MUNICH: Messaging app WhatsApp plans to offer a B2C service specifically for companies to communicate with their customers, but its CEO restated the app's commitment to not serving ads to users.
"Starting this year, we will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organizations that you want to hear from," Jan Koum told the DLD (Digital-Life-Design) conference in Munich.
"We want to build things that are utilitarian," he said. "That allows a company like American Airlines or Bank of America to communicate efficiently through a messaging app like WhatsApp."
TechCrunch reported that there could be between ten and thirty businesses already talking to WhatsApp about such a service.
This still seems to be at a very early stage, however, as Koum went on to admit "we haven't written a single line of code", before adding that "[we want to] make sure people understand this is not about ads in the product".
Koum also revealed an end to the annual charge of 99 cents after the first, free year of use. "We're going to get rid of the $1 subscription," he stated.
With almost 1bn users – latest figures put the total at 990m – that is a significant amount of revenue to forego, but, as TechCrunch noted, anecdotally, few people could recall actually paying the subscription.
The search for new revenues is taking the business in a new direction. "There's a playbook to follow," according to Julie Ask, an analyst with research firm Forrester.
She explained to Wired that messaging apps would evolve into "a preferred way that consumers engage with brands".
"And from there, it will move from things like content and coupons, to things that are more transactional, more oriented towards customer service."
In China, WeChat is rather further down this road, as Bryce Whitwam, managing director at Wunderman Shanghai, outlined in a recent article for Warc.
Over the past couple of years 2013, the number of apps the average Chinese consumer engages with on their phone has fallen from six to two as the big players – Wechat and Weibo – have created holistic consumer experience platforms that are hard to leave.
For example, consumers can scan a QR code in a store and enter the company's official WeChat site. Once there, they can engage in social news, learn more about a product, and forward it to their friends. Because WeChat is connected to WeChat Wallet, they can even purchase the product on the company's WeChat store.
Data sourced from TechCrunch, Wired; additional content by Warc staff