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No one can argue that mobile has transformed communication. Last year even Mark Zuckerberg said: “Messaging is one of the few things people do more than social networking.”

Chris Best certainly enjoyed hearing that. As Co-Founder and CTO of Kik — the mobile messaging app that now has roughly 200 million registered users — he’s convinced that a messaging platform is a far more relevant advertising channel to users because it’s more than just a one-to-many broadcast medium. It’s an interactive medium, and a more intimate one than either Twitter or Facebook.

This gives brands a chance for individual connections with users through Kik’s Promoted Chats. Users opt-in for communication with brands, so users don’t get angered by uninvited spam ads. And using Kik’s keyword feature, brands can trigger responses directly to individual users.

Kik’s demographic consists of 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 and 24. According to Magid Associates, which researches social media and messaging behavior among young adults and teens, 45 percent of users between 21 and 25 say they wished “they could directly speak with a brand instead of simply following or liking it.”

This preference for individualized messaging is something more brands are paying attention to. Shouting at an audience who’s grown up first with BlackBerries, and then with smartphones, simply may not get the desired result. “You can broadcast in a messenger and keep people engaged but you have to be very judicious about how you do it,” says Best. “You only want to do it for really tent-pole high-excitement valuable things.”

But the individual messaging works best. Because users have already opted in, Kik says 70 percent of branded messages are opened in the first hour, and the click-through rates are 10 to 50 times higher than on Twitter or Facebook.

So far some 50 brands have used Kik, including SkullCandy, Seventeen Magazine, Vans, the not-for-profit Global Citizen, as well as app developers like iFunny and PumpUp. 10 million Kik users have opted in to receive messages from brands like these, and because Kik is only working with high-profile brands in film, fashion, entertainment, retail, music, and sports, no incentives have been necessary to accelerate opt-in. According to Kik, the strength of the brands and the content they’re delivering stands on its own to attract users.

The last few years have seen other prominent social media platforms introduce advertising (Instagram, SnapChat, Pinterest, et al), but as Best puts it, Kik’s differentiator is that, as a messaging app, it’s about one-to-one conversations.

Its major competitor, WhatsApp (with more than 700 million monthly active users) apparently “hated” advertising and vowed never to introduce it. But since being acquired by Facebook last October, WhatsApp might have to change its tune. Facebook, a public company, is unlikely to leave such a valuable property unexploited.

Still, for the time being, Kik is unique in North America. The app is most like the Chinese messaging app WeChat. WeChat has legitimized the messenger as an ad platform in China, but Kik is still trying to figure out how to make it work with a North American audience.

Best attributes the differences to the Chinese population’s newly-acquired access to the Internet. “One of the reasons WeChat has been able to take over so quickly is because they have this tremendous emerging market of people who are getting the Internet for the first time,” says Best.

“And when your first access to the Internet is through a smart phone, a messenger is a natural first place to look for all your experiences,” he says.

While this is an interesting cultural distinction, it may not remain one. Here in North America, youth are being introduced to the Internet for the first time through tablets and smartphones. Theirs is a mobile world. Brands would be wise to take note.

Chris Best, Co-Founder and CTO of Kik, will be joining other execs at the Mobile Summit and participating in a fireside session on reaching audiences in the mobile landscape. More details on the sessions at Mobile Summit and be found on the event’s agenda page. Space is extremely limited — we’ve only got seats for a total of 180 executives — but it’s not too late to apply for one of the remaining seats.

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