The numbers are compelling: 7bn messages sent between 230m users of its messaging app, 200m downloads of its games, 10m Indian users in three months as well as tens of millions in Spain, South America, Indonesia and beyond.
LINE is a large content hub, and once you’ve downloaded the messaging app, you’re hooked into a network that gives away a lot of fun stuff for free, and ties everything together with a very strong brand.
So what is LINE doing that’s significant, and how will it begin to affect other brands on mobile?
Humble beginnings to a whole range of products
LINE started out as a free app allowing instant messaging. It’s produced by the Japanese arm of Naver, a popular Korean search engine, and was developed in the aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake, when Japanese infrastructure was damaged and Naver employees had to find a way to communicate.
The messaging app remains the most prominent, and now has more the feel of a social network with the addition of a timeline and photos, and Snap Movie (a ten second Vine-like video service).
But LINE is marked out by the wealth of stuff on offer. The gaming app has now matched the messaging app for users and LINE has a whole array of family brands. Everything from LINE Brush, allowing drawing and photo editing, to LINE Card (for birthdays etc) and even LINE Antivirus.
Building on the success of your products, adding more even as the monetisation of your first isn’t complete, this is the kind of approach Google is famous for.
In August, LINE announced its users had sent over 7bn messages and 1bn stickers. This generated $10m in Q2 this year, up two thirds, year-on-year.
Stickers, so what? To some they feel like cheap (lazy) monetisation, but they certainly interest the user, and are a part of LINE’s business model of in-app purchases.
Tying in with brands such as Barcelona and Psy, LINE has managed to create stickers that users want to use, enabling them to communicate better within their own groups. Adam Epstein writes a nice appraisal of stickers in this article.
Path and other communications companies have followed suit with stickers. One gets the feeling that although Facebook has failed with this kind of thing in the past, there’s room on mobile for stickers, and cards (see LINE Card).
If you’re a big brand, like say Manchester United, you should be making sure LINE has a set of stickers tied in to your image.
Many methods, one goal
When I go to ‘add friends’ in LINE, I’m delighted to find four ways of doing so. Two are fairly standard – search contacts (mail and SMS) and look for friends with their LINE ID.
However there are two other options, as shown below. One is a built-in QR reader that caters for those scanning codes and encourages others to use this format at events and in marketing to further the usage of the app.
The other is a ‘shake it’ function, so that two users shaking their phones in the same vicinity will link up via location-based services.
Giving people four ways to find other users is quite innovative, especially as adoption is a major issue for LINE considering it started out as peer to peer messaging.
Lots of apps could successfully add in-app purchases to increase personalisation or change look and feel. If it’s not appropriate for your own brand to charge for this, there’s no reason you shouldn’t look at personalisation for free.
Although it might be hard to measure, I’m pretty sure that allowing users to change the colours of or completely reskin your app will increase engagement with it. If an app is going to be great, and used a lot, why not allow users to freshen it up every now and again?
If you can tie personalisation into culture – TV, sport, music, time of year – users will certainly be interested and engagement with the app will increase.
LINE allows you to choose between three themes in the app. Two are based around recurring characters Cony and Brown. Here’s the Brown theme next to the standard one on my chat window.
There’s not much difference - the colours and the buttons change. But I find it quite exciting, despite having never used the app before and having no friends using chat.
Not every brand can use colourful cartoons, granted. But iOS7’s new flat design means it’s even more likely your app will get lost. Apart from designing an app icon that stands out – here it’s useful to have a strong brand colour (LINE’s is bright green, and the app icon includes the word LINE) – it’s also advantageous almost to break the spell of the device.
By that I mean does your brand or product benefit from a standardised app format? Yes, you want to create a usable app, and you might not want it to have a flavour of Ling’s Cars but there’s an argument that some apps play it safe when it comes to aesthetics.
While keeping the memory requirement as low as you can, is there room for more imagery in apps?
The V&A calendar app is a great example of a brand that has brought its design pedigree to the aesthetics of the interface.
The immersive power of the app
This range of additional apps, aside from the many games available, is variously promoted within LINE. This is very effective at giving the instant impression of being in a place where the user can spend a lot of time.
Looking at all these additional features (which are often simply links back to the app store to download further apps), it could be said that with recent focus on responsive design and web apps, some may have forgotten the immersive power of the app.
As we move towards mobile-first and mobile-only consumers (already the case in some Asian countries), it's important to be able to colonise a phone’s desktop and keep the user interested, even when internet connection can’t be relied on.
Ok, it’s fairly obvious to say that apps are immersive, and for gaming and communication it’s clear that only apps are appropriate.
But, I think there may be lessons here for any organisation with multiple apps in the app store. Are they as universal as they could be? Do they all link back to their brothers and sisters in the app store?
Just looking through apps on my iPhone, I find that the BBC News app doesn’t list other BBC apps that can be downloaded. Surely this would increase downloads and wouldn’t affect app performance?
Do you have consistent and engaging branding across all apps? It’s tempting to give an app its own look and feel for a specific event or product, but will this help in the long run?
As a lot of early adopters of apps have used agencies for what felt like standalone projects, there are companies out there with a suite of apps that don’t sit together as a set of products, and don’t tie together with each interesting the user.