When I say, “emojis on steroids”, what do you think of? How about Mickey Mouse, a Buzzfeed reaction, or even your own company’s logo, dancing on top of your iMessage conversations? Last September, cluttered in the hoopla that is a new iPhone launch, one of the most important changes to the iOS platform for brands and marketers was glossed over: iMessage Stickers and Apps.

iMessage stickers are little graphics, static or animated, that you can send to friends via iMessage, giving the app an injection of a Facebook Messenger or Snapchat vibe. These sticker packs, or app extensions, are bought or downloaded for free from within iMessage.


(Check out Apple’s advertisement highlighting Stickers to see what I mean by “attack of the stickers”)

Why should you care?

In iOS 10 developers now have the ability to create sticker packs and apps directly inside the iMessage application. With iMessage opening up, marketers will now witness the next wave of branded communication and branded content in a messaging environment. The market reach of this opportunity cannot be overstated. iMessage has an estimated 800 million users. I probably spend the majority of my time on my iPhone sending those little blue bubbles. Brands can also create an extension of their larger iOS application to send payments and shop with friends, creating a frictionless commerce environment. iMessage apps are small in size, easy to install, relatively quick to build and share, and waiting for brands to pursue!

How does it work?

iMessage App Store
The first thing you need is a Mac so you can download Apple’s developer software, Xcode. Sorry PC users, you’ll have to borrow a friend’s shiny Mac to create your stickers. The best part is you can create a sticker pack without a single line of code! Basically, everyone and their dog can create one.

Xcode new project menu                           iOS Simulator

 

Once Xcode is open, the process is fairly simple. Click File -> New Project -> Sticker Pack Application. From this point, it’s a simple drag and drop to place your pre-created images into Xcode (either static .png or animated .gif files).  You also need to create an App logo for your sticker pack. Apple provides all the needed dimensions inside Xcode. Finally, you can run your sticker pack by pressing Product-> Run, to see your stickers in all their glory. (If you want more information than my brief overview, check out Apple’s tutorial video: https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/tutorials/building-sticker-packs/).

Xcode User Interface

Xcode User Interface

The only tedious part of the process is uploading your stickers to the App Store. This requires an iTunes Connect Developer account, which is a $99/year subscription (you didn’t think it would be free; we are dealing with Apple after all!). After you’ve gone through all the steps of uploading your files and company information, Apple reviews your sticker pack for App Store approval. Fingers crossed!

Stickers in Action!

Developers are only beginning to test the waters with branding possibilities in iMessage. If I want to go to the Jays game with my brother next week, I throw a sticker of Jose Bautista on his last message; helping reinforce the global shift to a visually based communication medium. I owe my friend for picking up my Starbucks order? I send her a Starbucks Card sticker for $5. My personal favourite sticker pack is Grammar Snob. Like an English teacher in middle school, correcting your essay with a red pen, this sticker pack allows you to correct your friend when they mix up “your” and “you’re” (#petpeeves).

Apart from my experience, above, many other big brands are jumping on board. Coach, Burger King, Marriott, L’Oreal, Dove, Dunkin’ Donuts and Sephora, are some of the companies that announced experiences inside iMessage to build brand awareness.

Conclusion

The iMessage app store is weaving communication and creativity to allow brands to build interactive experiences where people are actively sharing. Existing companies need to build services that live within iMessage, rather than the web, to compete with a new generation of entrepreneurs that focus exclusively on the iMessage platform. The opportunities to build brand and revenue are endless, and developers have just begun to reimagine how people will communicative, shop, date, and work through iMessage.

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