and email, and instead migrating to instant messaging — a noticeable sea-change in Facebook’s narrative instead of the usual updated statistics on Facebook’s user base. They instead led the Summit with this very interesting statistic: “There are now more messaging users than social users globally.” While the semantics of “messaging” vs. “social app” draw a fine distinction, on raw user count alone, WhatsApp and Messenger account for 2.9 billion users, and Facebook alone sits at 2.4 billion.

With these numbers in mind, Facebook’s contention is that conversation should be a larger part of the consumer journey when it comes to advertising, even noting that consumers are increasingly expecting conversation to play a larger role as well, creating a virtuous cycle of sorts.

Facebook has three messaging apps in its stable: Messenger (the “Facebook” is silent now), WhatsApp, and Instagram Direct. Their dream is to one day integrate and support click-to-messaging ads across all three services, in addition to furthering the tactical communication tools needed by customer support and service teams. 

It’s a bold vision, but does that mean it is time to start shifting your advertising strategy to be more messaging-focused? Perhaps, and as always, it is complicated. Let’s unpack Facebook’s contentions first.

1. Consumers are messaging each other more and therefore want to message businesses, too.

The first part of this sentence is not hard to believe; our personal experiences provide proof. Think about how you now probably message your colleagues on Slack or Teams instead of emailing them. But do people really want to message businesses? Facebook contracted Neilsen to examine this very question, and found encouraging results from the people surveyed:

  • 67% say they will message with businesses more frequently over the next two years
  • 53% say they are more likely to shop with a business they can contact via a chat app

At the very least, consumers believe they prefer to message businesses more, but it’s important to note that these survey responses are hypothetical. Are consumers actually messaging businesses more?

Another Facebook study from 2018 suggests this is also the case. When consumers in four specific countries were asked if they had messaged a business in the last three months, Facebook got the following results:

  • Brazil: 85%
  • India: 74%
  • UK: 61%
  • US: 61%

I think the idea of people messaging businesses more is probably a safe bet. But… Facebook contention #2: 

2. WhatsApp’s success can/will translate to Messenger.

This will be the tougher narrative for Facebook to sell. While they can further build out Messenger with better ad and content tools for advertisers, that does not mean there are captive users ready to receive it. People messaging more does not necessarily mean they will be using Messenger more. 

WhatsApp’s market penetration would make any digital advertising agency salivate, but its success does not translate to the United States. Unlike WhatsApp’s key growth areas, emerging markets and the EU, where there is a real need for IP-based messaging cross-border, the United States telecom infrastructure is not only large and vast, but most importantly, not gated by state lines. This means that the US market is still SMS- or OS-based. On the notion of OS-based IP messaging, this is not the same thing as WhatsApp, as I have yet to hear of any plans from Apple to include ads in their Messages app.

Though, I want to be clear, I am only advocating skepticism here. With Facebook’s increased organizational focus on Messenger, maybe that gap will close. Maybe in a few years we won’t be talking about three different Facebook-owned messaging apps, but a single, unified app. Only time will tell. But in the short term, advertisers should really think of WhatsApp’s and Messenger’s success stories as separable.

In other words, when it comes to advertising, what works on WhatsApp doesn’t necessarily work the same way with Messenger, simply because consumer expectation is different between the two. For many WhatsApp users, it is their primary messaging service, and I suspect in the US, this does not hold true for Messenger users. But this is not a death-knell for Messenger. It just might mean US advertisers will have to consider different approaches. Now on to Facebook Contention #3:

3. Messaging makes sense for both large brands and SMBs

Finally, the big question. Does messaging-focused advertising strategy make sense for brands and SMBs? The most simple answer is, yes. If we agree that consumers prefer to message more, then any B2C business, large or small, should pivot to messaging. What will separate the big organizations from the small is the complexity of the messaging integration.

Large brands need to consider how their messaging strategy can integrate not only within their customer acquisition systems for advertising purposes, but integrate within their customer support teams. Imagine how quickly the the integration splinters, considering an airline that would need to integrate across booking systems both their knowledge base as well as the customer service systems. Things have a potential to get messy fast, and this is before the first step of designing ads to drive people into messaging. SMBs will be shielded from this complexity, which is a good thing, as their needs will sit more squarely on acquisition and funneling into messaging through ads. 

While I don’t think it’s time to shut down your Lead Generation objective ads for the Messenger objective just yet — especially if it’s already working for your clients — there is certainly a lot of smoke rising from the messaging apps, and we would all do well to start taking time to consider how this can evolve our advertising strategy in the coming year. It’s likely the winners of the potential great migration to messaging will be those who can adeptly navigate from funneling customers into messaging with advertising while also accounting for the consumer experience once they arrive there.

We all know these are two different tactics that can only ever work with synchronicity. While the complications that come with messaging integrations may mean more partnerships and cross-organizational support for brands from agencies and ad-tech partners, no matter which side of the acquisition/nurture spectrum you end up serving, investing time now to start mastering the potential strategic implications of the messaging synchronicity will likely be time well spent. 

Chris Mayer is Project Manager, Client Solutions, at Tiger Pistol. After earning his Masters in Mass Communications in 2015, Mayer worked at Facebook prior to joining Tiger Pistol as a Project Manager. He specializes in helping digital agencies and national brands build scaled Facebook advertising solutions with an emphasis on local activation. Outside the office, he enjoys, basketball, Formula One, and sharing opinions on film and television.

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