On an MMA webinar I co-presented on Tuesday, one fascinating question at the end of the session related to the current popularity of ‘messaging’ and messaging apps on mobile.

That popularity extends across a number of groups, which perhaps not co-incidentally includes teenagers (I speak from personal experience) and investors. WhatsApp, SnapChat, WeChat, Viber - some of the highest profile, most valuable businesses on the planet simply let mobile users talk to each other.

Communicating On Mobile

Why are these apps so popular? To really understand that, let’s take a little trundle back to the dawn of literacy (don’t worry, this will be a short blog post) and understand the basic tasks that our communication technologies are trying to help us with. When Mesopotamian man first impressed his wedges in clay he was looking for a way to create a permanent record of an order, opinion, belief or whatever. That’s the first impulse behind written language.

But it also ended up serving another purpose. If I can’t talk to an individual or group of friends directly, I can write them a letter as a substitute for ‘being there’. The permanence of that personal communication is really, in most cases, simply a happy accident. It certainly isn’t part of the intention, which is just to talk to someone remotely.

Over the past 100 years or so we’ve seen a number of changes in how we talk to each other and specifically how we substitute for being there. The telephone created an immediacy that was previously unavailable. And then email and SMS created something new again - a feeling that in many cases it was actually preferable to communicate via a short written message than by picking up the phone.

That meant that almost by default (and for reasons of cost) email became the dominant way for individuals to stay in touch with each other. And where consumers lead, brands will surely follow. Email became a tool of choice for the modern marketer. And for a while it worked - I ran major email campaigns myself for a large and successful B2C organization.

Fast forward to today and things are changing again. The mobile phone is an immediate, always on, always-with-us interactive device. Email, an activity that many of us still think of in terms of sitting down and ‘doing’, really doesn’t fit with that world. That’s why email is - admittedly slowly - becoming less popular amongst consumers.

And the ‘something better’ that fits the mobile world is messaging - it is immediate, ephemeral when necessary, spontaneous and engaging. Just like the mobile itself in many ways. Messaging fits perfectly with the mobile lifestyle and that is why it has become the most popular way those under 25 communicate with each other. And remember, ultimately all technologies live or die according to how well they enable people to do the things they want to do.

So What Next?

Make no mistake, email is going nowhere. It still performs that ‘permanent record’ function and remains core to most businesses (although it is interesting to note that even here messaging, in the shape of products like Slack, is beginning to make a dent in email’s current dominance).

But when it comes to how individuals talk to each other, messaging is becoming ever more dominant. And brands will have to rapidly adapt to that reality: the communications they have with their customers have to take place on the consumer’s turf - that’s just a fact of life. If you are still sending emails to your mobile users, it’s time to question that strategy.

There are two ways to make that happen. Produce compelling messaging content themselves, or sponsor messaging channels and apps. And an extension of that first option is adapting the messaging model to the interactions they have with consumers within their own spaces.

That option is one of the areas in which Swrve helps our customers react in real-time to user behavior with messages that drive the engagement, retention and revenue metrics they care about. Those messages are relevant, timely, interactive and build relationships - everything that mobile is about.

Best of all, they communicate with customers in a way they understand and recognise - and so they work.