It’s marketing 101 to be where your customers are. We, as marketers or business owners, must thoughtfully choose which marketing channels to use to engage with our customers. When we enter a new market, especially in a new country or region, identifying the marketing channels our customers use becomes one of our highest priorities.
If looking at Japan, you definitely want to consider using the LINE app for business. Despite the fact that LINE corporation is the number 1 social media application in Japan and a great communication tool, there is very limited information available in English. So, I decided to create a guide to using the LINE messaging app to help you in your Japan marketing campaign endeavors.
What is LINE?
LINE is a messaging app used by more than 79 million users in Japan, which includes over 60% of the Japanese population. 85% of line users use the LINE app on a daily basis. As you can see from the chart below, LINE significantly exceeds the number of users compared to other major social media channels in Japan.
LINE is not only a messaging app, it also plays a crucial role in the social infrastructure of Japan. The app has many capabilities that make life for the Japanese consumer easier. With the LINE app, you can make free phone calls, make payments at retail stores, hail taxis, read the latest news, order food, and more.
Who are the Users?
N = 2,060 | Source: LINE media guide April – June, 2019
LINE is used by a diverse group of users. Unlike other social media platforms, LINE prevails not only among younger generations, but also among individuals over 40 years old.
It’s also important to note that LINE enables you to reach those who use the internet solely on smartphones. According to research conducted by LINE, 49% of smartphone users in Japan use the internet solely on smartphones while 42% use both a smartphone and computer.
Furthermore, 81.8% of people who use social media on smartphones use LINE while 34.4% use Twitter and 27.5% use Facebook. 39.9% of LINE users only use LINE, which means that your marketing efforts on other social media channels don’t make an impact unless you also use LINE. Another impressive statistic is that 32.4% of people only using LINE for social media are only accessing it on their smartphones.
The Basics of Using LINE for Business
LINE offers “Official Accounts” （”公式アカウント” in Japanese) for businesses allowing brands and business owners to engage with customers under their brand or store names. Official Accounts are different from regular user accounts as they have many special features that allow them to communicate with users as part of their marketing communication.
LINE “Official Account” Plans
There are 3 types of Official Accounts to choose from: Premium account, Verified account, and Unverified account. All of these accounts come with the same business functions, but the Premium and Verified accounts are searchable in the LINE app. Your account needs to meet certain qualifications to be verified and acquire the Premium account status. On the other hand, anyone, including individuals and businesses, can get an unverified account.
Once you get your Official Account, you want to choose your plan based on how many messages you want to send out per month. There are 3 pricing plans as the chart below shows:
Again, there are no differences in the LINE functionalities between these 3 plans. The only differences include the number of messages each plan comes with and the price of each additional message. If you choose the free plan, you won’t have the option to send additional messages. If you use up all of your message credits within a month, you will no longer be able to send any messages until the next month unless you upgrade to a higher tier plan.
The Service Reform at the End of 2018
Although LINE has been offering business solutions since 2012, it was notoriously complex with the various account types and high price point. (This was one of the reasons why it was hard for foreign companies to tap into marketing with LINE in Japan.) There were 5 different types of accounts that depended on the price, the number of “friends”, and message delivery methods.
There used to be an account type called “LINE@” which was mainly used by smaller organizations. LINE@ was much more affordable than regular LINE business accounts which started out around 1.5 million JPY per month (Approximately 15K in USD). However, LINE@ was limited in its functionality compared to regular business accounts. At the end of 2018, LINE announced that it was integrating all of these different types of accounts and offering the “Official Account” to simplify its service and make the essential LINE app features available to everyone at a more reasonable price.
Convert your LINE@ by August 2019
If you have been using a LINE@ account, you are expected to convert your account to a new Official Account. If you don’t complete the transition by August 19th, 2019, your account will be automatically converted to the free plan regardless of your previous contract.
3 Basic LINE Functions
The basic functions below are available to all Official Accounts, regardless of the account type with LINE offering many robust business tools at additional costs. (We will cover this later in the article.)
1. Send Messages
You can send messages to users who have added you as their “friend” (we will call them followers from this point on for convenience.) Since followers get push notifications whenever they receive messages on LINE, your messages are more likely to be seen compared to other feed-based social media like Twitter and Instagram. You can send regular texts (including URLs), images, and videos through messages. The biggest benefit of using LINE for marketing is its high open rate. Nearly 70% of users read messages from companies and many users take positive actions like using coupons from the company, visiting the websites, and joining promotional campaigns.
A screenshot of LINE messages (image credit: LINE)
2. Post on the Timeline Feed
Like other social media platforms, LINE has a timeline feed that allows companies to post anything. Your posts will also appear on your followers’ timelines.
3. Chat with Users
In addition to sending out messages to your customers, you can personally communicate with customers using the LINE Chat function. You can exchange a message with either one user or a group of users. Also, you can automate your responses with either random messages or messages triggered by exact match keywords. Many companies utilize the LINE Chat function as a part of their customer service, as a store locator, and/or to offer coupons.
Additional Services Available for All Official Accounts
In addition to the basic LINE app features, you also have access to handy functions that will boost your business:
You can target audiences based off the parameters below:
- Residential area (Prefecture-level)
- Operation System (iOS, Android)
- Time since a user followed your account
Reward System and Coupons
To incentivize your customers to use your service and/or shop at your stores, you can offer and manage reward points on the LINE app. You can offer coupons and giveaways that depend on the reward points that customers have earned.
Analysis and Reporting
On the LINE business dashboard, you can look at the KPIs of your LINE marketing strategies like the number of messages clicked, impressions, engagements, and changes in followers.
