Thinking Social / Value

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Drawing a powerful LINE in brand marketing

Growing globally out of its headquarters in Japan, LINE is a communication application that allows users to make free calls, send emoticons, and more. Though it’s compared to WhatsApp, Viber and Skype because it offers free calls and text, the application is doing more than merely connecting dots. As of June 2013, it has more than 150 million users across more than 230 countries, and its potential as a marketing and promotional tool is tremendous.

*(Above map as of Nov. 2012)

At their very first “LINE Marketing Conference LINE + YOU,” the application provider NHN Japan Corporation shared some insight proving that LINE is not only a tool for connecting individual consumers, but also a powerful marketing and promotional tool that connects consumers to brands and services. Below are some of the strengths of LINE service:

Essential app for Japanese

A quarter of the Japanese population are LINE users and more than 50% are “Daily Active Users” (DAU). When limited to users aged 24 or younger, DAU is almost 70%. This shows that LINE is a must-need communication infrastructure for many users in Japan.

If we look at the rest of Asia, 40% of the population of Thailand uses LINE, 50-60% of smartphone users in Taiwan use the app and Indonesia and Vietnam are expected to grow rapidly this year. Other countries like Korea and China have their own versions but LINE is working to win over the market by heavily investing in paid media.

More than just a messaging service

LINE is positioning itself as a closed social platform. Like Path, who limited users to sharing to 50 friends only, LINE acts a platform only available to friends who have your phone number and you can choose how you communicate to them – whether it’s individually or in self selected groups.

It’s also focused on mobile as its main messaging platform which will help them grow momentum in the social network arena. Making accessibility on all platforms a key component to its strategy, LINE is available on multiple mobile platforms and has a web app for tablets, PCs, and Macs.

As the system is closed, users don’t have to worry about their identities being shared, revealed or sold. There are also LINE official accounts with messages from celebrities, news and brands. All have a high number of users, some reaching over 300,000 registrations in the first day of release. Unlike other social networks, official accounts are shown as friends and appear in a users feed the same way as all other messages do.

Financial success of LINE

Although it’s free to use, LINE is also revenue generating for the provider. It is famously known for earning 350 million JPY in two months since its first launch of paid emoticons.The profitability of the app is not an indication of benefit to marketers; however, it is a reflection of its general rising popularity and a sign of potential stability.

The company has created its own line of cutesy cartoon characters instead of the standard cliched emoticons and are spinning them out as plush toys and stickers in some of its Asian markets just as Rovio did with Angry Birds. As the popularity of these characters increase, brands will have a greater chance for their bespoke stickers to be used alongside LINE’s.

U.S. CEO Jeanie Han, who joined the company after a 10 year career in film, sees LINE as an entertainment business rather than a tech company so the focus on story and marketing will be a huge benefit to brands who run campaigns on the platform. With a core target market of 18-29 year-old females, the rapid growth and roll out of stickers and cartoon characters serves that market well, especially in Asia, where the platform found that once girls began using LINE, the boys would follow.

While another successful mobile messaging application WeChat offers similar features (emoticons, gaming, free calling, etc.) and profits on similar terms — LINE’s biggest strength lies in its ability to drive consumers to stores through sponsored coupons. At the “LINE Marketing Conference LINE + YOU,” they shared that 31.7% of LINE users use the sponsored coupons that the brand has issued on LINE, and 6.5% has visited the brand’s store more frequently.

Given such difference, it seems that LINE is positioning not only as a “lifestyle” tool among consumers, it is also building its base as a proper marketing tool for brands. On the other hand, WeChat is keeping its services free to consumers and brands. Looking at WeChat’s user base in China (above 200 million), and its expansion in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand, the application appears to be focusing efforts on acquiring more users.

WeChat and LINE each poses different opportunities for marketers. The larger WeChat dominates Chinese language demographics, while LINE excels in Japan. Both are aggressively expanding into Southeast Asia and abroad. Both are worth our attention.

LINE hits Spanish Television

LINE launched in Spain at the end of 2012 and there are already over 10 million users in the Spanish market, including Latin America. This makes them the biggest market outside of Japan.

Coca-Cola recently started a LINE campaign in Spain utilizing the LINE sticker feature to highlight memories made in bars to friends. The commercial for this campaign featuring LINE broadcast in Spain at the end of May 2013:

What’s next for Line

Though LINE is available in the US markets, NHN Japan Corporation has only recently released more of their paid for in-app features including Line Play, an avatar-based virtual world, and Line Bubble.

The company has recently partnered with Rakuten Malaysia as its first corporate account on LINE in the country after success last year in Taiwan where they have over 2.6 million followers. Rakuten’s official LINE account informs customers of deals and connects them with a mobile-optimized version of Rakuten Online Shopping to encourage mobile shopping.

As social commerce is growing in the APAC region, LINE could be a big player in the ecommerce space with continued partnership with brands. It’s too soon to tell its global impact but if it gets picked up by the US market it has the potential of becoming one of the top social networks for under 30s.