This has been a big year for internet firms. Many tech players such as JD.com and Jumei.com have gone public in the United States. E-commerce behemoth Alibaba is expected to make its US debut this summer.
Now comes LINE, the Japanese text and voice messaging app company which is considering listing in Japan and the US in November.
LINE has a few options and nothing has been decided, according to spokeswoman Hazuki Yamada.
What little is known about the listing plan is that the money will be used to fund its overseas ambitions, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing a source familiar with the company.
LINE has more than 400 million users but the number of active users is substantially lower than that of WhatsApp. The IPO could value LINE at more than US$9.8 billion.
That said, LINE’s real strength lies in minting money.
It generated sales of US$5.1 billion last year, mainly by selling items in mobile games, digital stickers and other peripheral products inspired by its cartoon characters.
WhatsApp’s top line was estimated at US$20 million during the period. Tencent (00700.HK), LINE’s archrival in Asia Pacific, reported revenue for its Weixin app of 600 million yuan (US$95.8 million) in the fourth quarter last year.
LINE’s secret? It adapts to local tastes.
The company’s marketing approach is soft and sophisticated, making it extremely efficient in penetrating the market without annoying users.
In its most recent move, LINE teamed up with Hong Kong mall Hysan Place to set up an exhibit inside the shopping center — two three-meter figures of the cuddly Brown & Cony characters. Also, a pop-up store which sells LINE merchandise has been attracting foot traffic.
LINE has found a way to increase user stickiness. It’s holding a daily draw with users getting a chance to win merchandise simply by replying to a message on its official account.
The strategy could boost the number of active users by encouraging them to open the app at least once a day.
Moreover, LINE has been working with local convenience store chain Circle K and oral health brand Colgate on various promotion activities.
Selling stickers is one of LINE’s major income streams. “We have added Cantonese stickers to boost the download rate and the move has been a success,” Kang Hyunbin, director of business operations, told Economic Digest last month.
The company’s line of emoticons, which are intended to liven up conversations, are used by domestic enterprises as a promotional tool. Ocean Park, Golden Harvest Cinemas and Standard Chartered Plc. have been working with LINE to offer free stickers.
Kang said this is the kind of soft marketing users won’t find annoying. The company is inviting users to create new stickers on a special platform launched last month.
LINE is stepping up expansion in the West but at a slower pace. In that market, it hasn’t been creating the kind of buzz it has generated around its Asia Pacific assets.
But given its experience in adapting to local tastes, LINE may be a step closer.
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