WhatsApp was first rolled out back in 2009 as an alternative to SMS. At that time, people loved the increased flexibility WhatsApp offered, including no stringent character limit and the ability to send picture messages for free over the internet. Today, WhatsApp offers many more features and has established a firm foothold in the market; it's now the most popular instant messaging app in the world, with more than two billion active monthly users.

WhatsApp's popularity as a communication channel offers masses of potential for businesses looking to reach their target audience effectively. Keep reading to learn why you should use WhatsApp Business, no matter the size of your organisation. You'll also discover the various options for WhatsApp advertising.

Why WhatsApp Business?

WhatsApp Business can level up your marketing campaigns to drive sales, engage your audience and improve customer retention. One of the main reasons is down to its enormous user base – around a quarter of the world's population uses this app, so you can meet many of your customers on the channel they know and love. WhatsApp also provides these benefits:

  • 98% open rates – almost every WhatsApp message gets opened.

  • Direct communication – you can engage customers one-on-one and personalise your messages so they grab attention.

  • Cost-effective and efficient – you'll get a greater ROI compared to other direct marketing channels like email (which has a much lower average open rate) or less targeted channels like social media ads and printed advertising.

  • Contributes to brand awareness – add your logo and description to your WhatsApp Business profile to boost credibility and increase customer trust.

There are two routes into WhatsApp Business: one is through the free WhatsApp Business app, which is ideal for small businesses having personal conversations with customers. And the other is the WhatsApp Business Platform, which is for medium to large enterprises looking to communicate and market to customers at scale.

Can you advertise in WhatsApp?

Businesses can leverage WhatsApp to launch targeted advertising campaigns. There are a couple of ways to go about this – the first being that you can run ads within the app itself to customers who also use WhatsApp. For this option, you'd create a WhatsApp ad containing the details of your product or service and include a link to a specific landing page, your website homepage or even another social media channel.

The second option, which is the main focus of this article, is to run ads externally (for example, through Facebook and Instagram ads), which, when clicked on, take the viewer to a WhatsApp conversation with your business. These are known as 'click-to-WhatsApp' ads.

Types of ads you can run for your WhatsApp Business account

With WhatsApp, you’re not stuck to one kind of ad format. They can be text-based, media-based or interactive.

1. Text-based advertisements

The simplest option is the text-based advert. It consists entirely of copy along with a call-to-action telling the recipient what you want them to do next. The copy should be cleverly crafted to entice the reader to take action. That means using clear, persuasive language and personalising the content so it resonates with the reader. Above all, ensure the point of your message is valuable and offers something of great benefit.

Imagine a beauty salon needs to fill cancelled treatment slots. By targeting loyal customers with a message which conveys an offer and a sense of urgency, they could potentially fill this slot in minutes:

Hi [Name], get a mini manicure or pedicure at 30% off – today only between 2-3pm! Hurry and book before this slot goes: [URL]

Here's another example where an e-commerce store running a flash sale wants to build anticipation before the sale starts:

Hi [Name], we're counting down to our flash summer sale extravaganza! Get discounts like never before on swimsuits, sandals and summer accessories. 24-hour sale only – starts 9am tomorrow. [URL]

2. Image and video advertisements

Another WhatsApp ad format makes use of media to visually engage viewers. You can combine video or images with text and a URL to drive clicks and increase sales. Multimedia campaigns are good for showcasing individual products or communicating special offers. For example, you could include a photo of a product and add a text overlay with the offer of 20% off. Or have a video demonstrating how a particular product works.

Even though most WhatsApp messages are opened, your audience will have a short attention span, so it's imperative to hook them in with bright, bold images that stand out. Videos should be short, with an opening that tackles a pain point. E.g., the voiceover for a fitness company video could start with something like, "Fed up of not seeing results, no matter how healthy you eat or how much exercise you do? The chances are you're making this common mistake..."

3. Interactive advertisements

Many businesses have seen incredible success with interactive ad experiences – that is, using WhatsApp to initiate conversations and drive engagement. You can do this through contests, questionnaires, quizzes or surveys. But your campaign can get much more creative, as this example from Absolut Vodka shows.

Absolut Vodka launched a limited edition spirit called Unique in Argentina, and to publicise the launch, the company organised an exclusive invite-only party. To get tickets, fans of the brand had to contact Absolut Vodka via WhatsApp and speak to a fictional doorman, Sven, to gain access.

However, Sven was a tough cookie to crack and refused to let just anyone get an invite. The fun aspect of this campaign, combined with the scarcity aspect of tickets, meant users started coming up with all sorts of creative ways to convince Sven to let them in, including submitting photos and videos, and offering bribes (one person even created a song just for Sven!).

The campaign results included 600 new contacts, three days of conversations with users and more than a thousand media messages sent to the brand.

Person using mobile phone

Getting started with WhatsApp advertising

With a well-thought-out creative messaging strategy, you can achieve brilliant marketing results on WhatsApp. Here are some tips to help you get set up and started.

1. Create an account using the WhatsApp Business App

Before you can carry out WhatsApp advertising, you'll need to register your business, which you can do by downloading and installing the WhatsApp Business App (free).

