Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What’s the future for SMS?

A very good question if you ask me. With the current obsession with iPhone apps, it’s easy to disregard other makes of mobile phone, let alone other mobile technologies. And SMS simply isn’t seen as particularly sexy or exciting (although if I had to blow on my glass screen to write a message, as seen in this Window Concept Phone pictured from maybe that would be exciting!). I think there is still a lot of mileage in SMS for marketing and customer service and when Michaela approached me to ask if she could write a guest article for this blog on that topic, I, of course, said yes. So, over to Michaela…

A guest post by Michaela Cristallo, Marketing Manager at InvolveMobile

Mobile marketing has grown at a huge rate in the last ten years, and with this growth we have seen mobile technologies from SMS to now encompass mobile apps, the mobile web, geo-location services and mobile display advertising. With so many technologies at the mobile marketer’s disposal and growing rates of Smartphone ownership worldwide, what is the future for SMS?

While arguably the most simplistic and least ‘rich’ of the mobile technologies, SMS has a variety of important strengths which will ensure its continued relevance amongst increasingly sophisticated mobile channels.

To begin with, SMS is a very effective way to deliver a marketing message to a wide, yet targeted, group of people. Pretty much every mobile phone is text message capable. This means a huge potential reach, compared with other mobile technologies like mobile applications or the mobile web which rely on Smartphones (i.e. handsets which use a named operating system like iPhone, Nokia Series 60 & Symbian 4, Android, BlackBerry etc) where ownership stands at just 18% in the US. Further, research from Frost and Sullivan and others shows that typically, 90 per cent of text messages are read within three minutes of receipt, with 99% read in time.

SMS is also a very versatile medium. Despite its lack of rich media features, SMS marketing can be used to run a variety of interactive mobile campaigns. Information and communication based services are perfect for SMS via text alerts or mobile clubs. Interactive campaigns like text to win, text to screen and SMS trivia are also possible. In addition, many retailers benefit from the instant nature of SMS for pushing timely sales offers via text based mobile coupons.

In addition to its wide reach and versatility, SMS is a great low cost option for marketers just starting out with mobile. It provides an opportunity to connect with customers on a mobile device for a low monthly cost. Unlike creating an app or mobile optimised site there are no large upfront costs (unless you’re considering a large-scale CRM-style system), or long lead times to contend with. An SMS marketing campaign can be set up in minutes and implemented immediately. SMS marketing can be a great way to start out with mobile marketing, with the potential to add other mobile mediums like apps and geo-location later down the track.

SMS marketing is a great way for small businesses to connect with their customers. With smaller budgets and often less stability upon which to make longer term decisions, the cost effective, instant and versatile nature of SMS marketing is ideal. SMS can be used effectively by small businesses to run a variety of promotions including text to win, event based text to screen and special offers via mobile coupons. SMS marketing is also an ideal way for small businesses to keep in contact with their customers via text message alerts and mobile clubs. Once initial opt in consent is gained from a customer, a small business can send regular marketing messages to that customer informing them of new products, events and sales. Over time, a business can grow their database, increasing the reach of their SMS marketing efforts.

With so many consumers interacting via mobile, multi channel campaigns are increasingly effective. The importance of a multi-channel approach to mobile marketing has been realised by many big name brand advertisers including Best Buy, Marks & Spencer and KFC who effectively use SMS alongside other mobile and non-mobile channels.

Multi-channel mobile strategies work well because they are whole – in the sense that each mobile technology on its own has fundamental shortcomings, which are rectified when these mediums are used in an integrated approach. A ‘whole’ mobile approach is possible because each medium contributes in the way it can give best.

SMS marketing, with its instant effect, wide reach and versatility, can be used for pushing timely alerts and information to customers. It’s also great for holding competitions, games and mobile coupons that the majority of mobile users can participate in.

Other richer mobile mediums, including apps and the mobile web, are best used when a richer media experience is required or expected. While many mobile users will not be able to access this content, some situations require this richer experience. Retail in particular is one area where apps and mobile sites are particularly beneficial – where consumers want to see and experience a product in as rich detail as possible, for example an online look book or catalogue. In situations like these, SMS may be too limited to provide the ideal experience.

Newer technologies such as geo-location are ideal for physical retail locations. Geo-location tools can be a great way to drive store traffic and encourage interaction, however once again, reach is limited.

A multi channel approach therefore draws all of these mediums together to create campaigns that reach consumers at every mobile touch point. SMS is essential to the multi channel approach because it does what it does well – provide marketers with the opportunity to push short, sharp messages to consumers that will be received and consumed instantly, with little cost or lead time involved. Without SMS the multi channel mobile approach falls apart, with brands using expensive technologies like apps to achieve the simplest of mobile tasks, suffering from longer lead times, and not reaching a large proportion of their target market.

So, what is the future for SMS? While SMS today competes with a range of different mobile technologies, SMS marketing brings its own set of strengths to a mobile campaign to complement it. The pace of mobile technology is moving quickly, and just as apps, the mobile web, mobile applications and geo-location have taken a piece of the mobile marketing pie, other technologies will continue to do so, such as NFC (near field communication), augmented reality and more. SMS, however, has its own distinct advantages, so the future for SMS remains bright – for small business, for new mobile marketers, for multi-channel approaches, and simply, for anyone wanting to engage their customers with short, sharp, timely, relevant and cost effective messages to the widest group of consumers possible using a mobile device.

About Involve Mobile:

Based in Australia, InvolveMobile is a leading text messaging software solution and has an award winning and full featured solution that has been continually developed since 2001, providing clients (from small business to large enterprise) with short code (dedicated short code and shared short code) and bulk SMS solutions.

InvolveMobile is part of Dload – an international interactive marketing company founded in Australia in 1999. Dload have commercialized research and technical development in digital communications to provide interactive marketing solutions to clients around the world.