Are messaging apps the new bar stool?

This is a post from PRISM’s Social Army – regular briefings on topics aligned to our business or close to our hearts. Today’s entry is from Shane O’Sullivan, Head of the Global Content network at PRISM.

One of the best things about working for a sports marketing company like PRISM is analysing how fans and audiences are engaging with sports in different ways. This presents many opportunities for the brands we work with. It’s exciting to think we will be telling stories on platforms or using methods in 2017 that do not even exist yet.

Sport and technology are two of my key passions. I have been lucky enough to attend a mixture of live sporting events around the world and when reflecting back on my most memorable sporting moments they have not always been physically at the event itself. For me the best thing about sport is who you share it with. Technology is very much aligned with shared experiences and creating moments in time. I have read a lot of 2017 trend reports from various outlets, particularly ones focusing on sport, and while mixed reality, virtual reality, eSports and live experiences will no doubt play a more prominent role this year, I feel one area that tends to get overlooked is conversational interfaces.

In 2016, it became quite common for people to describe WhatsApp as the “new bar stool” because messenger apps give you the ability to discuss the live match while not physically being near your friends, and to do it in a fairly natural way. Research certainly validates this: a report from BI Intelligence shows that the combined user base of the top four chat apps is larger than the combined user base of the top four social networks, and, in 2015, active use on messaging apps surpassed monthly active use on the top four social networks.

Currently, when I watch sport – be that live, out socialising or at home – I tend to use a messenger app for a lot of the lean-forward moments when I am debating with friends, actively discussing contentious decisions or sharing pictures, videos or GIFs. Anecdotal evidence suggests I’m certainly not alone. Most of the people I work with at PRISM are using messenger apps in the same way when watching sport.

We know this is happening, but how do brands tap into this behaviour? A good place to start is to look at what other brands are doing outside of the sporting category. Two that spring to mind are Kayak and Burberry. Kayak launched its chatbot to make flight booking more conversational and remove the friction of airport codes, checking flight permutations and so on. A big plus of this approach is that your history is captured and allows you to pick up conversations about flight options and bookings as and when needed.

Burberry is one of the best brands in adopting technology trends but, more importantly, also provides a consistent experience across all platforms. Burberry has embraced conversational commerce and tested messaging formats for customer service and product recommendations, both designed to drive deeper customer relationships with the brand.

But my favourite example of a brand adopting a conversational interface is actually from the unlikely sector of insurance. Lemonade is an online peer-to-peer insurer that has mastered the art of providing a conversational interface for that most boring of tasks, buying insurance. The app makes the often painful process of searching for a new policy or making a claim more seamless than its ever been. Look at the video below for a demonstration:

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Sports rights holders and brands involved in sports sponsorship could adopt a similar conversation-based approach anywhere there is a data exchange with fans. This could be anything from purchasing tickets to the brand serving up real-time official content, offering access to talent or behind the scenes moments, all distributed directly into the conversation itself.

If brands can find a way to provide this sort of value to fans in a conversational way it may feel more natural and sticky than the traditional model of interrupting their sports experience with a TV commercial. That would certainly be a good space for them to play and drive brand affinity.

At PRISM we are working on one of these messaging approaches at the moment, so watch this space, or message me… just please don’t interrupt!

Shane O’Sullivan

November 8, 2017