B2C messaging on WhatsApp: A mobile marketer’s dream

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Last week, David Wehner, Facebook’s chief financial officer, revealed the social network is exploring business-to-consumer (B2C) interaction in WhatsApp, the mobile messaging service Facebook purchased for $22 billion in late 2014. His remarks re-ignited interest in the company’s plans for monetizing this popular app, which has shut out brands entirely up to this point and solely generates revenue from a small annual fee.

For Facebook, this move could open a substantial revenue stream as businesses line up to pay for permission to communicate with WhatsApp’s massive, global audience. For marketers, the potential opportunity to build and maintain mobile relationships with customers around the world is undeniably alluring. For consumers, they could stay as informed with the brands they love as they do with their friends and family.

Let’s dive more into the possible impact of what would be a landscape-altering decision.

Why is this shift possible for a service that was said to remain advertising-free?

The future of WhatsApp is being shaped by Facebook’s Businesses on Messenger initiative, which currently functions as a customer service tool to allow brands to inform consumers about order confirmations, shipping updates, and the like. Messenger and WhatsApp are both messaging services at their core and mirror each other in many ways, so it makes sense that B2C strategies being explored on Facebook’s homegrown app would be considered for its acquired app as well.

Like Messenger, WhatsApp would likely introduce permission-based functionality that prevents brands from sending messages without obtaining approval from the consumer. (Businesses using Messenger need consumers to sign up on their website during the checkout process.) As an “over-the-top” messaging service, WhatsApp would be expanding its peer-to-peer messaging model with this opt-in option.

If Messenger’s B2C messaging is any indication, there will continue to be no push (i.e. interruption) advertising in WhatsApp, allowing the app to preserve its “no ads, no games, no gimmicks” mantra. This is why the talk of Facebook backtracking on its claims to keep WhatsApp ad-free is misguided and fails to take into account the nuances of permission-based messaging. I would imagine that WhatsApp users who want to keep their experience brand-free will be able to do so. But the services Facebook could introduce into WhatsApp would add such value that many would opt in to B2C messaging.

What might this entail for marketers?

Although Facebook has yet to reveal the specific mechanics of the solution, we can imagine the company will create a frictionless experience for consumers to quickly and seamlessly opt-in for communications with their favorite brands. Think something similar to the “sign in with Facebook” button that appears on many websites.

One of the most obvious and advantageous opportunities for marketers is WhatsApp’s international user base. WhatsApp is among the primary messaging solutions for many people outside of the U.S., where unlimited messaging programs from the carriers are widely out of reach. And while SMS is a key marketing tool in the U.S., taking SMS internationally in a consistent manner is a complex undertaking. If Facebook opens up WhatsApp to marketers, companies can for the first time start to fully interact with consumers globally and seamlessly. If you are a global brand, or one moving in that direction, this would be an incredible opportunity.

Now, even with global access and less regulation than traditional SMS marketing, marketers should still think carefully about how they take advantage of this technology. The same longtime rules of SMS marketing are still in play. This would be a permission-based solution and should be treated as such. Marketers should be cautious about the timing, content, consistency, and relevancy of their messages.

What type of scenarios can consumers expect?

Wehner said that some of the business functions being tested in Messenger could be replicated in WhatsApp. These could include the customer support functions currently offered on the platform (e.g. requesting a different item, sending a notification when an item is back in stock), as well as collecting customer feedback about the shopping and product experience. Facebook has also introduced P2P payments in Messenger; using WhatsApp to send and receive payments could be very appealing, especially to friends and family living abroad. That functionality could extend to e-commerce and allow consumers to pay for items directly in the app.

Where WhatsApp differs from Messenger is that it is directly tied to your phone number. As such, Facebook may choose to borrow from SMS marketers’ playbooks to differentiate WhatsApp’s B2C messaging from Messenger. Brands could take advantage of proven SMS messaging tactics and create a sweepstakes or prize giveaway; send coupons, offers, and event dates; create text votes, polls, and surveys; and enable sign-ups for loyalty programs. Consumers who have opted in to receive text messages from brands would be accustomed to seeing these interactions, and Facebook could capitalize on that familiarity.

