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Everyone wants an app that can do everything: Daman Soni, LINE India

Daman Soni, LINE

Daman Soni, LINE

Digital communication channels have seen a phased change in the last few years. What started with emails and matured to SMSs, was followed by simpler IM (instant messaging) applications. With the rise of social media however and the consumer demand for 24×7 connectivity, Over The Top messaging services witnessed extensive growth. One such Japan-based application, LINE recently crossed 300 million users globally. Daman Soni, Head – India Business Development, LINE, speaks to Digital Market Asia about its business model, strategies and how brand associations on LINE have been harnessed. As for new launches and features, 2014 will see roll-out of video call feature by LINE.

LINE has crossed 300 million downloads worldwide. In your experience,  how do the developed markets differ from the likes of Asia?
LINE is one of the fastest growing free calling and free messaging app with over 330 million users globally, as per latest figures. It is one amongst the 26 of all the apps available on Google Play that have managed to pass the 100 million download checkpoint, and only 12 of these are services and apps not provided by Google

LINE has been successfully carrying out a series of remarkable achievements globally, ranking No 1 in the free application category in close to 60 countries.  If you look at our country-wise figures, we can cite the following figures:

  • Global: 330,000,000 users
  • Japan: 50,000,000+ users
  • Taiwan: 17,000,000+ users
  • Thailand: 22,000,000+ users
  • Spain: 15,000,000+ users
  • Indonesia: 17,000,000+ users
  • India: 16,000,000+ users

As such, there is no major difference in global consumer behaviour when it comes to the instant messaging space.

And now-a-days, the consumer is all the more aware and is looking for new and localised content to connect to. In line with consumer demands, LINE provides not only messaging, but also provides high quality of free communication (text, voice, video, call) and integrated contents (sticker, official accounts for brands and celebs, games). These services lead the smartphone generation in the aspect of communication service. By providing the best user experience, we have the confidence that our service will be loved by many users in worldwide.

Which markets is LINE currently concentrating on?
After witnessing solid growth in Asia, Europe and US, making inroad into the Indian market was a part of our overall strategy. With its huge youth population, increasing mobile and internet penetration, lowering bandwidth costs, India makes a hotbed for LINE messenger application which will change the way people communicate in the country.

India is among the fastest growing mobile and internet markets in the world with around 150 million internet users. While these numbers look good in absolute terms, it just represents 12.5 per cent internet penetration. On the other hand, India has 862 million wireless subscribers making it one of the largest mobile markets in the world. It is being observed that mobile devices are driving a majority of Indian consumer’s online activity, with around 87.1 million mobile internet users by the end of 2012.

These statistics coupled with the increased adoption of smartphones and lowering data costs makes India our focus for IP-based messaging over mobile phones. At LINE, we believe that there is a higher possibility for us as a multi-communication IM platform to become a standard app within the rapidly growing Indian smartphone market.

LINE features

LINE features

LINE is concentrating on a number of revenue generation channels. Which of those drives majority of revenue? 
While other IM apps rely on one single business model, such as app-purchase (WhatsApp) or banner advertising, we have three types of business models;

#1: Paid Stickers (B2C): In addition to basic LINE character stickers provided for free, paid stickers with more LINE & other famous characters are also available for download at Sticker Shop via In-App purchase system. According to an App Annie report, in May 2013, LINE was ranked No 1 Top Grossing App on Google Play, No 2 on iTunes App Store (excluding games).

#2: Game in-app purchases (B2C): LINE provides 30 game titles through its gaming service, LINE GAME, which have been downloaded a combined total of more than 150 million times in only 11 months since its release in July 2012. LINE GAME offers a rich entertainment experience that can be shared among close friends who are connected with one another via LINE. The gaming system, which enables users to share their scores with their LINE friends according to ranking, as well as allowing friends to battle through games. According to App Annie, in May 2013, LINE was ranked No 3 Top Grossing gaming app publisher in the world on Google Play, No10 on iTunes App Store.

3: Official Account & Sponsored Stickers (B2B): Partner brands can open their own official brand accounts in LINE for marketing purposes. By befriending brand accounts, users can benefit from discount offers and coupons from their favorite brands. Through a number of campaigns, brand accounts are proven to be more effective than conventional internet advertising methods in terms of reach, engagement, and other important marketing factors. Also, Sponsored Stickers are effective marketing tool for promoting products and raising brand awareness. Sponsored Stickers are distributed for free and very actively used by users.

Depending on market situations or user numbers in each country, we prioritise which one among those to focus on.

Regarding the Indian market, since majority of mobile users prefer prepaid than postpaid services, we assume B2B model would be more suitable for LINE in India. However, we would like to cultivate a culture where users buy something in LINE through providing India-localised stickers.

LINE social games

LINE social games

There is a variety of Over The Top (OTT) messaging apps available with users today. How do you plan to maintain differentiation in this overly competitive segment?
One of the main reasons why LINE is being adopted so rapidly compared to other major messenger apps is its unique sticker feature. It is extremely well-received by users as they can send large-sized character pictures with the tap of a finger, thereby providing a simple, casual and exciting way to express their emotions. The sticker characters, include LINE’s original characters and a variety of famous characters such as Disney, Hello Kitty and Ironman, are especially loved among the Asian youth, igniting LINE’s growth in many regions. In addition, LINE contains free voice call service and provides high quality LINE-related apps as a platform service, such as gaming and camera, which is different from other messaging services.

LINE will focus on global services in terms of “communication”, but “content” is going to localise for Indian market.

Which have been the top brand associations with LINE? Which Indian brands are using LINE as part of their digital marketing strategies?
LINE’s official partnerships include:

SONY Music, which is opening an official account with LINE
Idea Cellular, one of India’s largest telecom carriers, will offer special data plans targeted specifically for customers who use LINE
LINE has also partnering with major Bollywood films, such as ‘Krrish 3’ and ‘Dhoom3’, giving exclusive content to customers

What consumer behaviour trends do you forecast for this market? Which features you think will users want from a messaging app?
Everyone wants a robust and comprehensive app that can do anything and everything for them. Keeping this in mind we are bringing a wide range of add-ons and features that makes our app futuristic. We have recently announced that the new version of LINE which has been released simultaneously worldwide, introducing support for video calls. Another new feature called Snap Movie which lets customers take short (up to 10 seconds) video clips and share with friends, has been released first on iPhone devices.

The video call function is available on iPhone, Android devices, and PCs (Windows/Mac), enabling free 1-on-1 video calls between supported devices. Video calls will be supported over both Wi-Fi and 3G networks. Users can also switch between video and voice anytime during the call.