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Messaging apps escalate their global war

Updated Jul 15th, 2013 4:17PM EDT
Messaging App Analysis

The triumph LINE has had with translating expensive TV campaigns into breakthrough success in three key markets — Japan, Spain and now India — has been a warning shot for other messaging apps. The era of viral success that defined the WhatsApp narrative may be drawing to an end. From now on, messaging app vendors are likely to be forced into an expensive and escalating marketing wars that span dozens of countries.

Now that the text messaging volume decline has spread from European countries to the United States and even major emerging markets like India, messaging app vendors are stepping up their global battle for supremacy. And there are a ton of contenders with rapidly shifting fortunes. LINE has finally made its big break-out in India, where it has ridden a wave of television ads to top-5 position on the iPhone download chart from around No.300 where it used to loll about. This replicates the wildly successful LINE television campaign in Spain, where the app broke out in a big way nine months ago. LINE has also finally started making progress in America, where it broke into the top-200 on Sunday after a torpid spring performance.

LINE is now starting to completely eclipse its Asian rival KakaoTalk, which dominates South Korea, but has had great trouble expanding to new markets. At the moment, KakaoTalk is a top-100 app in only two countries, Malaysia and Indonesia, where it is a runaway messaging smash of this summer.

Path was largely viewed as a dead and buried Facebook wannabe last winter, when it slipped out of top-1000 iPhone free download chart in America. Then it made a dramatic comeback in April, soaring back into the top-10 on the heels of an aggressive new customer acquisition campaign. But over the last couple of days, it has slipped out of top-500 with surprising speed — was the April spike simply due to a hyper-pushy marketing drive that could not yield lasting benefits?

Interestingly, Kik’s strong recent U.S. performance has expanded to a host of African and Caribbean markets, where Kik has become a top-40 app in recent days. At the same time its lethal rival Viber has become a top-3 smash in several African countries over the past week, hitting No.1 download status on the iPhone in places like Tanzania and Botswana. Africa is shaping up to be a major frontier. Nimbuzz built an early African messaging empire but is now being aggressively challenged by Kik, Viber and WeChat. The chinese messaging champ WeChat has suddenly become the top app in the pivotal southern region that includes Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.

Many of these apps are now demonstrating enormous volatility, shooting up or plunging down the app charts in a matter of days in dozens of countries across the globe. It is widely thought in the app industry that this is caused by key vendors experimenting with various marketing stratagems, such as the pushy Path campaign in America this past April.

Names like Path and KakaoTalk are now clearly in danger of getting eclipsed by the global marketing aggression of LINE, WeChat and Kik. How much gas do veterans like Nimbuzz and Tango have in the tank in this nine-way battle?

The messaging app market is reaching a boiling point and is now perhaps the most fascinating niche of the global app market place — partly because the weekly engagement level of many of these apps is far higher than that of a typical mobile game hit, and partly because there are so many plausible contenders to make it to the top three. It is now clear that many consumers don’t mind using three, four or even five messaging apps simultaneously, so there may well be room for several major success stories in this category.

After launching mobile game company SpringToys tragically early in 2000, Tero Kuittinen spent eight years doing equity research at firms including Alliance Capital and Opstock. He is currently an analyst and VP of North American sales at mobile diagnostics and expense management Alekstra, and has contributed to, Forbes and Business 2.0 Magazine in addition to BGR.


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