Battling Goliath: How to Win as the Underdog

As my daughter was heading off to Copenhagen for a semester abroad five years ago, my “cheap dad” instincts went into high gear. With visions of thousands of dollars of long-distance cellular calls on my horizon, I suggested to her that we use a free messaging app that one of our client’s at the time had introduced. Her lightning response via SMS was, “Don’t worry dad, when all my friends went overseas they used WhatsApp and I’ve already installed it.” Of course, that settled the issue. We did use WhatsApp, helping her get through a long dark Scandinavian winter and saving me a kingdom of Krone.

That first hand encounter with messaging apps also shed light on what we could call the “community effect.” The adoption of mobile messaging apps typically happens in waves of users, community by community. And scale within a community matters since their value increases with the number of friends and family that also use the same app. This helps explain why one app could be very popular in one country and almost nonexistent in another. Most of these apps grew by word of mouth, spreading from friend to friend and in some cases, daughter to father.

The “community effect” creates a remarkable marketing challenge.  How do you generate community versus one by one adoption?  Can you accelerate word of mouth with a burst of advertising?  And how do you do all of that in the face of ginormous competitors like WeChat, Messenger and WhatsApp? Well enough of the hypothetical questions, join me as I interview Scott Nelson, the North American head of Viber, a five-year-old messaging app with over 750 million users worldwide.  As you will soon see, Scott learned a lot from his recent campaign that included a unique blend of traditional media, digital ads, content and influencer marketing and he was kind enough to share it to good effect with this community.

Drew: I read that Viber launched a marketing campaign in late 2015. Can you tell me what prompted this effort?

Scott: Up until probably a few years ago we had no marketing department. As we grew our base very quickly and learned more about our users, we realized that there was a very emotional connection with our product. Our first real campaign specifically here in the US was mainly to increase awareness around Viber. We have a really good global footprint, with users all around the world, but in the US people are not as familiar with the brand. So, number one was to increase US awareness around Viber. Then, number two was what I called a reappraisal for those people that knew of Viber but didn’t know that we had several different elements in the platform. We wanted to bring them up to speed on the services we offered.

Drew: Can you say a little more about the structure of your 2015 campaign? 

Scott: We launched an outdoor advertising campaign that included the more traditional marketing and then we went deeper with a digital partnership, bringing in several different influencers to help our overall public chat platform. We aligned ourselves with well-known artists, and the likes of the Barclays Center to create live experiences within the app. We did several different things from traditional advertising elements to deeply social campaigns, so it was a pretty robust effort from September into December of 2015.

Drew: Let’s talk about metrics. Did you have a tracking study in place for awareness?

Scott: We conducted a brand connectivity study with our Spotified partnership, so we were able to get tracking information. We worked with performance media so we had a couple of different forms of brand tracking involved.

Drew: What were some of your findings?

Scott: There are a couple of different kinds of things that we looked at like how number of downloads related to awareness of the brand. When we looked at average yearly growth, we saw that our downloads had doubled, meaning we did really well when it came to actually getting people interested in downloading the app. Next, we looked at the daily active users and the monthly active users, which we call our DAU-MAU. A lot of the content that we created, and a lot of the efforts of the campaign were meant to get people coming back to the app on a daily basis. We did well on that front also.

Drew: Did you look at social media in your metric analysis?

Scott: Yes, we found that we had increases to 700% in overall brand mentions of the Viber name throughout all of social media. We saw a 20% increase in overall positive brand sentiments around Viber. We also focused heavily social media which did many things for our brand, and it was a really good learning experience since we hadn’t done much in the social media space before this campaign.

Drew: What are some of the bigger lessons you learned from this campaign?

Scott: One of the things that we’ve learned is the importance of focus. We decided it was best to narrow down to two things and do them very well, as opposed to working at five or six different goals. Then, number two is creating the right content. You’re trying to get people to come back to the service on a daily basis so you have to figure out what that right content is. Then, you have to realize that the right content for the messaging app space is different than what you create for social media or offline partnerships. Understanding the category and helping our partners create the right content that again is relevant to our user in each space is crucial.

Drew: So after getting people to download and use your app, the next step is to monetization. How is this done over at Viber?

Scott: We have two forms of monetization. One is for our Sticker Market. So you know, we have a very large sticker marketplace, and some of these are paid stickers, which is one form of monetization. Number two is Viber Out, which is a calling feature where if you have Viber and you’re calling someone with a landline, you’re charged a reduced rate.

Drew: I’m guessing more than 90% of that base is international. Even though you were focused on the US, was there any ripple effect on a global basis?

Scott: Yes, definitely. We’ve been working to create programs here in the US that will have a ripple effect into some of our larger regions around the world, namely Russia, South East Asia, India, etc.

Drew: How does Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp inform your marketing strategy?

Scott: Again, the category is rapidly growing. It’s the hot sexy category to be in right now, and I’m thankful to be a part of it. WhatsApp is gigantic, Messenger is gigantic, WeChat in China is gigantic. For a US-based service like us, we don’t have as deep a penetration as an app like Messenger or WhatsApp. So then we have to consider, “What do we do and how do we act, and what do we bring to market that might be different and useful for our consumer?” Anyhow, we are constantly brainstorming how we can be better than our competition. But at the same time, it’s all about what Viber is doing, and how we can improve our service.

Drew: You mentioned earlier that your team incorporated influencer programs into your marketing strategy; these are often very challenging for marketers to implement. Can you tell me how influencers were integrated into Viber’s wider marketing initiatives?

Scott: I’ve been working with influencer programs throughout my career, and I think ecommerce is probably one of the best blueprints of how to work with an influencer in the most authentic way. During my time at Converse, I learned how to create the right influencer program there, and have kept those lessons with me throughout my career. For me, it’s all about authenticity. Finding the right people that are authentic to whatever you’re working on, your brand, your company, etc. Our influencers came to us because they saw it as a platform where they could develop their own brand globally within the mobile messaging app space. The next step was to determine how relevant they were in popular culture. If they’re not relevant, then we don’t want them on our platform. We are more interested in people who are up-and-coming. Thirdly, our influencers needed to have large groups following their lead. That doesn’t mean they have millions of followers on Instagram, but more that they have a rabid kind of audience that paying attention to what they do. 

Drew: Is there any individual that you would point to as a success story or prototype for Viber’s influencer program?

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. YesJulz is an entertainer down in Miami, South Beach. She came onto the scene probably two years ago because she started to do some really interesting things on Snapchat. She then became known as the Snapchat darling in South Florida, eventually making a name for herself in New York and LA. She was clearly very tech savvy so we got in talks with her about Viber. At the end, she understood the platform and really loved it. She then started her public chat, and now has well over 1.2 million followers. So, we basically took her from more of a local, US influencer to someone who is now getting calls from Berlin, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, and Rio. So, YesJulz is a great example of how utilizing the Viber platform in the right way can really enhance your personal brand.

As one of NYC’s savviest B2B agencies, Renegade can help grow your business. Reach out to our CEO, Drew Neisser, for a free consultation.

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