How super-apps could change the mobile marketing landscape
When it comes to super-apps, there’s no denying the dominance of WeChat. Initially launched as a communication app in a similar vein to WhatsApp, it’s since developed into an integrated platform for social networking, ride-hailing, food delivery, restaurant bookings, payments, and gaming - and has established itself as the archetypal super-app.
WeChat also has a diverse user base, with everyone from business people looking to generate leads, to teenagers interacting with friends, to restaurant owners who use the platform to process digital payments and gather reviews.
Unlike single-purpose apps which have dominated the market over the last ten years, super-apps cover multiple verticals. Most start with a single purpose to entice uptake and mass usage and then branch out to cover a mix of daily activities within the single tool.
WeChat, its Chinese counterpart Alipay, and the Indian super-app Paytm have all reached a level of sophistication where they allow third parties to offer mini-programs or ‘applets’ within their apps. Brands such as L'Oréal or Nike create these mini-programs to market their products directly to the vast super-app user bases. Gaming companies have also started to publish downsized versions of their products, and in China it’s common for local shops to use mini-programs.
The unique selling point of a super-app that centralises so many functions is that you are able to complete multiple tasks or actions in one place. You don’t have to switch between programs or providers to get things done. This also means less registrations, less incidences of providing payment details, and an overall reduction of friction. If you need a haircut, you can find a hairdresser, book an appointment, and pay - all in the same app. The same goes for everything from plumbers to yoga instructors, tailors to teachers, and more.
What are the top super-apps on the market?
In addition to the aforementioned WeChat, Alipay and Paytm, there are numerous stand-out super-apps in South-East Asia. Gojek and Grab have evolved from ride-hailing apps into all-in-one services that allow you to manage everything from housekeeping to insurance. In Vietnam, the super-app Zalo can be used to apply for visas and other official documentation. Although Line (Japan) and KakaoTalk (Korea) actually run on an interconnection model, they can also be regarded as super-apps. All of these super-apps are positioned brilliantly: WeChat and Alipay have exceeded one billion users, and Zalo has surpassed the 100 million mark. Demonstrating their impressive market potential, Grab, Gojek, Paytm have secured nine billion, four billion and three billion USD of funding respectively.
Are super-apps an Asian phenomenon?
With Google, Facebook and Amazon being less dominant in Asia, and completely absent in China, super-app developers were and are certainly better positioned to emerge as market leaders. Asian markets are also typically mobile-first, meaning super-apps hardly have to compete with existing desktop applications. In Cambodia and Vietnam, where banking infrastructure is lacking, many consumers are making the jump from cash to mobile payments directly. Super-apps have functioned as disruptors to the informal economies in place in these markets, where they have enabled the digitalization of corner shops, street food ventures, and bike-taxis.
Investors are now looking to African markets, aiming to establish payment and ride-hailing applications to create an infrastructure and user-base from which to build new super-apps. Examples include Opay/ORide and Quickteller in Nigeria, SafeBoda and Tingg in Kenya, and the MTN-led app Ayoba in South Africa.
In Latin-America, Rappi, which started as a delivery service, is very close to becoming a super-app.
How is the super-app concept positioned in the West?
Established digital players in the West are applying strategies that can be considered a version of the super-apps concept. Mark Zuckerberg has stated that he wants Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to function as an interconnected platform for private services. In India, Facebook has also teamed up with Reliance Industries Limited to implement the latter’s payment facilities in WhatsApp. Uber has been straightforward about its ambition to become a super-app, confirmed by their recent acquisition of Careem - a company striving to become the super-app of the Middle-East. Amazon and Airbnb have also expressed their interest in going down a similar path. The development of these applications also offers an interesting line of historical thought - it’s one of the first times in the digital economy sphere that the West is following the East.
What do super-apps mean for Adjust?
Super-apps have the potential to change the mobile marketing landscape. On the one hand, they narrow down the playing field for single-purpose applications. The downside of this is that established businesses and single-purpose apps can lose their user base. It does however offer smaller companies the opportunity to enter the mobile market via mini-programs or applets that are much easier to develop, and therefore more cost-effective to make.
Gaming companies have already started publishing limited versions of their games as mini-programs in super-apps. This essentially functions as a new user acquisition stream, where mini-program users eventually convert into full-app users.
Super-apps also change the nature of user acquisition more broadly. For many companies, the first conversion will no longer be the install. Users will start using their applications because they’re already available on the super-app as a mini-program or applet. Registrations will also become obsolete in this context, as users are already identified. Churn will also have to be defined anew, as there is no such thing as an uninstall in the context of a super-app.
Furthermore, the extent to which super-apps will provide ad inventory remains to be seen. WeChat and Alipay enable advertisers to create profiles, but the products marketed are sold exclusively within the super-app - not via an external application.
Whichever way you look at it, super-apps are a force to be reckoned with, on a business level and on a conceptual basis. If the Western markets are to head down the same path or even take steps towards centralized, friction-reducing app models, the entire mobile market will be reshaped.