LINE Corporation

Tokyo-based LINE Corporation has big plans to make its messaging app the portal of choice for the millions going online for the first time in Asia.

Since 2011, Tokyo-based LINE Corporation (NYSE: LN) has enlarged its footprint as a messaging service, internet platform and ‘sticker’ creator and is aiming to continue its expansion through new channels, partnerships and products.

Euivin Park

Chief Technology Officer, LINE Corp.

The company cites user statistics that show monthly active users numbering around 200 million, but admits that its messaging service is still smaller than other behemoths in the business. To compete with bigger messaging services, it must out-innovate them, says LINE chief technology officer Euivin Park. To do so, Park states that LINE has found a way to outsource some of that innovation by allowing the public to design new ways to interact with its platform by providing developers full access to its APIs and messaging platform.

To keep building out its ecosystem, Park says, it cooperates with external developers and startups world-wide and allows them to use its chatbot APIs and other tools. According to Park, the outside world’s response to the invitation has been strong, creating more than 130,000 chatbot accounts since last year. LINE is also making the development of third-party engineers a more formal process. A new program, LINE API Expert, is an accreditation system that offers certification and support for those who use the company’s APIs.

At the same time, Park notes that the company continues to grow and attract notice for its ambitious approach to the Asian markets, where hundreds of millions across the continent are just now coming online. Park says she believes those potential customers represent a prime opportunity to capture huge market share.

Building an All-Inclusive Platform

To seize that opportunity, Park says that LINE is positioning itself to become a portal of choice for its users. In its vision of the future, the company sees the LINE messaging system serving as a lynchpin for their personal and professional communications, their news source, as well as where they handle their banking and even their shopping. To do that, LINE is counting on its intimate understanding of the nuances of each market, before the global messaging titans can saturate them, through a combination of big data and a 20th-century sales tactic that still brings results: boots on the ground.

As a messaging platform, LINE first gained notice for its 3-D emojis with sound capability called ‘stickers,’ which one company executive describes as “the body language of texting,” and Park notes that LINE has rolled out more than 700,000 sets of them. Beyond just sticker sales in recent years, LINE has expanded to generate revenue from advertising, and from B2B partners who sell products and services on its platform. And that flexibility has given it more ammunition to expand in existing markets and tackle new ones.

Distinct Approaches to Different Markets

Becoming part of the daily lives of many of these still-growing markets means exploiting what LINE refers to as O2O...connecting with the millions of small businesses that have yet to exploit the web.

Park says that one thing that makes LINE unique is that each of the markets where it has a major presence represents a language base into which LINE can dig deep and extract data. Rather than imposing a single business or tech model on all its users in all regions, the company is pursuing a culturalization process that identifies the unique preferences and needs of each market. One way it does this is by using bots to gather data, coupling it with its AI-enabled cloud platform, Clova, to derive insights into trends within distinct markets based on that data.

But the human element is still a differentiator, notes Park. LINE embeds software developers in each critical Asian market, alongside its business development teams. For example, Park says that to become more precise in its offerings, LINE teams are literally hopping across Indonesia’s 17,000 islands in search of opportunities for its platform to become essential to consumers.

Reaching First-time Internet Users

Becoming part of the daily lives of many of these still-growing markets means exploiting what LINE refers to as O2O — online to offline. Park says that the transition will begin by connecting with the millions of small businesses that have yet to exploit the web. Park cites LINE Man as a recent example of this, which the company launch in Thailand. LINE Man, which connects users with service providers and restaurants, creating a personal-assistant service for LINE platform users.

Park states that the effectiveness of that market-by-market approach is borne out by its high customer engagement — 80 percent daily use in Thailand, Japan and Taiwan. High engagement, along with the growing trend of internet access through a single application, is what makes LINE optimistic about the future, says Park.

Seeing Results in Multiple Markets

According to a 2016 study by App Annie, a San Francisco-based market data and insights company, LINE has been the leading company in the world for combined iOS and Google Play apps revenue. It’s also the only company with two spots in App Annie’s Top 10 Apps by revenue, with the LINE messaging app at No. 2 and LINE Manga at No. 8.

However, Park is quick to say that LINE’s success depends equally on Asian consumers seeing their chat app as the portal to the internet. For that to happen, the app must offer much of the digital world’s promise, including convenience, ease and a wide range of both information and services. And through its partnerships, LINE can also offer music, gaming, taxi-hailing capabilities and restaurant reviews among other features. Park states that LINE’s ultimate goal is to grow from being a one-stop shop to a major shopping mall.