Optional Functions: Stickers, APIs, and Ads
The aforementioned services available to all Official Accounts are effective enough for most businesses, especially small businesses. However, if you want to make the most out of LINE marketing, there are many more robust functions and services available for additional costs. I’ve chosen 3 major services/functions that will most effectively enhance your brand awareness and engagement with your customers in the Japanese market.
LINE Stickers—Ads the Audience Will Engage With
LINE stickers are virtual stickers used in chat communication on the LINE app. They allow users to express their emotions that may be difficult to convey through text. Various LINE stickers are available for either download or purchase from the Sticker shop. According to LINE, 80% of LINE users, which is about 55 million users, use LINE stickers on a daily basis.
There are 4 types of LINE stickers:
- Pre-installed Stickers: Created and provided by LINE. They are pre-installed on the LINE app.
- Official Stickers: Paid stickers provided by LINE.
- Promotional Stickers: Stickers sponsored by companies. Users can download this type of sticker for free or under specific conditions (e.g. become a friend with the sponsor). There are 2 types of promotional stickers:
- Sponsored Stickers: Featured on the LINE sticker shop alongside the original LINE stickers which will be shown to most users.
- Direct Stickers: Directly downloaded from a company without going through the LINE sticker shop
- Creator’s Stickers: Stickers created by individuals or companies. They can be purchased from the LINE Creators Market. Anybody can create and sell stickers on the marketplace and make a profit from it.
If you want to use LINE Stickers as a part of your marketing promotion, you should create Promotional Stickers or Creator’s stickers.
The Promotional Stickers program has 2 options: Sponsored and Direct. Sponsored Stickers are very effective in terms of increasing brand awareness and acquiring followers on LINE. In most cases, users are required to follow the brand to download the promotional stickers, which can help you grow your audience substantially. Once users download the sponsored stickers, they are more willing to use your branded stickers in their daily communication with friends and family, which can increase brand awareness and engagement. Promotional Stickers are featured on the LINE sticker store for 4 weeks, which is a major way to be discovered by new potential customers.
While Promotional Stickers are very effective, it costs quite a lot. To add to that, LINE allows only 4 companies to promote their brands in the sticker store per week. Sponsored Sticker pricing starts from 35M JPY (313K USD) for 8 stickers and 40M JPY (358K USD) for 16 stickers. (1 USD = 111.49661 JPY) Production fees will be added on top of that.
British luxury fashion brand, Burberry released branded LINE stickers collaborating with LINE’s mascot characters in 2015. This is my all-time favorite LINE sticker campaign because Burberry successfully localized their content for the Japanese market while keeping their signature Burberry plaid. (Image credit: LINE)
Direct stickers are a less expensive alternative for Promotional stickers in which you can still create your own branded stickers. However, these types of stickers are not distributed through the LINE sticker store which means that you will need to promote your stickers on your own. Direct stickers are 10M JPY for 8 stickers and 15M JPY for 16 stickers, but there is no limit for new sticker releases a week.
Alternatively, you can sell your branded stickers on the LINE Creators Market. Since Creator’s Stickers are paid stickers and there are tons of other stickers available on the marketplace, it’s harder to be discovered and downloaded by users. However, this is the most affordable option compared to the Promotional Sticker options, as creators don’t have to pay to sell on the market but LINE does take 65% of your sticker sales. The total number of impressions will be smaller than other options but you can still enjoy the benefit of offering branded LINE stickers.
LINE Account Connection (APIs)
You can utilize LINE as a part of your customer support. Some companies separate marketing from customer support, but I believe customer support is an integral part of marketing communication and so does LINE!
LINE offers APIs that connect your LINE Official Account with your customer support system. In this way, your customers are able to seamlessly communicate with your customer support team using their preferred communication tool.
LINE APIs allow you to send auto-replies based on your FAQ database so that customers can find solutions right away. If the customer still can’t find a solution, they will be connected to a customer service representative. Or, you can simply offer human-based customer support from the beginning through LINE Chat and/or LINE Call.
Offering a single touchpoint for all necessary services on the communication platform that customers use the most will improve their user experience. With LINE APIs, customers will no longer be transferred around from one department to another.
Similar to other social media platforms, LINE offers many ad programs that allow businesses to advertise on the platform’s main chat area, news page, user’s timelines, comics, blogs, and reward programs.
LINE Ads Platforms (Source: LINE media guide April – June, 2019)
Again, we as marketers, always strive to be wherever our customers are. Furthermore, personalized, one-to-one communication, and a seamless customer experience is more important than ever before. I believe investing in the LINE app for business will help you achieve your marketing goals in Japan.
LINE has been unapproachable for global brands despite the fact the messaging app is used by 60% of the Japanese population, which is the highest ratio compared to alternative social media platforms.
YES, you will need to fully localize your communication strategy to use LINE.
NO, your global branding strategy might not align with LINE’s anime-character-heavy communication style.
YES, LINE’s service offering is very diverse and overwhelming, especially if you are foreign to the modern Japanese market.
However, the ability to build a more personalized relationship with a sizable number of customers in Japan is worth the investment and commitment to LINE.
My recommendation is to find the right partner that truly understands the Japanese market. btrax has been helping global brands expand their business in the Japanese market for over 15 years. We can help you create not only an effective LINE marketing strategy, but also, an integrated marketing strategy that will maximize your LINE marketing efforts among others in Japan. Contact us to discuss how we can work together.
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- LINE Account Connect Media Guide April – June 2019
- Social Media Lab: 【2019年最新版】LINE@も統合へ！企業向けLINE公式アカウント統合に関する情報まとめ！
- LINE for Business
- LINE Account Connect – Sticker Media Guideline April – June 2019
Edit by: Julie Saephan