So long, ads? The future of messaging apps

With the rise of bots and intelligent agents, new conversation interfaces will change brands' relationships with customers, according to Forrester.
Written by Forrester Research, Contributor
Image: Laurent Delhourme, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Two years ago, Forrester made the claim that mobile was the new face of social. With more than 3 billion users worldwide, messaging apps demonstrated one of the fastest-growing online behaviors and passed social networks. The reach of these apps is huge, which presents a strong relationship promise for marketers.

From Line's IPO to WhatsApp's new privacy policy via Snapchat's latest offerings or Facebook Messenger's bots, messaging apps make the headlines. Together with my colleagues Xiaofeng Wang and James L. McQuivey, we have dug into this consumer phenomenon to better understand the opportunities it will unlock for marketers in the coming years.

We expect messaging apps to play a key role throughout the customer life cycle but more specifically to enable brands to deepen conversations with their customers during the retention phases. Why? Because messaging apps combine the three keys to powerful relationships in any digital environment: frequency of use, emotional connection, and convenience.

While Asian messaging apps such as WeChat or Line are the most advanced, Facebook is really the only one that competes at scale, due to its combined reach of WhatsApp and Messenger.

What about Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft? Apple and Google are more direct messaging app contenders, even though iMessage is not technically a separate downloadable app, and Google only yesterday launched Allo. Microsoft and Amazon focus more on their intelligent agents (e.g., Cortana and Alexa) to power new types of conversations with consumers. Amazon in particular is extending its lead by taking Alexa Intelligent Agent global. My colleague Jenny Wise just published a report on the rise of Intelligent Agents (IA), explaining how moving forward IA will capture the interactions that customers used to have directly with brands.

This is a different market, but it will end up colliding with messaging. Innovation in adjacent technologies (natural language processing, semantic search,...), especially machine learning and artificial intelligence, will blur the lines between messaging apps, bots, and voice-based intelligent agents. But because messaging apps have more users engaged for more minutes today, they will be a dominant platform through which people will first experience and refine their expectations of AI-based tools. These new conversation interfaces will capture and mediate consumers' digital moments and change the relationship that B2C marketers have with customers.

Together, these tools will create a new computing interface that will change how we interact with each other, with our connected environment, and with brands. Voice and SMS will stop being features and simply become the interface augmenting messaging-platform-based mobile services. Text-based interactions on bots and voice-based interactions with intelligent agents will progressively merge, powering conversations as a new computing interface.

Messaging apps will introduce a paradigm shift for marketers where interactive and contextual conversations will replace ad broadcasting. New conversational interfaces will drive deeper relationships between consumers and brands.

Thomas Husson is VP and principal analyst at Forrester, serving B2C marketing professionals. Follow Thomas on Twitter: @Thomas_Husson

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