Apple are smashing it these days. Hot off their September announcement of the new Watch Series 4 (I wrote more on that here
), this week they announced something that is perhaps a little more tangible for us brand folks.
At WWDC (their developer conference) last year, Apple announced Business Chat. It does what it says on the tin: let’s consumers chat with businesses in the same way they do family and friends. Although it took until January 2018 to launch in a U.S Beta, it’s an important piece of tech because it goes directly up against Facebook’s Messenger platform which is currently the de facto way for users to engage with brands in the messaging format. Because the Beta has been so restricted, part of this week’s announcement is that a further 15 American companies are coming to the platform Stateside. But more importantly for us, 15 are also joining from the UK, France, Italy, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Canada, and Hong Kong. Brits can now start using Apple Business Chat, albeit in a limited capacity, which makes it the perfect time for you and your brand to start thinking it. Currently available in the UK are: Burberry; Matches Fashion; NH Hotels; nPower; and Robins & Day.
Why should you care? There are a few answers to this, the most obvious being “give the people what they want”. In a 2017 Nielsen survey, 56% of consumers polled said they’d rather message with a business than call them. 53% of consumers are more likely to “do business” with a brand they can message, and 66% of British respondents say messaging with a brand builds their trust. Pretty compelling, for a nascent interaction model. So far, kudos to me for citing some stats you’ve probably already gleamed on DigiDay. So what else is going on? Apple’s biz chat is timely because it arrives on the international stage when questions around the role for digital technology in our lives (hello Time Well Spent movement) and data privacy (sorry, Zuck and Pichai) are at an all-time high. Headlines about the impact of social media on young adults; both Apple and Google releasing smartphone usage trackers; growing weariness towards how data is harvested across the web, fuelled by the arrival of GDPR? If consumers want more secure, more personal, more convenient ways to get jobs done quicker, so they can get on with living their lives, the messaging-with-brands behaviour sits at the epicentre of these colliding societal issues. So we’d better understand it, and fast.
Despite what others may say, Facebook Messenger is by far the biggest competitor in this space. With over 2B monthly messages between users and brands reported, FBM is currently the world’s way to chat with brands. Trailing behind are also Instagram DMs, Twitter (aka King of Complaints) and even WhatsApp. What’s the main issue with this in an increasingly privacy-weary world? That old maxim: if it’s free, you’re the product. Apple are renowned for their privacy stance (and yes, it’s baked into those crazy prices), and won’t be sharing or selling your private conversations with anyone, which puts them at the fore for those concerned about protecting their private lives. In fact, they’ve gone as far as to attribute anonymous IDs to users engaging with brands. Only consumers can initiate business conversations, and if they delete a chat only to want to talk again in the future, it’s that anonymous identifier that’s used to make sure the customer doesn’t have to start from scratch again. Apple Business Chat integrates seamlessly into the Messages app on iPhone, iPad and Mac, and features deeply rich functionalities the likes of which we haven’t even seen on FBM’s brand chats (e.g.: seamless integrations and dynamic chat bubbles).
So what should you do for your brand?
First mover advantage in your vertical automatically makes you an innovator, but you’ll need a strong brand, good IT stack (the more your customers already do online, the richer the Chat experience will be) and a commitment to putting the customer at the heart of your world to really bring Apple Business Chat (bugger it, I’m switching to “ABC”) to life. Extra brownie points if your brand has a commitment to data transparency and privacy too, as you’ll be able to use this as a marketing hook to entice users away from Facebook Messenger. Setting up on ABC is as much a statement of business ethos than it is a desire to transact with customers in a new medium. You get onto the platform through the customer service providers you’re already working with to deliver CRM functionality, such as ZenDesk, SalesForce or Cisco (full list here Apple Business Register).
Using ABC will cement your brand as one that cares deeply about its users, and open unprecedented ways to interact with leads and customers. There are however, discoverability issues, as launching conversations can only occur via 5 places: Siri, Search, Safari and Apple Maps and website. Until Apple sort Siri and Maps out, your own site is by far the safest option.
If you’re the type of brand that leads rather than follows, now’s your chance.
Gracie Page is innovation lead at VMLY&R London