NEW DELHI: India is emerging as the new battleground for the world's leading messaging apps, with different strategies being adopted in the search for growth in a fast-expanding market.
Facebook-owned WhatsApp is currently the market leader, with a customer base of some 50m, according to figures quoted in Livemint, followed by WeChat, owned by Tencent, on 27m, Line on 18m and Viber on 17m.
"India is a strategic market for us. We will do whatever it takes to win this market," Damandeep Singh Soni, the business development head for Line in India, told the Wall Street Journal.
Accordingly, it is looking to strengthen its presence through tie-ups with local groups, such as online retailers Jabong and Groupon, as well as major handset makers Nokia and Samsung. Soni's aim is to get to 50m registered users "very soon".
Viber has largely eschewed advertising, preferring to focus on localising content and on innovation to help it reach a target of 30m subscribers by the end of the year. Anubhav Nayyar, country head (India) at Viber, is planning more stickers relevant to the Indian market, such as emoticons of movie stars or a leading cricketer dancing to "Gangnam Style."
WeChat has also looked to Bollywood, signing up actors Parineeti Chopra and Varun Dhawan as brand ambassadors as part of a localisation strategy which also includes stickers, according to a company spokesman.
Observers were sceptical, however, that this flurry of activity would actually be very effective. "Advertising and other endorsements can only help new apps to an extent in a market that's solely dominated by WhatsApp," Manasi Yadav, senior market analyst at research firm International Data Corp, told Livemeint.
"It [WhatsApp] has managed to keep the customers happy with its service and by upholding its promise of being a free app."
For rivals to really break through, they would probably need to develop new functions and features to distinguish them from the market leader and give users an incentive to switch. "
They will have to come up with some mind-blowing feature, and not just cosmetic features like tying up with brands and localizing," according to Adhvith Dhuddu, founder and chief executive officer of AliveNow, a social media management company.
Data sourced from Livemint, wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff