This article was published on November 1, 2013

Why old-school SMS is still a powerful mobile marketing tool

Why old-school SMS is still a powerful mobile marketing tool
Eric Lazar
Story by

Eric Lazar

Eric Lazar is VP of Mobile CRM for ePrize, focused on educating brands on how best to capture the mobile user, drive revenue, and build rela Eric Lazar is VP of Mobile CRM for ePrize, focused on educating brands on how best to capture the mobile user, drive revenue, and build relationships that start on mobile. Prior to his current role, Lazar spent more than 10 years in broadcast television sales management, most recently at Sinclair Television Group.

Eric Lazar is VP of Mobile CRM for ePrize, focused on educating brands on how best to capture the mobile user, drive revenue, and build relationships that start on mobile. Prior to his current role, Lazar spent more than 10 years in broadcast television sales management, most recently at Sinclair Television Group.

This year I celebrated my 45th birthday. Like every year, I commemorate the passing of time with an annual physical — although this visit came with a surprise bonus procedure and pretty funny anecdote.

“What is it, Doctor, am I OK?” I asked with trepidation after pausing from a quick series of texts.

“Yes, at the moment your colonoscopy results looks fine, but you should come back every six months to be checked out.”  My physician blurted with a callous smirk, begging my next question, “Why?”

“Well Eric, you haven’t put that phone down since stepping into my office, and it’s just a matter of time before someone, most likely your wife, takes that thing and sticks it right up your….”

With that said, I shuffled from his office, head hung (and thighs pressed together), relieved that there were no polyps in my colon, but also wondering what terrible ailment I suffer that has me so detached from the present. All it took was a quick Web search to help me figure it out. Nomophobia: the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. Yikes.

Nomophobia hits hard

About 53 percent of men and 48 percent of women are said to be agonized by this socially debilitating disorder, from a past British study.

Coupled with numerous other corollary studies that show how people would rather give up brushing their teeth for a week than relinquish their mobile phone, or even prefer to spend the morning cuddling with their tablet rather than their partner, well, now we get a clearer picture on the impact of mobile in our lives.

Connecting these understandings with the fact that texting is still the most engaged activity on a mobile device (see ComScore and eMarketer 2012 chart below) and it doesn’t take long before a compelling marketing opportunity presents itself, one that still finds itself far too under-utilized by the brands we know and love.


usage metrics

With nearly all phones equipped with SMS capabilities, and with consumers reading virtually every text within minutes after receipt, why is it that businesses still choose to forego this channel and rely solely on mobile optimized websites and native applications?

Texting to the rescue

You’ve heard the story before: SMS call-to-action messaging is easy to incorporate into all of a brand’s marketing initiatives, from traditional, digital and social media, to in-store, in-venue, even on products or on receipts.

Indeed, SMS engagement offers an endless list of consumer touch points that clearly states what the user needs to do. They are simple to partake in and no longer require educating the user on how to interact or what will happen as a result (e.g. no spam).

However, what’s rarely discussed about this continually evolving channel is why. Why is SMS the perfect conduit for richer and more holistic consumer experiences within mobile universe?

Here’s a brief overview. We’ll try to keep it short, knowing first-hand our attention spans these days.

Is it intrusive?

Perhaps we should deal with the elephant in the room before moving on.

Industry regulations on compliance states that consumers must understand two basic elements of any SMS program: first, the cadence at which they will receive messages, and second, how to remove themselves from the program.

As SMS is a permission-based channel, only those who want to join are entered through expressed consent, and if they do participate, these users have the most proclivity towards the brand. In other words, yes, they want to receive communications.

When SMS is employed correctly, it should not be invasive. It is incredibly personal, and there is a distinct difference between the two. If you think about any of your individual relationships, there are boundaries, and when someone crosses that line, the nature of that rapport quickly pivots. The same paradigm applies to brands and their consumers.

SMS as a gateway channel

As companies begin to explore the possibilities of SMS, text messaging opens the door to a wide range of other new opportunities: from MMS, to collecting users email addresses, to location-based engagements. Even voice programs and the incorporation of links within texts to drive traffic to a mobile website — all of these features incentivize consumers to further engage with the brand and become more connected across multiple channels.

Dig deeper and that seemingly one-dimensional SMS becomes a truly interactive medium of push and pull to deliver information, tips, coupons, alerts and rewards, or engross consumers with karaoke, contests, surveys, and trivia.

A savvy marketer will go even further and insist that customer experiences be scaled up or down depending on a user’s device type, communicating with feature phone operators more simplistically and to smartphone shoppers with added layers of complexity that capitalize on their operating system’s capabilities.

Moreover, with each exchange, a brand can collect additional nuggets of valuable customer data, permitting greater understanding of the individual to increasingly offer enhanced targeting.

In short, SMS offers marketers a channel to not only start a conversation with customers, but to gain additional insights from a connected and engaged audience.

SMS performs better than its email marketing counterpart

Text messaging acts as one of the most influential first lines of offense in a mobile strategy through its ability to connect the channel to backend databases, point-of-sale systems, loyalty programs, email service providers, and other CRM tools. SMS thus becomes elevated as a valued component of a holistic marking effort, rather than consigned as yet another disparate set of big-data which cannot be effectively managed.

article-page-main_ehow_images_a07_ut_1q_directions-texting-iphone-800x800Building a program that has amplified levels of SMS integration further increases the channel’s effectiveness by making part of the tightly orchestrated, yet harmonious exchange in the ‘cadence and content’ flow between brand and consumer.

Even at its base level, unconnected and independent of any other systems, our data shows that SMS coupons get redeemed eight times more frequently than the same emailed offer and are known to drive basket sizes two to three times greater than that of the same emailed offer.

Indeed, text messages deliver personal and scalable device-centric experiences across the widest swath of the mobile universe and there’s no argument about its results.

But there are still those who resist.

SMS as a triple threat

Transitioning from using SMS as a simplistic entry channel and into a more complex communication tool reaching specific paths of consumer interest, text messaging once again affirms its impact.

Let’s break up text communication into the three lenses of mobile: Informational, Promotions and CRM — all of which play an integral role in continuing the conversation with the consumer.

  1. Informational content can range from new item alerts, store finding capabilities, sending information to phone from web, tips and tricks, receipts and shipping alerts.
  2. Promotional experiences deal with content surrounding user participation in mobile clubs, opportunities to participate in user generated content programs, immersive experiences, special invites, links to scratch and win sites or karaoke sing-alongs.
  3. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the long tail CRM conversation any brand wants with their consumer, for which SMS is ideal. These messages concisely convey updates about loyalty status, conducting surveys, seeking referrals and the all-important mobile coupon to quickly drive sales.

SMS: Cure for the common multitasker

There is no doubt that SMS is the ultimate channel for introducing a consumer to a brand’s mobile program. It is easy to understand and accessible to nearly everyone who owns a mobile phone.

When we look at the well-accepted guiding mantras for any successful consumer engagement program of “make it convenient, make it fun, and make it relevant,” text messaging ascends to the top of the tools at a brand’s disposal.

So long as Nomophobia continues to afflict the growing masses, SMS communication remains the perfect conduit to reach consumers wherever they might be — and certainly a whole heck of a lot better than the alternative one my doctor used!

Top image credit: D. Hammonds/Shutterstock

Get the TNW newsletter

Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.