Going Over The Top

Movement Mark FreemanMark Freeman, creative partner at Movement London, considers how brands can harness the power of OTT messaging.

According to data collected by Informa Telecoms & Media, over 41bn OTT (Over The Top) messages are sent each day. That’s an incredible number, and it continues to rise as people switch from SMS to OTT en masse.

As SMS marketing declines and email is starting to show signs of fallibility, OTT could very well be the next communication platform that brands take on. It’s not as simple as it sounds, however. Whilst the benefits to be had through OTT marketing could be huge, the platform also presents a fair few problems for us marketers to overcome.

Comms plan
Firstly, the market is far too diverse at the moment for brands to have an effective comms plan. OTT incorporates BBM, WhatsApp, Line, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Kik, Skype and so on. That means a brand will have to have separate accounts on each platform, and ask each user to add them on BBM, WhatsApp et al.

The platforms are also still largely permission-based. If a brand wants to speak to its customers, it’s going to have to get their ID first. This makes it harder for any brand communication, but on the other hand, it also serves to remove the habit that many (bad) brands have of spamming users with the same old content.

Brands will have to gain the trust of consumers first to obtain their user IDs. And after the initial contact has been made, they’ll have to use their comms wisely, as all too easily users can block, delete and remove a too-pushy brand from their contact list.

Closed platforms
OTT is also harder to infiltrate. In most cases, it’s not as simple as obtaining an email address. Most platforms are closed and don’t offer an API for marketers to contact people en masse, like email does. This means messages can’t be automated and have to be manually managed.

However, this is by no means a bad thing. Take a look at Taco Bell’s use of Snapchat. It simply has a guy in an office somewhere with an iPhone who takes photos and sends them out accompanied with witty messages. It’s obviously not as polished as MMS or email, but it’s authentic and personalised, and it interests people. And if the fact that Taco Bell managed to attract 2000 followers in its first 2 weeks is anything to go by, then it can be very successful.

And whilst WhatsApp is adamant that it won’t let advertising happen across its service, some smart and forward-thinking brands are getting around this. Absolut Vodka, for example, used WhatsApp to allow a small number of people access to an exclusive party. Users had to add a bouncer called Sven to their WhatsApp account and convince him to let them in.

Beyond WhatsApp, Line has an interesting revenue stream, where it sells virtual stickers that you can send to your friends. Brands such as Real Madrid and Hello Kitty are offering their own stickers for free if you add them on the platform – thus the brands gain user data and are able to communicate freely.

OTT is arguably a more powerful and personal channel than SMS ever was. But the challenges are many, and it’ll take some ingenuity, or collaboration with the platform owners as is the case with Line, to overcome these issues. But if brands can get it right, OTT could very well be a good answer for brands keen to reach exciting new markets and audiences.

Mark Freeman is creative partner at Movement London