If you're a large enterprise with complex messaging needs, i.e. you need to manage conversations at scale, you may be better off using the WhatsApp Business API, also known as the WhatsApp Business Platform. The WhatsApp Business API can be integrated into the systems you already use, for example, your CRM platform.

2. Create your ad

To run ads on Facebook and Instagram, you'll need to make sure all your accounts are linked. You can do this in your WhatsApp Business account. To run ads externally, you can set them up in Meta, so for example, you can visit your Facebook page and boost a post to create an ad, then set it up so that it clicks through to a WhatsApp conversation.

You can also create Facebook or Instagram adverts natively within the WhatsApp Business App. However, you must first ensure you've added your products or services to a WhatsApp catalogue.

If you find setting up click-to-WhatsApp ads daunting, consider using a third-party messaging service that offers WhatsApp marketing. By integrating the third-party's API into your systems, you can run ads and get access to other features like chatbots, automated messaging and analytics.

3. Choose the target audience for your ad

Successful ad campaigns are always well-targeted, which is why it's vitally important to hone in on your ideal customer. For example, a skincare company selling anti-ageing face creams will likely target the older generation, possibly those with a high disposable income (because good anti-ageing creams don't come cheap). Therefore, an advertising campaign targeted at people between 18-25 years old would be ineffective – it's the wrong age group for starters.

When utilising Facebook and Instagram data, you have lots of flexibility and options for drilling down into a precise target audience. For example, you can easily show your ad to users in specific geographical locations or according to demographics like age, income and education level, hobbies and interests, marital status, etc.

4. Specify your advertising budget

After you've selected which platform you want your ad to run on, you'll need to set your budget and the length of your campaign. You can choose a daily spend or set a budget that spreads across your ad's duration.

Maximising the effectiveness of WhatsApp advertising

So what else can you do to ensure your WhatsApp advertising hits its mark? Focus on these areas to increase your chances of success...

Continually build your audience

Advertise your WhatsApp messaging channel wherever possible to grow your WhatsApp texting list. Mention it on your website, in email campaigns, on social media and in video marketing. Integrate WhatsApp through conversational adverts, as we've outlined in this article. An engagement campaign, like the one Absolut Vodka ran, can also work wonders to increase opt-ins.

Just on the topic of opt-ins, these are essential for people receiving promotional messages. You must get individual consent from everyone on your WhatsApp marketing list before you can send any promotional content. Not doing so could put your business in breach of data protection regulations.

Segmentation and targeting

Once you've made some headway in growing your WhatsApp audience, segment it for better targeting and personalisation. It's crucial to customise your ad content or message copy based on your recipients' profile, preferences and behaviours.

For example, you can start by dividing your WhatsApp list into customers and non-customers. With customers, you can further segment them by average order value, customer lifetime value or the product category they've purchased. For prospects, split them into specific groups based on your data insights. With a sophisticated CRM system, you could identify previous campaigns your subscribers have interacted with to understand their interests. And then send tailored campaigns based on this knowledge.

Craft compelling ads

We've touched on creating compelling content already, but it's important to remember to put effort into your design and visuals as well as your written copy. Format and structure your messages for accessibility and readability. Feel free to space out your content in a few sentences rather than having all your text in one block – you have plenty of room! Don't forget to use a high-performing call-to-action that makes the recipient want to take action.

Monitoring and analytics

If you're using a third-party messaging provider, you should be able to access a range of insights about your WhatsApp advertising campaigns. Use key performance indicators (KPIs) to track and measure ad performance over time. Some examples of KPIs include campaign open and click-through rates, return on campaign spend and WhatsApp marketing opt-out rates. Once you've conducted a few campaigns, you can gather and analyse your data more deeply to refine and improve your advertising strategy.

Optimise your ad campaign through A/B testing

Sometimes, tweaking an advert slightly can significantly impact a campaign's success. A/B testing involves making variations to an advert, one element at a time – like a call-to-action, headline or image. Optimising your campaigns through A/B testing should be an iterative process.

Avoid these common pitfalls

The success of your WhatsApp campaigns depends on all of the above and also on avoiding these common mistakes:

  • Not complying with WhatsApp Business policies and regulations – for example, you're not allowed to use WhatsApp for promoting or selling restricted goods and services, like drugs, firearms, hazardous materials, etc.

  • Not ensuring user privacy – you must secure all the necessary permissions to collect and use your audience's personal data, and keep it safe.

  • Violating local or global data protection laws – such as the GDPR.

Group of people using mobile phones

Power up your marketing strategy with WhatsApp advertising

WhatsApp has a huge audience base, which you can tap into when integrating this app's business services into your marketing strategy. In addition to sending transactional, conversational and marketing messages, you can create WhatsApp ads within the app itself or through your Facebook business page and Instagram channel.

For best results, know your audience and segment it into specific groups. Carefully craft your content and use attractive visuals that grab attention. Don't forget that all-important call-to-action and to track the performance of every campaign you run.

Wondering what to read next? Learn about using SMS as a marketing channel in the Messente blog.