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The Marketer
May 16th, 2011

SMS is still king for brand marketers

So, Facebook, the standard social networking site for around 500 million people – and with half the population of the UK now registered to it – has acquired another small mobile player, Snaptu, in a bid to open up the service to yet more social media hungry mobile owners. Already the success of the site via mobile is phenomenal, with around 50 percent of all mobile internet traffic in the UK leading to Facebook, according to mobile industry body, the GSMA.

The vast majority of this traffic is derived from smartphone owners wielding the latest iPhone, Android, and to a lesser extent, Symbian or Windows Mobile handsets. This poses an interesting question when you consider the smartphone audience constitutes only 20 per cent of mobile owners in the UK. This is where Facebook’s latest acquisition comes into to its own. Snaptu creates apps for feature phones, or the more basic handsets that 80 per cent of the country currently use, thus opening up a new world of Facebook-led social content to the masses. With the prevalence of 3G, and the impending 4G network, all types of mobile handsets will be able to take advantage of the web. So, provisioning for all mobile users, not simply the digitally savvy smartphone audience, will help drive the company on to reach its overall target of one billion mobile Facebook users. And who would bet against them?

This got me thinking, what does it mean for brand marketers? Not in relation to Facebook’s commercial model, which is still finding its feet, but mobile as a whole. Well, firstly, it’s a clear message that the feature phone has a significant role to play in the mass market and potentially the ‘holy grail’ levels of engagement required to make the mobile channel more widely accepted.

The one overriding factor that I can see, however, is that text messaging is still king. The humble and ubiquitous SMS is the one mode of communication that provides a universally common ground, and one that can provide a touch point, or direct response, from any other media channel. Whilst apps can be great fun, powerful brand vehicles and incredibly useful – there simply aren’t that many people using them in comparative terms.

I’m not advocating constant SMS broadcasts to, at best, a passive rather than an opted-in audience. In fact, this is exactly what business shouldn’t do, as ill-targeted and intrusive text message marketing is a sure-fire why to turn people away from a brand. As such, the context in which people are contacted through SMS is essential to get right and more importantly, avoid achieving the opposite of what was intended.

Any communication through a consumer’s mobile is extremely personal and if done right, it can act as a significant marketing catalyst and point of engagement from where a consumer starts along the path to conversion. One text can signal buy-in to a brand offering, ultimately gaining their place in a community and that company’s CRM programme, potentially encompassing multiple channels of which consumers can choose the most applicable to them. Mobile should be the unifying touch point for all channels – whether it’s traditional and new media advertising, social media, marcoms, even in the physical world, either in-store or otherwise. So, as opposed to using limited targeting technology – which provides questionable contextual relevance for pushing brand comms to a mobile audience – businesses are inviting an engaged consumer to provide permissions to market to them. Gaining consumer trust is key to obtaining permissions and keeping that trust by contacting them under the agreed context needs to be strictly adhered to , as once this trust is lost, it will prove very difficult for a business to get it back.

Using SMS as an access point to an integrated marketing initiative is a powerful customer capture device. One area that provides a similar, if slightly richer experience up front, are QR codes. Also known as 2D barcodes. These can be scanned – using a feature or smart phone – to access information via the internet, which can come in the form of rich content or a mobile internet site. Marketers in Japan have been using this technology for years to blur the lines between the virtual and physical worlds, meaning consumers can seamlessly flit between the two. For instance, in Japan consumers have been using QR Codes to scan anything from fast food items, theme park tickets or even cars, which seamlessly link their shopping history with the brand and what’s on offer in that particular branch area all defined by the company’s CRM and back-end inventory systems. This also feeds into powerful loyalty and reward offerings, as well as heavily incentivised promotions. A total end-to-end offering, which acts as a personal shopper in store! What a powerful notion for today’s digital natives across the UK.

Although there have been a few false starts, and it’s been ‘the year of the mobile’ several times, it will be interesting to see how retail marketers here embrace this touch point above and beyond the experimental stages we’re seeing at present and really commit to long-term value-adds.

Smartphones are indeed the new cool and a ‘nice-to-have’ in any channel marketing strategy however, SMS remains King as long as the campaign is wrapped into the appropriate levels of intelligence to ensure a well targeted audience. Smartphones do have a role to play connecting brands with audiences in more developed markets through new funky, applications. However, businesses wishing to expand in high-growth regions like India and China, where adoption of smartphones is minimal compared to traditional mobile devices, will still need to utilise SMS. Anything more advanced than SMS will simply not compute on the majority of traditional handsets in use.

  1. How does brand marketing differ from target marketing?

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