Viber will launch its first U.S. advertising campaign this fall, focusing on digital and social media. While the app started off as a messaging service, its recent acquisition of social gaming startup Nextpeer signals ambitions to expand to other areas.
“We are shaping up to be less of an app and more of a lifestyle portal,” Scott Nelson, head of Viber North America, told Ad Age.
Such an expansion will be challenging. With 249 million monthly active users in April, Viber has fewer users than competitors like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, which both top 600 million. A global – rather than U.S.-focused – user base presents another hurdle. L2’s Insight Report on Mobile Social Platforms suggests that similar messaging apps are most successful when focusing expansions on core markets.
For instance, the fastest growing platform in the study (WeChat) has successfully expanded beyond messaging in its native China, where most of the app’s 500 million users are based. WeChat’s functions include in-app space for brands to sell products, and international brand adoption has reached 44% — low compared with U.S.-based platforms, but significantly higher than most other Asian apps.
South Korea-based Kakao has also drawn international brands like Armani, Michael Kors, Lacoste and The Body Shop to its in-app Gift Shop, which by 2013 accounted for almost half of Korea’s mobile voucher transactions. The company made $319 million in revenue last year by moving into gaming, photo-sharing and mobile payments.
LINE follows a similar strategy of introducing new apps in core regions. More than half of LINE users come from three countries (Japan, Thailand and Taiwan). In those countries, the app ranks either #1 or #2 in the App Store. LINE capitalized on this popularity to branch out from messaging into services like a mobile payment system, an Uber-style taxi service and a food delivery service. These apps make LINE less a messaging service than a “life platform,” Euro-Americas CEO Jeanie Han told Business Insider.
Since being acquired by Japan-based Rakuten for $900 million last year, Viber has already experienced the dangers of expanding in markets where stiff competition exists. The company recently shuttered its Vietnam office, consolidating its Southeast Asian business in the Philippines. If Viber is to succeed as a lifestyle platform in the U.S., it will have to offer a service that users can’t get more easily from existing platforms in the region.