Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

The Bottom Line: How Japan’s Line App Conquered Hearts and Smartphones across Asia

image00LINE Mascots (from left): Brown, Cony, and Sally.

When Naver Corporation first released their social messaging app “LINE” in 2011, nobody expected that it would be an instant hit. But in a short span of eighteen months, LINE boasted up to 100 million registered users, becoming the most popular messaging app in Japan.

line-user-numbers-14LINE’s success spread fast and wide throughout Asia and the Hispanosphere. Currently, the app has the highest market share amongst messaging apps in Indonesia, Thailand, and Taiwan.

Additionally, LINE maintains a strong presence in Columbia, India, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, and Spain, edging away on traditional competitors like WhatsApp and WeChat.

At present, LINE has gained a whopping 600 million registered users worldwide, of which 218 million are active monthly.

Here’s some of the strategies behind LINE’s phenomenal growth:

1. Stickers create a fun, cute and lively user experience that people love sharing with one another


Stickers featuring popular LINE characters.

Today, stickers form a well-loved component in Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Telegram, and many other popular messaging apps. However, this trend was sparked off by LINE and its wide range of sticker characters, like Brown the Bear and Cony the Rabbit.

What separates LINE stickers from ordinary emoticons is the strong emotional bond that has developed between them and LINE users. 

Unlike emoticons, LINE characters live in an apparent storyline, with Brown and Cony often depicted as a dating couple, making out and arguing at each other, as most couples do.

“Stickers like Cony and Brown are fun to use because they have a wide range of emotions, without many limitations.” – Melissa Palacios, a LINE user and sticker creator

LINE characters and stickers offer users powerful tools of expression in a creative context, leaving users entertained and heavily engaged with the app. Positive user experiences are key in driving growth for messaging apps, where word-of-mouth holds profound influence over the decision to use or shun an app.

2. Building brand awareness by using digital assets in physical advertising – LINE-themed stores and cafes!


The Line Friends Store & Cafe in Seoul, South Korea (DanielFoodDiary).

We’ve heard this a million times before: how we live in a digital age, where social media has triumphed and physical advertising has declined. Sure enough, LINE owes much of its success to the global prevalence of smartphone use.

LINE however, continues to employ traditional forms of advertising, but with a unique twist. The app has opened up stores and cafes in Bangkok, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo. These outlets not only sell official LINE merchandise, but they double up as brand ambassadors. Large figurines of LINE characters are placed within the stores to draw crowds in for quick snapshots and selfies.

The irony is that LINE only opened physical stores after an executive spotted knock-off Brown and Cony plushies for sale in Taiwan and Thailand! 

In short, never brush aside conventional forms of advertising. Instead, consider how using such methods may boost your business, particularly when you create physical representations of your company that consumers can relate to.

3. Have a big heart to win hearts – charity-themed stickers allowed users to contribute to disaster relief while communicating to friends that they care


LINE’s special edition stickers for the Typhoon Haiyan disaster.

A good way to win hearts is to show how big your heart is! Indeed, LINE has done its fair share of charity work, albeit in a highly visible and timely manner.

A key feature of LINE is the ability to download and purchase stickers for use in conversations. Many users collect “special edition” stickers that feature LINE characters in festive costumes to commemorate holidays like Christmas.

In the wake of the Typhoon Haiyan disaster in the Philippines, LINE ingeniously introduced special edition stickers, while pledging their stickers’ sales proceeds to disaster relief efforts.

More recently, LINE released another special set of stickers to aid victims of the Kumamoto earthquake in Japan.  These sticker sets were well-received by users, thereby cementing LINE’s caring image and its efforts to provide material relief to disaster victims.

Charity done right can be a very effective marketing method.

Recap: How LINE won hearts and smartphones across Asia

  1. Top-notch user experience with fun stickers
  2. Create brand awareness with physical advertising – cafes, stores
  3. Winning hearts through charity-themed stickers


Read next: How Tinder Obtained More Than 50 Million Users Through Word-of-Mouth

Shannon Lee

Shannon Lee

Shannon is a final year law student with an interest in martial arts, good food and K-pop.

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