WhatsApp for customer engagement: Brand etiquette watchouts

How brands can best leverage one of the most popular channels for personal communication

Sam Richardson

Customer Engagement Consultant Twilio


As WhatsApp marks its 15th anniversary this year, the platform is easily one of the most popular channels for personal communication.

Over 100 billion messages are exchanged daily – with the vast majority between friends, family and colleagues. However, brands are beginning to recognise WhatsApp’s potential in connecting them with their customers. Businesses are increasingly offering WhatsApp as an option for customer service support and marketing messages, such as discounts, promotions, and upcoming product recommendations.

However, with many users exclusively seeing the platform as a safe space for personal interactions, brands must carefully navigate the prospect of customer engagement. What should marketers bear in mind when considering whether to deploy WhatsApp? And how can they strike the right balance?

Personal preference and consent reign supreme

Although WhatsApp is the top choice for personal interactions with friends (54%) and family (54%), the dynamic shifts when brands enter the equation, with over 57% of consumers extremely protective over their WhatsApp channels. The challenge for marketers lies in understanding the delicate balance between leveraging WhatsApp as a direct line to consumers, while respecting their personal boundaries. Brands need to tread carefully, ensuring their presence adds value without feeling intrusive.

Part of this includes understanding your customers’ preferred communication channels and what they want to receive from brands on WhatsApp – if anything. Ultimately, some customers may prefer to have their queries addressed or to receive promotional messages on other channels – like email, SMS, or via the phone – so those wishes must be respected. Marketers need to understand that consent is a non-negotiable; 22% consumers are open to WhatsApp communications if they have given the brand explicit consent to do so.

Personalised content is a non-negotiable

Another means of accommodating personal preferences centres around personalising content. Brands need to avoid spamming customers with generic messages and instead target each customer individually with hyper-targeted content. In fact, with 50% of users less forgiving when sent irrelevant information on a personal channel like WhatsApp, it could be a deal breaker if brands get it wrong.

Whether it’s promotional messages or updates from brands, content must align with what consumers expect – and want – to receive. Crafting personalised content tailored to individual preferences and historic behaviours is key for capturing and retaining consumer attention. And we’re not just talking about sending ‘Happy Birthday’ messages and addressing customers by their first name. Instead, sharing exclusive offers, relevant and contextual product suggestions, or post purchase follow ups, will better resonate with customers and encourage them to return. Every interaction should feel like a one-to-one conversation.

A data-driven, AI-fuelled approach

With 41% of users expressing their openness to receiving messages from brands if they are personalised, brands need to leverage their customer understanding to deliver on this. This can be achieved by accessing and interpreting first-party data willingly shared by customers on things like their preferences, purchase history, accessibility needs, and preferred interaction times and channels. To ensure none of this valuable data is stuck in a silo, brands need to build individual unified customer profiles within Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) that can gather, sort, and interpret data and turn it into insights in real time. AI can then help deliver impactful, tailored communications at scale.

And remember, data-driven insights can be gleaned not only from WhatsApp, but all engagement channels, delivering a truly joined-up approach and 360 customer understanding. This holistic approach will ultimately better serve customers going forwards.

The way forward

Brands can’t simply send generic messages on a platform which has historically been reserved for friends and family. It necessitates a careful, thoughtful approach from the outset.

Understanding and adapting to consumer preferences remains pivotal for brands and marketers looking to create a lasting impression, build trust, and foster strong brand-customer relationships. By prioritising personalisation, relevance, and respecting users' personal spaces, marketers can navigate the WhatsApp landscape effectively, forging meaningful connections and strong customer engagement.

Guest Author

Sam Richardson

Customer Engagement Consultant Twilio


With over 20 years of experience helping organizations improve their customer engagement strategies, Sam is passionate about the power of great conversations to drive transformation. As a facilitator, event host, and CX expert, she’s worked with leaders across EMEA and APAC to create engaging, impactful discussions. She consults with organisations from the latest tech startups to global household brands on their engagement and CX strategies, and is a sought after contributor on the future of customer engagement.