In his remarks last week, Wehner noted that bringing B2C messaging to WhatsApp is “more longer-term than the near-term.” Last month, WhatsApp announced it had 800 million monthly active users, so marketers are hoping that Facebook flips the B2C switch sooner rather than later.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that the company’s products — WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram, and so on — need to scale to 1 billion users before they can become meaningful businesses. While that might be true for Facebook, access to WhatsApp would become a meaningful business for mobile marketers immediately.

John Haro is CTO of Vibes, a mobile marketing company. John regularly covers tech trends shaping mobile messaging, mobile wallets, mobile payments, and mobile devices. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnHaro.


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GoPro announces a $3,000 spherical camera rig for capturing VR video

Six GoPro Hero 4 cameras in this rig can capture spherical video.

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, California — GoPro chief executive Nick Woodman revealed a prototype of a GoPro-based rig that will be able to capture spherical video.

The rig — a sort of cubical framework — holds six GoPro Hero 4 cameras in an arrangement that lets them capture video in all directions simultaneously. The price of these cameras together is about $3,000, Woodson said, plus a yet-to-be-determined price for the rig itself.

Woodman expects the market for this rig to be primarily professionals and prosumers who want to create immersive video for use in virtual reality, such as the Oculus VR.

“We don’t expect the average consumer to purchase 6 GoPros and a spherical mounting rig and go out and capture spherical video — although they will,” said Woodman.

In fact, earlier today, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe told the crowd here at the Code Conference that VR would need more video content in order to be successful, and that’s the market GoPro is aiming for.

“For VR to be appealing to non-gamers, it’s going to need content,” Woodman said. “GoPro’s positioned better than anybody in the world to provide that kind of content.”

Woodman said the spherical array will be available in the second half of this year. The product shown here is a prototype, so the final product’s appearance may be different.

He also said that the company would be releasing a quadcopter with a camera, although he provided few specifics other than saying it would also be shipping in the second half of the year.

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Twitch won’t let users stream X-rated games

Twitch

Amazon’s gameplay livestreaming site Twitch said it will not let users stream “adults only” games, according to a blog post.

That means that games given the toughest rating by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board — which retailers often don’t carry — cannot be streamed to other members on the Twitch platform.

“Our goal at Twitch is to create a safe, welcoming, inclusive community platform where everyone can feel comfortable and have fun. From time to time, we update our Rules of Conduct (RoC) in pursuit of this goal and to match emerging issues in the video game industry,” the company said.

“Previously, we made game-specific decisions about which games would and would not be available for broadcast – sometimes due to overtly sexual content, sometimes due to gratuitous violence. This is unsustainable and unclear, generating only further confusion among Twitch broadcasters,” Twitch added. “We would like to make this policy as transparent as possible.”

The ESRB has its own Ratings Guide and list of Adults Only games.

While the ESRB ratings apply exclusively to U.S. titles, Twitch extended the policy to games in all regions.


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Follow Our Google I/O 2015 Keynote Live Blog May 28 At 9:30 AM PT

IMG_9984 Google’s I/O developer conference for 2015 kicks off tomorrow, with a keynote that begins at 9:30 AM PT. Google typically uses this to make big, splashy announcements about its software platforms and products, and to go into additional detail about what the changes mean to developers especially. We’ll have a special team of highly talented TechCrunch individuals at the event,… Read More

Gigaom resurrected: 6 media companies that came back from the dead

gigaom

Deceased technology blog Gigaom rose from the dead to deliver a final message: It has been acquired by a little-known entity called the Knowingly Corp and will be relaunching this August.

Gigaom is far from the first publication to be revived. Publications as far-ranging as Cracked and Newsweek have been able to make a comeback after falling into obsolescence. Others have come back only to exist in some weird limbo.

