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Messaging app LINE lures Singapore firms

In Japan, some 100,000 LINE@ accounts were opened within the first month after its debut

If messaging app LINE had a creed, it would be to do everything but toe the line.


IF messaging app LINE had a creed, it would be to do everything but toe the line. The Japan-based, Korean-owned app whose rivals include WhatsApp and Viber had from day one resolved to not settle as just a simple messaging app, but become a lifestyle and social networking platform for consumers and businesses alike.

Today, it is calling on Singapore companies - SMEs, in particular - to tap its line of affordable business offerings for marketing, advertising, e-commerce, sales and branding.

"LINE is social, interactive, fun, entertaining and easy-to-use, and allows SMEs to break down the traditional barriers of a high-cost, mundane marketing campaign," a company spokeswoman told BT.

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LINE@, LINE's latest offering, is a separate app that lets businesses send batch messages to their followers, disseminate coupons, and chat with their customers one-on-one. Restaurants, for instance, can have customers send in reservation and dietary requests via the app.

Businesses can opt for a free plan - limited to 1,000 messages a month - or a paid plan costing from US$50 monthly. According to the spokeswoman, LINE has held seminars across the region to educate businesses and marketers on LINE@.

In Japan, some 100,000 LINE@ accounts were opened within the first month after LINE@ debuted in February. In LINE's other dominant markets Taiwan and Thailand, about 70,000 and 40,000 LINE@ accounts were opened within the first three months.

While no account numbers were disclosed for Singapore, the spokeswoman said that the LINE@ service is "definitely growing" here since its launch in February.

Meanwhile, Singapore companies can continue to bank on LINE's existing business offerings such as Official Accounts (OA) and Sponsored Stickers (SS) to engage customers. While OA gives companies their own marketing channel to connect with their followers, SS lets companies inject more individuality into their marketing campaigns by creating their very own stickers.

To-date, close to 30 Singapore businesses have partnered LINE, among them StarHub, 7-Eleven SG and McDonald's Singapore. Globally, LINE has over 205 million monthly active users (MAU) across 230 countries, said the spokeswoman, and counts big names like Coca-Cola, FC Barcelona and Rakuten as its clients.

In January, LINE announced 77.4 billion yen (S$851.7 million) in revenue for 2014, more than double its revenue for 2013. In Q2 2013, SS alone is believed to have brought in over US$20 million.

On the other side of the battle line, WhatsApp reportedly has over 700 million MAU and had generated US$1.3 million in the nine months preceding September 2014, while Viber, with some 236 million MAU today, had clocked US$1.5 million in revenue in 2013. Notably, WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook, and Viber by Rakuten, in 2014.

LINE, built by engineers of NHN Japan - the Japanese arm of South Korea's Naver Corporation - in response to damaged telecommunications infrastructure in Japan after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, is believed to be exploring an IPO and a foray into the highly competitive US market.