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How LINE Is Dealing With A Late Entry Into The Mobile Messaging Market In India

Japanese mobile messaging application LINE has hit a 10 million registered user mark in three months of officially launching in India. It is targeting 20 million registered users by the end of the year, and to this end, it is:

– Partnering with Sony India for pre-installing LINE on the Xperia Z1 and Xperia C, as well as launch a marketing campaign with co-branding. Typically, pre-installation deals involve the app paying the handset maker and can be subsidised through money spent on marketing.
– Sony Music Entertainment is opening official accounts with LINE which will cater to fans of major genres of music including Bollywood, Indipop, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi and International music.
– LINE is also partnering with major Bollywood films, such as ‘Krrish3’ and ‘DHOOM:3’, giving exclusive content to customers.
– Signing up Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif as its brand ambassador, leading up to the festive Diwali season, which will undoubtedly see it promote its app via TV. Apart from this, LINE is also releasing free India-exclusive stickers featuring photographs of Katrina Kaif.

Some thoughts on LINE

LINE appears to be signing up users at a fast clip – it took three weeks for the company to hit the 5 million registered users mark. Frankly, the number of registered users doesn’t really matter – it’s the number of monthly active users that does.

Users have hundreds of apps on their phones, and the fact that they register and download, doesn’t mean that they keep the app, and more importantly, it doesn’t mean that they use the app.

How about some real numbers from LINE: How many monthly active users? What’s the volume of messaging on LINE? What’s the volume of voice calls? LINE has shared percentile figures like, “voice calls have witnessed 3,200% growth”, “1,800% usage increase has been attributed to stickers”, “messages have touched an exciting 700% increase since June 2013”, but when you’re starting with a low base of usage, usage, percentage figures mean nothing.

While Whatsapp may be dominating the messaging space in India, it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more players, but there’s a price to pay for a late entry: like Hike before it, LINE not only needs to pitch that it is a better product, it also needs to spend aggressively on increasing usage to enter a virtuous cycle situation. Some of these spends are via marketing initiatives, like tying up with movies (“Phata Poster Nikla Hero”, “Besharam”, “Krrish3” and “DHOOM:3”, so far), pre-installs, celebrity endorsement, bringing brands on LINE, and customization of the app to suit an Indian user base, with Indian motif stickers. Tencent backed WeChat tried some of these things with TV commercials and sponsorships as well. I’m reminded of Ibibo’s launch in the social networking space in India, and the number of pivots it took over half a decade, before settling for the transactions and commerce business.

But, when the marketing tap is turned off, we’ll know whether it was worth it.

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