There’s no word on what the new Gigaom will look like or if it will offer the same kind of content as before, and clues are scant.

Knowingly incorporated last year with a mission to create “numerous different products in a variety of categories” based on “the tsunami of new technologies” that have popped up over the years. Like anyone operating in consumer technology, Knowingly is interested in mobile technology, the cloud, and crowdsourcing.

Perhaps more confusing are the disconnected properties that the company is already operating. One is iforetold.com, a site that lets people make predictions about the future. The second is Correctica, a tool that scans websites looking for spelling errors.

Knowingly’s CEO and founder Byron Reese is the former chief innovation officer for Demand Media, a company that runs a series of content farms like Cracked.com and eHow. Might Reese have similar intentions for Gigaom? All he’ll say is this:

“We live at what I believe is the great turning point of all of human history, and that is being driven in large part by the technologies we are creating. This new world we are making will not just be more prosperous, but it will be more fair and more just than any time in the past … Gigaom will continue documenting this transformation and the technologies which are driving it.”

What will become of Gigaom? Your guess is as good as ours. History shows that most publications that die and come back don’t fare well. Take a look at these six publications that suffered a similar fate:

1) Red Herring

Red Herring was a technology business publication founded in 1993; it’s also where Om Malik got his start as a reporter. The company foundered during the dot-com blow-up in the early 2000s, and in 2003 the publication shut down. Red Herring relaunched a year later only to cease print publication in 2007. It continued as a digital publication until 2011. Today, the site exists as something of a ghost town; it still publishes new content, but it’s unclear whether anyone is reading it.

2) Cracked

Cracked was a monthly humor magazine founded in the late 1950s, very similar to Mad Magazine. In 1999 Globe Communications, Cracked’s parent company, sold to American Media. Most of Cracked’s staff left during the acquisition. Subsequently, Cracked itself changed hands multiple times, ultimately landing at Demand Media in 2007. Today Cracked no longer has a magazine, but lives on in digital form as an aggregator of viral content — not just humor.

3) Electronic Gaming Monthly

Electronic Gaming Monthly was a video game magazine first published in 1989 by Sendai Publishing. In 1996, Ziff-Davis bought Sendai and continued publishing the magazine, which at its peak had over half a million subscribers. But Ziff-Davis had  a difficult time managing its debt, filing for bankruptcy in 2008. The company was also suffering from the rise of online publishing, and things came to a head in 2009 when EGM published its final issue.

That should have been it for EGM, but its founding publisher decided to buy the magazine and restore it. In 2010, EGM was relaunched as a print and web publication. Today, it seems the print publication has halted, but the website is still running. I don’t have any metrics on how well the company is surviving, but if its Facebook Page is any indication, it doesn’t look good.

4) Valleywag

Silicon Valley gossip rag Valleywag originally launched in 2006 under Gawker Media. The website shutdown five years later, because it wasn’t driving enough traffic to cover costs.

However, Valleywag came back just two years later under a new editor, Sam Biddle. But in late 2014, Valleywag took another turn. Gawker announced that Biddle would be moving to Gawker Media proper and Valleywag would be headed up by Dan Lyons, a former editor at Forbes, Newsweek, and ReadWrite (and the mastermind behind Fake Steve Jobs). However, six weeks into the new gig, Lyons left to pursue a recently landed book deal.

The future of Valleywag is uncertain, but it’s had a good run.

5) Newsweek

Newsweek was first published in 1933 and sold to the Washington Post Company in 1961. Decades later, after the onset of online publishing, Newsweek’s subscription base was declining — fast. In 2010, audio equipment mogul Sidney Harman purchased Newsweek for a dollar.

Harman then entered into a partnership with online media company IAC merging Newsweek and news site The Daily Beast into the Newsweek Daily Beast Company. In 2012, Newsweek discontinued its print subscription and went online-only, but it was still losing money. In 2012, IAC sold Newsweek to IBT Media (known mostly as a content farm), which endeavored to revive the print publication.

