x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

BlackBerry pins hopes for growth on instant messaging app BBM

Instant messaging grows in popularity among companies looking to make their brand stand out.

There are now 113 million registered BlackBerry Messenger users, of which 85 million are active on a monthly basis. Oliver Lang / AP Photo / dapd
There are now 113 million registered BlackBerry Messenger users, of which 85 million are active on a monthly basis. Oliver Lang / AP Photo / dapd

Companies are increasingly turning to instant messaging applications to drive brand recognition, according to BlackBerry.

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and WhatsApp have become the most convenient and quickest form of communication for millions around the world.

As more and more people turn to these applications in place of SMS messages, the potential for growth is difficult to avoid.

Canada’s BlackBerry is now pinning much of its growth on BBM. There are currently 113 million registered users, of which 85 million are active on a monthly basis. When BBM was launched on Android and Apple’s iOS, it recorded 10 million downloads on its first day. The company is now also launching the instant messaging (IM) application on the Windows mobile platform, as it looks to expand its presence across all platforms.

While BlackBerry does not break down its user numbers on a per country basis, the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region has traditionally been a stronghold. The UAE has a BBM penetration rate of 99 per cent, that is 99 per cent of BlackBerry device owners are active on the messaging app.

To compete with other IM tools, BlackBerry incorporated voice and video capabilities to provide a internet protocol (VoIP) service, although it is banned in most GCC countries.

“Messaging is a very interesting space from a commercialisation perspective,” said David Proulx, a senior director of BBM business development. “There is a breadth of opportunity in mobile messaging. We’re not taking one approach, we have four distinct approaches to commercialisation.”

These four approaches include selling virtual goods in the BlackBerry store; encouraging brands and enterprises to use BBM channels and its social networking service that is integrated into the chat service to sponsor content.

“We’ve seen great uptake of the service, the basic principle of BBM channels is an opted-in relationship between the end user and a business or brand or celebrity which gives them a publishing vehicle to disseminate content out to BBM users,” said Mr Proulx. “We See BBM channels and sponsored content as being a very low investment, but direct and effective to complement mobile marketing strategies.”

This helps to drive affinity for brands, according to BlackBerry, which already has Mercedes-Benz and Virgin Atlantic on board.

The third approach is BBM for Enterprise, providing encryption for the messaging service specifically for enterprise customers and the fourth is to introduce monetisation to the platform, to enable users to transfer money between one another.

“We will introduce monetisation to BBM as a key imperative to business [users],” said Mr Proulx. “We think it is a great point to alignment for ourselves and financial partners looking to deliver their services through the mobile channel.”

The company has already launched a pilot service in Indonesia, before rolling it out across other regions.

While BBM’s plans are likely to be well received, most eyes are on WhatsApp, with its 500 million active users. Back in February, Facebook acquired the start-up for US$19 billion in cash and Facebook shares.

The acquisition pointed at one thing – the future is in mobile. According to the Global Web Index, there are more than 15 million active daily users across Mena, which is the region with the highest teenage usage of the app at 69 per cent of the teenage population.

“Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp is more about the data. If you have 500 million people using WhatsApp, you have their data, their profile, their location which is important, it has massive amounts of information about the user,” said David AbiDaoud, the regional director of innovation and engagement at Leo Burnett.

This information, along with further data mining, is one of the most lucrative aspects of IM applications, which can be used by advertisers and marketeers to directly target a specific demographic and as Facebook and Google will attest, targeted advertising is what drives digital business.

thamid@thenational.ae

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