Four years ago, reputable commentators in The Guardian were wondering if SMS – short message service or text messaging – had peaked in performance after a two-decade exponential rise. As of February 2001, UK mobile phone users were sending one billion texts a month at a standard rate of 10p per text, netting the telecommunication industry around £100 million, monthly!
With the rapid development of mobile telephony, including the evolution of smartphones and data services, the price of transmitting data collapsed, leading to a proliferation of free messaging services. So why has the trend not only defied market projections, but continued to flourish, with online SMS usage expanding all the time?
The proliferation of text messaging providers, along with bespoke SMS APIs and other SMS-based features and services – hinging on established businesses and preferences – will continue to expand text messaging as the most influential factor throughout 2016 and beyond. It is the take-up by innovative businesses that has captured the essence and simplicity of text messaging and honed it into a formidable marketing device.
Trends and technological innovations in marketing have been steadily evolving, of course, so to stay ahead of the competition, businesses need to keep up, adopt and adapt accordingly. Traditional marketing methods such as billboards, TV, radio, newspaper and magazine advertising are beginning to look tired, slow to bring profitable ROI and old hat in the face of the new digital marketing mediums emerging such as SEO, text and social media marketing. The USP of SMS-based marketing strategies is that these are able to fully exploit the way people, both in private and professionally, are communicating in the digital age. According to figures supplied by Ofcom, as of 2014 the proportion of adults who personally own or use a mobile phone in the UK was 93%, 61% of whom were using a smartphone. And the numbers continue to rise.
A couple of examples stand out. The American banking tool Digit and digital personal assistant Cloe use text messaging as their foremost interface with their customers (the UK does not yet have an equivalent of Digit – although Digit can be used here).
It works for Digit by allowing users to save money by opening a new bank account linked to any existing account. By tracking a user’s spending habits and determining what would be an affordable saving, based on those habits, Digit can then ask the user for permission to deposit such-and-such a sum in the newly-opened account. All the user has to do is respond with a “yes” or “no” text message. Needless to say, text messaging is the prime means of communication for Digit.
Cloe functions in much the same way as Siri, the voice recognition technology incorporated into Apple iPhones, providing customised recommendations based on the user’s known preferences and location. What makes Cloe different, according to its developer Chase Hilderbrand, is that consumers communicate through text messaging rather than voice activation. This, he claims, makes Cloe’s SMS service faster, more efficient and, arguably, more “intelligent” than Siri.
In June 2015, the leading light in the tech industry, Wired, described text messaging as “the future of interface design”. It cites three reasons this is so:
- Basically functioning like chat, it encourages user interaction rather than simply offering a number of closed options such as with an app.
- Because texting allows people to undertake any number of tasks from the same place, while maintaining full performance without taking extra steps, apps are redundant.
- Texting is efficient, effective and very familiar. While apps require respective rules of use, texting needs no how-to manuals.
According to Jed Alpert, author of The Mobile Marketing Revolution: How Your Brand Can Have a One-to-One Conversation with Everyone: “[SMS is] the most pervasive form of communication there is. All kinds of ongoing communications that were previously done in a hodgepodge way of email, phone calls and such can now be centralised around text messaging.”
He goes on to conclude that text messaging is now being integrated into all forms of communication technology. Rather than text messaging as an end in itself, it is now geared up to obtain the outcomes that any business or organisation desires. Indeed, a poll carried out by the International Customer Management Institute revealed that 79% of companies now believe that their customers want SMS/text support.
There are a number of factors that are influencing consumers towards text messaging. These can be summarised as:
- Immediate – the fact that text messages are sent and received immediately encourages a sense of instant connection, even if texts are not written at the time but scheduled in advance. Hardly anyone can tell the difference.
- Concise – the best text messages are short and to the point. As users are constrained to be concise, more significant information is conveyed more quickly and in fewer words.
- Convenient – mobile phones are what it says on the box: mobile. Portable anywhere, you can send and receive text messages with minimal fuss or interruption.
- Low pressure – since there is less pressure (unlike traditional methods of marketing), sales and marketing messages are especially effective via text-messaging. The absence of a human component seeking to influence people means users have the freedom and space to take time over their decisions, making them feel more comfortable.
- Universal – Just about every mobile phone on the planet is able to receive and send SMS messages without the user needing to download, install or update any software (Unlike with apps).
By using a UK based SMS provider, British companies can also use existing contact data (providing you follow the legal guidelines) to initiate sign-ups for free trials through text messaging and use SMS to exclusively provide access to unannounced sales, deals or products, thus incentivising brand loyalty.
Finally, you can tie text messaging into other marketing campaigns. For example, by reminding customers to check email blasts or to follow your company on Facebook and Twitter. SMS marketing enables you to reach customers with a familiar message, maybe, but in a newer, more convenient, user-friendly and profitable way.