Now relaunched, Newsweek is monthly magazine with both a print and online publication that has generated solid and occasionally controversial national stories for a general audience. A year after the purchase, the publication was reportedly profitable with 200,000 subscribers and 2 million monthly viewers to its website.

6) The New Republic

Founded in 1914, The New Republic has long stood as a quality publication devoted to discussing progressive ideas on social woes and culture. After nearly a century, the publication was bought by a young multimillionaire named Chris Hughes. In its centennial year, Hughes decided to move the publication headquarters from Washington, D.C. to New York and reduce the number of issues it printed every year; going forward the focus would be on creating digital media.That same year, TNR’s long-standing editor-in-chief Franklin Foer resigned, and as a result many of TNR’s staff quit.

It’s still early days for the new New Republic, but many are skeptical that the publication will be able to retain the same quality it once possessed.

Did we forget one? Add other publications that died and came back to life in the comments below. 

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Oculus chief: You’ll be able to get the Rift, with a PC, for under $1,500

Brendan Iribe, chief executive of Oculus, onstage at the Code Conference in May, 2015.

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, California — If you want to experience virtual reality with an Oculus Rift, the cost to get started — PC, headset, and all — will be less than $1,500.

Oculus has been pretty cagey about what the price for its Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset will be, and chief executive Brendan Iribe isn’t wavering from that position — much. But he did give some guidance today at the Code Conference here today.

He said that the price for a Rift headset, plus a new PC with sufficient horsepower to support the 3D display, will be less than $1,500. There will be higher-end systems that cost more, Iribe said, but that will be the minimum cost to get started from zero.

If you already have a PC, but need to upgrade the video card to a high-performance version capable of supporting the Rift, the combination will cost “well under $1,000,” Iribe said.

Video cards that work with the Rift, such as the Nvidia GeForce GTX 360, go for $360 and up, depending on the model. That means the cost for the Rift will be “well under” $640.

Currently the development kit for the Oculus Rift costs $350.

That corresponds with the hints that the company has given in the past: That the Rift will cost more than the $200 Samsung Gear VR (which uses Oculus technology), and no more than the price of a typical game console.

Oculus, which is part of Facebook, has said that it plans to ship its device in the first quarter of 2016. It will be compatible only with “beefy” Windows PCs, at least at first.

“Down the road, we definitely want to support Mac,” Iribe said. “We want to support smaller form factor machines. We want to support plugging directly into your phone.”

But he gave no timeline for these ambitions.

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Come To The TechCrunch 10-Year Birthday Meetup

tc10-post3 On Saturday June 6 we are celebrating the ten year birthday of TechCrunch. 1,500 people will gather from 12-3 p.m. at the Presidio in San Francisco. Like the meetups ten years ago at my house in Atherton, it will be a party, a bbq and a celebration of startups. I can’t wait to spend the days with new friends and old. Get one of the few remaining tickets here. Read More

Jawbone sues Fitbit for stealing its talent and trade secrets

Fitbit Flex

Fitness tracker company Jawbone is suing its rival Fitbit for allegedly stealing its employees and trade secrets.

San Francisco-based Jawbone filed suit against San Francisco-based Fitbit in a state court Wednesday. In the fitness tracker market, Jawbone ranks second to Fitbit, which has been top dog for quite some time.

“This case arises out of the clandestine efforts of Fitbit to steal talent, trade secrets and intellectual property from its chief competitor,” Jawbone’s lawyers wrote in the complaint.

The lawsuit comes a crucial time in Fitbit’s history. The wearables company very recently filed for an IPO, in which it hopes to raise $100 million to expand its product line and marketing efforts.

Developing . . .








Smart air quality monitor Awair connects with Nest, Misfit, IFTTT, and more

Awair is a $150 "smart" air monitor for your home.

