Mobile messaging company Kik recently landed investment from Tencent at a billion dollar valuation, and now it is borrowing a hallmark of the Chinese company’s blockbuster WeChat app: QR codes.
Kik CEO and co-founder Ted Livingston last month paid tribute to the way that WeChat uses QR codes in China to enable a range of interactions right from the app, such as buying a soda or printing a photo.
That kind of engagement is the longterm goal for Kik but, comparatively speaking, ‘Kik Codes’ are starting out very basic. Scanning can connect two users, add new participants to a group chat or — perhaps most interestingly — connect a user with a brand on the service.
Mike Roberts, head of messenger at Kik, told TechCrunch that the feature was primarily developed to allow its 240 million registered users to connect, but it has obvious synergy for brands because it simplifies connections and allows more opportunistic promotions.
Kik introduced promoted chats last year to let brands like Burger King into its service in an official capacity. The company said today that over 16 million users have chatted with branded bots, with over half a billion messages exchanged, and Kik Codes play nicely on that concept. For example, a Code that offers a free pizza or money offer incentive can trigger a scan from a user — with the code, that connection would be far harder to facilitate.
“You have a relationship with a brand and an app, but how do you initiate that experience? We have usernames on Kik, so the social friction around giving out a phone number is gone, but there’s still high friction as I need to enter my username and find the brand.
“How do we eliminate that but allow you to connect with a brand easily? Particularly when nobody knows what’s on the other side of a QR code, a webpage with billboard ad or $5 coupon? We want to convey that with the Kik brand,” Roberts said.
Beyond just connecting, QR codes also provide context for a relationship — for example what kind of a code did that person scan, and what location did they scan it from. Using that context, a Kik bot operated by a brand can send the right response to a user. That could mean providing a pizza discount, directions to a store, exclusive tickets, or more. More importantly, it opens a dialogue for future opportunities, too.
For now, Kik isn’t saying too much about how Kik Codes might be used in the future — although Livingston has previously hinted at an upcoming payment service — similar to Snapchat’s Snapcash — which could align with QR codes.
“We’ve paid close attention to China, where WeChat has been able to own the QR code, and we will do something different here [in the U.S.],” Roberts said. “Given the abilities of the [Kik] bots, we’re working closely with a number of partners — a lot of cool usecases are coming up soon.”
Kik isn’t just focused on connecting brands — though that’s where most of the revenue potential lies. The company introduced music-themed communities last month to boost engagement, and Kik Codes will help users easily connect with other users in the same way that Snapchat, WeChat and other chat apps use QR codes to add friends.