South Korea, one half of the Korean peninsula, with a population of 50 million people has always been a trailblazer in technology, spearheaded by companies such as LG, Samsung, Kia and Hyundai. With the advent and subsequent popularity of the smartphone industry, Korea’s answer to a free messaging app came from within.
Historically insular with the products they use, Korean consumers use of Kakao Talk is extraordinary. Launched in 2010, as smartphones were becoming more and more popular, Kakao were able to gain a considerable foothold in the market ahead of Line, a similar app created by Naver. With 49 million users worldwide compared to Line’s 218 million, Kakao is far from the worldwide powerhouse. However, with 41 million users in Korea alone, it has a stranglehold of the market that it doesn’t look like loosening.
As mentioned before this can partly put down to Korean’s love of using products that are Korean. These products are locally produced and can meet the exact needs of the Korean market. Naver, a Korean search engine, is another that dominates the market, battling with Kakao’s parent company Daum, they control the market, with google accounting for only 2% of usage. In a month, Koreans are estimated to spend over 800 minutes using Kakao while just 28 minutes using Facebook messenger.
While worldwide, YouTube lead the industry in live broadcasting, not so in Korea. Afreeca TV has the largest market share in an industry that is still at the early stages in other countries but in which 80% Korean internet users interact with.
So, what does Kakao offer that WhatsApp or other messaging apps don’t?
Firstly, it’s Korean. It’s tailored to Koreans, from the emojis of Korean food and drink to the cute characters it has created. Found on other Asian messaging apps, characters and their cuteness is a big draw for users. Both Line and Kakao have created a merchandising line behind these characters and have stores devoted to them throughout Asia.
Secondly, it has been an innovator. It was a leader in voice and video calling introducing it years ahead of WhatsApp. While, Kakao run numerous other apps too, including navigation apps for the subway, buses and taxis as well as a Facebook style platform and food delivery and grocery shopping service.
Kakao has been dominating the Korean market for years but whether it can transfer this success to other markets remains to be seen.