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, California — Bitfinder chief executive and cofounder Ronald Ro found inspiration for his smart air quality monitor from his daughter.

She was born with a skin condition, Ro told me, which made her very sensitive to dry air, sunlight, and temperature. To help manage her condition when she went to preschool, Ro hacked together a suite of sensors on a circuit board. He attached it to her backpack, and it would monitor humidity, temperature, and ultraviolet radiation throughout the day. At the end of the day he would sync it to his PC via Bluetooth, giving him insights about how her day went and how that might affect her skin. He could then tell her that he was putting more lotion on her skin and turning the humidifier because it had been very dry at preschool that day, for instance.

Awair founders Ronald Ro and Kevin Cho.

Above: Awair founders Ronald Ro and Kevin Cho.

Image Credit: Awair

Seeing how empowering and helpful that was for his daughter led Ro to create an air quality monitor as a product, together with cofounder and chief technical officer Kevin Cho. That device, Awair, launched today at the Code Conference here in Rancho Palos Verdes, a coastal town south of Los Angeles.

The $149 device looks a bit like a tabletop radio and measures indoor temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide concentrations, fine dust particles, and volatile organic compounds (VOC). It connects to a smartphone app (for Google or iOS) that can analyze the data and provide insights into the air quality around you, providing personalized recommendations based on what it learns about your environment over time.

Interestingly, the device is also able to connect with other appliances, such as humidifiers, so Awair can turn them on and off as needed.

It can also connect with other tracking devices such as the Misfit Shine, home devices like the Philips Hue Smart Bulb, and even Google’s Nest smart smoke alarm. You can also use IFTTT.com with it to trigger alerts and other actions.

The Awair will be available in the fall. Customers can preorder it starting today.

The company says it will use one percent of its revenue to make a simplified version of Awair for the developing world.

Bitfinder was founded in 2013 and has raised $1.38 million in an angel round, according to Ro. It is based in San Francisco.








Chrome 43 for Android arrives with touch to search, faster Google Wallet checkout, and drops Android 4.0 support

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Following the release of Chrome 43 for desktop last week, Google today launched Chrome 43 for Android. You can download the new version now directly from Google Play.

First and foremost, Chrome for Android has gained a new feature called touch to search. It’s quite straightforward: You can now learn more about words and phrases on websites by simply touching them on your screen.

Next up, Chrome for Android now has a faster checkout process. You can now quickly and securely complete checkout forms by leveraging data you’ve already entered into Google Wallet.

The app has also received the usual “bug fixes and speedy performance improvements.” Last but not least, Chrome now only supports Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and higher.

That means all of the above tweaks will not be made available to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich users. Chrome 42 is the last version of Chrome to support Android 4.0, which was released in December 2011.

When Chrome first arrived as a beta for Android devices in February 2012, it was only available for ICS, the latest version of Android at the time. Since then, Google has released 24 new Chrome versions and three new major Android versions (Jelly Bean, KitKat, and Lollipop).

In short, Google has found that developing new features on older phones has become increasingly challenging and takes time away from building experiences on the devices owned by most Android users. The FAQ adds a bit more detail:

While the number of Ice Cream Sandwich devices is shrinking, supporting them in terms of engineering effort and technical complexity is increasingly difficult over time. Each new feature or web capability that’s added to Chrome must be built and tested for ICS. Often workarounds and special cases have to be added specifically for ICS, and that adds code complexity, slows performance, and increases development time. The number of ICS devices is now sufficiently small that we can better serve our users by phasing out support for earlier devices and focusing on making Chrome better for the vast majority of users on more modern devices.

According to Google’s Platform Versions page, which is based on data gathered from the Google Play Store app, ICS had 5.3 percent adoption at the start of this month. As we noted before, Google’s decision to drop Android 4.0 support could push third-party app developers to following suit.

Google is expected to announce the latest release of its mobile operating system, Android M, tomorrow. We may even see a glimpse of upcoming Chrome for Android features, given how important the browser is to the platform.

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