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WhatsApp for business use: A way into the world of dark data?

Last week, news broke that Facebook’s WhatsApp messenger service will charge businesses for sending marketing and customer service-related messages. According to a Reuters report, the charge is at a fixed rate for confirmed deliveries, and will range from $0.05 to $0.09 per message, depending on the country. In the report, WhatsApp also acknowledged it is “charging a premium” compared to SMS rates, with carriers usually charging businesses around or below penny per SMS even with fees collected by middle-men entities.

A spokesperson from WhatsApp also told Marketing that the new function will allow businesses to respond to messages from users for free up to 24 hours. After that, the company will charge these businesses a fixed rate by country per message. Many brands have also already been enlisting these services such as Netflix, KLM airlines and most recently Etihad Airways.

Coming from a medium-sized retail background, Jaime Syjuco, managing director of Havaianas Singapore and Malaysia, said that the area of chatting is largely untapped for retailers.

Undoubtedly, it is an opportunity to build one-to-one communications and relationships with hyperlocal communities, and still maintain its marketing budgets. But that being said, cost is always an issue in retail environments such as in Singapore, given in most cases margins are very thin.

“I would expect early movers to this service still have a wide window to benefit, but eventually cost will catch up,” he said. Syjuco, who also runs retail innovation consultancy, Lean Retail Labs explained that medium-sized retailers often see traditional digital marketing channels [such as Google and Facebook] having reached prices at maximum-value threshold. “In other words, our spending equation has reached the limit, and every additional dollar I spend on traditional digital marketing has a negative return,” Syjuco said.

He added that data, especially from dark social, has an immense potential for retailers. Chat interactions will also certainly help retailers better understand customers. Syjuco explained that tracking dark social and private sharing will provide a “huge opportunity” to marketers as under current circumstances, private sharing is hard to track.

“If the paid version of WhatsApp can allow businesses some insight on private sharing, this will be a big product for them and us and may help in justifying the fees,” he said. And while the opportunities are many, Syjuco added that volume of conversation is what businesses need to be aware of as servicing customers in real-time is vastly different from conversing over emails – which allows for added response time in hours or sometimes days.

“Now customer service and engagement will need to be in real time at high volume and not everyone is capable of this,” he said.

(Read here: WhatsApp Business solutions: Are you ready to jump on the bandwagon?)

Coming from the B2B industry, Rashish Pandey, director of market management at, Cisco said that as business users demand easy to use applications, both consumer and enterprise IT application providers are evolving their offerings to cater to this trend. For consumer apps moving to enterprise, providing easy to use functionality is just the first step.

In order to gain broad enterprise adoption all applications will need to provide differentiated value proposition, robust privacy controls, enterprise grade security, compliance, support mechanisms, analytics, management and integration with adjacent enterprise applications.

Eugene Lee, marketing director of McDonald’s Malaysia added that with monetisation, more features and tracking will definitely come and businesses will see even more ways to communicate with their customers, reaching them directly.

“Almost everyone in Malaysia is on WhatsApp, and it has become the accepted means of communications. What better way to reach your customers, than on the platform they’re using actively,” he said. He added that gaining more access to data and information will help understand consumers even better.

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