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Interview with LINE app, the “mobile smartlife platform”

19 Apr 2013

LINE-Interview

 

We had the pleasure to have a talk with Darin Hwang, communication manager for LINE’s global PR. For those who don’t know, LINE is a booming mobile messaging app enhanced with a series of social features, developed by the Japanese branch of South Korean Naver/NHN Corp.

We already talked about the incredible success of the app – that reached the impressive 100-million-users mark in less than 2 years, as you can see in this infographic:

 

LINE-infographic

 

What’s really interesting about LINE is its positioning and marketing strategy; you can check out the 800K fans-strong Facebook page to get a quick idea.

After this little premise, let’s go straight to the questions!

 

– Hi Darin, and thanks for taking time to answer! First of all, can you tell us how the LINE project started?

Having expected the rapid expansion of the smartphone market, LINE Corp. (formally known as NAVER Japan) began its research around January 2011, to first of all determine what essentially makes up the ultimate human communication for the smartphone era and with this delved deeper to understand what would be needed to create a service to provide this.

At around this time, The Great East Japan Earthquake occurred on March 11th, creating a change in the ways in which society thought about internet communication. Up until then semi-open type SNS services, where the main purpose was to “create new friends” was the trend, however since the earthquake, LINE Corp. reached a conclusion that society was looking for a more closed knit SNS service which centered upon “communicating with your closest and most loved ones” including friends, family and coworkers etc.

Great East Japan Earthquake

 

With this in mind, and with the effects of the earthquake still ongoing, in late April LINE’s project was started. We decided to call our new service “LINE” because of seeing frustrated people at long lines at still standing phone booths to talk to their loved ones and decided this was name that we were going to use to connect people faster and more conveniently. Not knowing when the next crisis will occur, LINE Corp. wanted to offer this new service to the users as soon as possible and decided to release the service by the end of June.

Although we came across many problems, we put our hearts and minds into creating this new smartphone communication service, and in just 6 weeks, LINE was launched.

 

– What do you think are the most distinctive LINE’s features?

There are five keys of LINE’s success:

    1. Cute stickers with rich human emotion expressions.
    2. Real LINE dolls and other related products.
    3. User-friendly operating interface & different ways to find friends (shaking or QR code).
    4. Get more cute LINE stickers from LINE Stickers Shop.
    5. Official accounts, which allow users to chat with their favorite celebrities or get information from favorite brands.

LINE is popular for its providing user-friendly values such as fun and convenience. Yes, there were already several mobile messengers before we launched LINE. However, we believed that there was not a single mobile messenger that fully satisfied the users. Also, some of the existing mobile messengers were serviced at cost. We endlessly questioned ourselves and tried to find out such features that can help and enhance LINE users to have a fun and convenient communication method. After spending long time, we came up with LINE’s significant stickers which have deemed popular by our users.

With using LINE stickers, users don’t have to type in long sentences but can communicate in a fun and convenient way. Also, many users have shown that they can easily communicate ‘only with the stickers’ and can even having group chat without text. By providing such service value that is focused on instant communication, LINE was able to differentiate its service from other competitors and gain competitiveness.

 

– How much does the “digital culture” of a country affect the success of a mobile app? I’m thinking about the remarkable success of LINE in Japan and Kakao Talk in South Korea.

Although the “digital culture” of a country can greatly affect the success of a mobile app, I believe that the need for communicating on the go and the aspect of connecting with people beyond a simple messenger application is what really makes LINE stand out. At the same time, LINE is seeing lots of growth in countries without the best mobile network environment whether it be EDGE, 3G, or LTE.

So, I guess it is safe to assume that although the “digital culture” of a country does affect the success of a mobile app, the bottom line is that given a stable mobile environment, the need to connect to people in a faster and convenient way is what makes LINE more successful than ever. But to be fair, we do give the “digital culture” a great deal of attention because the ever shifting paradigm and differing trends of the mobile users – the creators of the “digital culture” – gives us so many unexpected twists and turns which makes working at LINE so much fun.

 

 

– LINE recently started advertising on Spanish TV (video above): are there big differences inmarketing such a product in very different and peculiar areas of the world, like Asia and Europe?

Although there are differences in each market, marketing LINE and the LINE Brand is pretty much the same compared to any other product or service. The only difference is that LINE is a very emotional application and we use a very simple and human approach when marketing our service.

LINE card

As you may already know, Spain’s LINE tvcm was a very classic example because it showed how LINE can bring people closer when words or texts aren’t just enough. Our marketing starts to shift once LINE has a stronger presence in a particular country, which you can see from the evolution of our tvcms in various parts of the world but the main core of our marketing still is being true to the emotional human aspect of everyday people.

 

– The mobile app business is literally exploding: WeChat is aiming at expanding its penetration in the USA, and new players such as Cubie Messenger and Zalo are popping up. What are the main competitors for LINE at a global level? And how about the Asia-Pacificregion?

I guess it’sreally hard to say who our main competitor is because we consider ourselves as a smartlife platform than just a mobile messenger. Although, our main core is still the mobile messenger, we provide much more than just messaging through our LINE Brand applications such as LINE Camera, LINE Card, LINE PLAY, and LINEGames, to really connect with people in a more fun, versatile environment.

LINE games

Although a lot of people consider the mobile messenger market to be very competitive, we believe that we are going in a new direction, towards trying tofind out what users want or need before they even realize that they do. So I guess we still have a lot to do!

 

–Do you think LINE can be a competitive product in China as well?

I think LINE will continue to be a competitive product not just in China but around the world as well. Our goal is to bring people closer together and touch dynamic human emotions connected through digital communication. China is indeed a very competitive market but we are continuing to seek the best features and values that users want and need. To point out a specific example that is unique to LINE, is the branding of our original LINE characters.

LINE characters

 

Our goal is to create brand awareness through LINE merchandise and services by utilizing of our existing resources and channels. The key is to find the crucial point in creating synergy between our products and LINE’s platform. The branding of our characters is a major point where users now have a connection in both online and offline aspects.

Also, a LINE themed animation series called LINE TOWN is currently on air in Japan and is under the process of being released globally in other languages or with subtitles in the future. We strive to continuously think outside the box and not limit ourselves as just a simple chat service.

 

– What are thenext steps for LINE global expansion?

This year we are mainly focused in South East Asia, but recently Spain has also seen enormous growth and has passed the 10 million milestone recently. Currently, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan are our priority, and we are also looking at other regions around the globe such as South America and the Middle East. South East Asia is definitely our current primary market.

In terms of numeric-wise such as smartphone penetration rate and population, the market potential in this region is overwhelming. However, aside from this quantitave perspective, South East Asia where many young people form a dynamic IM phenomenon such as a high adoption rate of stickers or official account has offered the best platform for LINE to innovate itself continuously.

– Thanks!

Guido Ghedin

Guido Ghedin

After his University years between Italy and California, today he deals with Market Research and Digital Scenario Analysis at Young Digitals. You can follow him on Twitter: @guido_ghedin.

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