How did LINE become the go-to messaging app in Japan?

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History of LINE

Before introduction of LINE to Japan, the country was mostly relying on SMS and voice calls a means of communication whereas Other countries had already embraced every messaging app there is in the market. However, Japan eventually changed its methods for communication drastically after series of natural disasters disrupted the nation in 2011, forcing the country to leap forward towards adopting social media to locate and contact survivors when all traditional communication methods ceased to exist except for the internet.(AsiaPacific)

Looking at the situation, NHN Japan, a subsidiary of South Korean company Naver, took charge and created LINE to connect people who were displaced during the emergency. From the humble beginnings of being a simple messaging app, it went on to replacing all other modes of communications and eventually becoming the most popular social media app in Japan in 2013. In order to get a better understanding of such level of adoption rates in such a short period of time, we will look at some of the unique schemes implemented by LINE that is seen as the main driving force behind its overall growth and success in Japan.

LINE: The Masters of Marketing!

To begin with, LINE is a little different compared to other SNS apps like Facebook, or Instagram. The app now has more or less every imaginable feature offered on a smartphone. LINE created its own elaborate merchandise platform with 4 unique and universally well-received mascots that represent every emotion that is well suited for Japanese people. Not Only had this brought brand awareness, but it also boosted the adoption rate of LINE significantly. The brand itself became so iconic that it lead to opening of multiple brick and mortar stores in Tokyo and other major cities across Japan known as LINE Friends. The stores display LINE’s own merchandise such as plush toys, exclusive physical stickers, etc. providing large number of app users an opportunity to embrace an experience that no other social medias app had ever recreated.(therealjapan)

They even facilitated a platform called LINE creators for artists to develop unique stickers. By doing so, LINE’s presence in Japan skyrocketed and began generating revenue with content creation that is more akin to Youtube. According to Quartz, 2 out of 3 revenue sources are directly from stickers and content, other being Ads.

Quartz

Localization

Majority of social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp are developed with global users in mind. But LINE was developed specifically for Japanese. It has all the major characteristics of what Japanese users look for, resulting in becoming the go to messaging app for vast majority of the population.

Advertisements, a timeline similar to Facebook or Twitter, news similar to Yahoo, Wallet similar to PayPay, and ability to create groups, download free and paid stickers, themes, and has an entire section dedicated for “services” that brings the entire ecosystem together. All these things mentioned above make LINE a unique Japanese experience that Japanese people can accept without hesitation. LINE, without a doubt, is a great example of effective localization done right.

On top of that, LINE is now synonymous to social media, gaming, even financial services and everything else in between. According to Fast Company, LINE makes up majority of the Japanese social media market today. Lets talk about some of the “services” that are available to the average LINE user. There are, in total, 50 apps baked into the service section which is stunning to say the least. Here are some examples of apps taken from App Ape.

LINE

LINE GAME, Shopping app, LINE TV, LINE Music, LINE Business, LINE Manga, LINE gift, LINE ticket, LINE travel JP, LINE careers, LINE mobile, etc. They made every imaginable kind of app covering almost all imaginable areas of needs and interests. All of this was made possible because of its popularity among Japanese users. As seen below, consistent app usage for the base LINE application shows how popular this app is in day to day life.

Stickers

The emphasis on stickers cannot be ignored. If it weren’t for the stickers, LINE wouldn’t have been this popular among younger generation. It is also the source of revenue that made LINE the mammoth of a company that it is today. The stickers themselves cost certain amount of money for the users to buy for themselves or to send them as gifts to their “LINE Friends”. This strategy is so effective that the entire LINE’s revenue can be summed up just by looking at the figures generated by stickers alone.

Here are some raw facts about how stickers play a big role in LINE in Japan. According to Fast company, LINE’s ultra-expressive, supersized emoji are extremely popular, and good business. Approximately 2 billion stickers are used and sent by LINE users on daily basis, with nearly 40,000 stickers available for a user to choose from. In monetary terms, $30 million of gross revenue was generated from LINE’s Creators Market in its first seven months.

Gaming Platform

Another area where LINE excelled is gaming. LINE GAME, as marketed, is so popular that, based on App Ape data, it represents 2 games on Android’s Game Category top 5 daily usage ranking chart.

It is no coincidence that many LINE users using stickers are also the ones playing these games. For instance, venturebeat reports that in 2013 LINE became the unintentional gaming platform in Japan. It also mentioned that the company is capitalizing on the rapid appetite that Japanese players have for purchasing in-app items in games.

In 2018, Fast Company reported that LINE teamed up with Disney and released a game called “Disney Tsum Tsum” which translates to “Disney Stack Stack”. It “Tetris-like” format which required players to connect at least three Tsums to clear them form the playfield. It quickly became one of the most downloaded games and also generated enough revenue to capitalize on this idea. (Variety)

Built to Last!

The applications on the smartphones are only useful as long as the world needs them. The ecosystem of LINE ties in smoothly with many real world use cases specialized for Japanese, making it one of the most robust apps in its league.

High security is another feature of the app. People who own specific mobile carriers like NTT docomo can have their own ID verification systems. This level of integration creates a sense of security that Japanese people tend to appreciate, which is not seen in other major social media apps like Facebook or Twitter. The LINE ID verification creates a layer of security and enables users to be more confident in utilizing all the other features that the app has to offer.

Now that we have thoroughly established that LINE is indeed the most popular app on Japanese smartphones other than system apps, the trend is here to stay. Especially with the latest news of Yahoo and Line merger, the internet giant is only going to get that more prominent and entangled within the Japanese society and their lives. (BBC)

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