Viber CMO Mark Hardy, a former Sony and Syco marketer, and the man responsible for the global launch of boyband sensation One Direction, shares his vision for global app success.
It’s been a busy year at Viber Towers. Sitting at the heart of all of this is an ambition to turn Viber into more of a social entertainment platform, while staying true to our heritage as a mobile and desktop messaging app. The two big releases we’ve announced, Public Chats (see launch ad below) and our games launch, are taking us in that direction.
The market has got to a stage where users have a sizeable number of apps on their phones, but only use 10 of them in any given month. The app business focuses at first on acquisition, and our user-base is now over 450m users, and now we’re moving into that phase of retention. We need to offer our users more reasons to stay with the app. We’re looking at where our strength lies, which we see as building good vibes around social entertainment, so how do we offer more of this in one space? It is fairly well reported that some of the more traditional social networks like Facebook are losing appeal among the younger demographic, so an opportunity opens up for brands like Viber to move into that space.
Our philosophy is that we exist to bring good vibes into the world every day and to make great things happen – that is our brand mantra and we are building a strategy around that. One of the first things I did after joining Viber was to write a brand book. Even though this is a digital brand, from my experience in the music industry, and working on X Factor, having a clear brand purpose is an important thing. As much as we have the product, we’ve now built a brand identity which has personality and signature style and tone of voice, which global markets are all using.
I’ve only been at Viber since March, and the global marketing function is a new part of the business. Up until then, we had marketing teams in tactical markets like the Philippines, Vietnam and India. The main thing for me is getting consistency across the world, moving away from ad hoc local promotions, and trying to build a more strategic, global brand. Even though we localise our content, and we understand the importance of local flavour, there must be consistency to our global strategy.
My perspective is a global perspective – we are as focused on the Philippines and Japan as we are on the UK and US. The marketplace is very competitive, with big brands in Asia such as KakaoTalk and WeChat, and big global players driving innovation. WhatsApp is our biggest competitor and what it has done very well is made it a mass market idea that people should no longer have to pay to send a text message or make a phone call. We now say it is not just about basic messaging – you can also make your phone calls and video calls. The biggest difference between Viber and, say, Tango in the US, or WeChat in China, is that we are a truly global platform and have been since year dot.
I view our marketing plan as a ‘tent pole’ strategy. Throughout the year there will be key periods and holiday moments we use. A good example is New Year’s Eve: the world over, the first thing people do at midnight is kiss their partner and hug their friends, and then they pick up their phones and start sending messages. That is an example of a moment in time where we feel the Viber brand becomes relevant, as it is all about good vibes and social experiences. We are also trying to create some of those moments ourselves, focused around music fans and music consumption.
This year has been about building the user base and getting the numbers to where we’ve got them to. The plan is to pull on all tools and levels in 2015, and make sure we’re delivering better content on Public Chats, more functionality, more virality to the way people share our content, and there will be more games and app-based experiences. We’re now focused on that point around retention, making sure that Viber users want to stay with us for more than just our core, ‘ever-green’ messaging and call services, but also our entertainment features.
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