SMS Marketing: How Mobile Carriers are Putting it in Context and Proving it isn’t Dead


ADOTAS — At the rate the mobile industry changes, what is hip and cool one minute can quickly become yesterday’s news.  But can yesterday’s news not continue to have significant value?  I guess it depends on whether you’re trying to reach the 70+ percent of consumers who have adopted SMS, or those who haven’t.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the latest and greatest mobile marketing technologies.  Whether it is QR codes or augmented reality, there is plenty of buzz around what is “new,” but if you’re focused on results, you may want to dig deeper into what’s working versus what’s trending.  So what’s fueling the sustained success of SMS marketing?  For mobile carriers, it’s all about reach, context, and personalization.

Reach: Maximizing your exposure

Simply put, mobile marketing is about delivering a promotion to a mobile phone or other mobile devices in order to reach a target audience.  The question often is how to maximize your reach.  Let’s face it.  Not everyone has a QR scanner or knows how one works.  According to comScore less than 10 percent of Americans have downloaded a reader and scanned a QR code.  On the other hand, most everyone has a mobile device with the ability to send and receive SMS messages.  So while it may be yesterday’s news, SMS – with its ubiquitous penetration and ease of use – has what other, perhaps more popular, technologies don’t and that’s maximum reach.

Context: Taking timing into account

Mobile marketing presents a unique opportunity to deliver the right message to the right individual in the right context. But when you have millions of customers with ever-changing contexts, how can you determine the optimal time to deliver the right message for each customer?

Fortunately, technologies deep in analytics and machine learning have been developed to harness massive amounts of customer data and from it uncover rich behavioral insights. This is fueling a shift from simple event — or trigger-based marketing — to true contextual marketing where offers are delivered at the optimal time for each customer based on how they actually behave.  Leveraging behavioral profiles that are developed over time, along with location intelligence, social attributes, and other customer information, contextual marketing allows a marketer to anticipate an individual’s needs and determine the optimal time to engage.

Personalization: Aligning the ‘rights’

For mobile marketers, determining what is “right” for each customer is the golden ticket to delivering on the promise of personalized marketing.  But how do you determine what is right? It’s not identifying a winning offer that you then roll out to your customer base.  It’s aligning everything from the right context and the right offer value to the right message content, the right call to action and the right expiration date – for each individual.

This is where the value of SMS marketing comes into play.  SMS is simple – to both deliver and measure.  The flexibility and simplicity of SMS enables marketing teams to define, test and optimize hundreds of marketing treatments with very short cycle times to determine and deliver what’s best for each individual customer.  This means that opportunities can be identified and tested at enormous scale.

Simple and Effective: Influencing behavior

So is SMS marketing destined for the long haul in light of new alternatives?  Yes because although SMS may lack the rich media experience that newer technologies like augmented reality and QR codes offer, it doesn’t lack effectiveness.

SMS marketing is proving simple and effective for many of today’s mobile operators who are focused on influencing behaviors that help maximize customer revenues and reduce churn.

Operators know that every one of their subscribers is on their own customer journey.  Each subscriber uses their service at their own pace.  And they frequently make decisions about how to further engage with their service provider.  For example, each day prepaid subscribers decide whether to remain active, top up their account, upgrade their data plan, make a mobile purchase, respond to an offer, get a new handset, transfer funds, etc.

Operators think of each of these decisions as a unique opportunity to influence the subscriber’s decision or action.  For example, they may analyze a subscriber’s usage, balance history, spend, social connections, purchase preferences, etc. and ask:    How do I get this customer to recharge more often?  How do I get them to recharge higher amounts? How do I get them to consume more data? Upgrade their handset?  Make more off-network calls?  Share this promotion with their friends?

What many operators have realized is that contextual intelligence increases the relevance – and effectiveness – of their SMS marketing efforts.  They are using contextual marketing to change customer behavior in ways that align with a specific marketing objective.  And they aren’t always “giving away the farm” to do it.

Take revenue stimulation for example.  Often a subscriber’s current balance is the designated trigger for a recharge offer. If you analyze how subscribers top up, however, along with their spend patterns, run rate, balance history, etc. you may determine that some subscribers recharge the same amount every time their balance reaches a certain minimum balance.  You may also determine that others recharge more frequently but always in small amounts, and that others who sparingly use their service recharge very infrequently but at very high amounts.

So should the operator offer a carrot (“get 25 free minutes if you top up now”) to every subscriber for each and every recharge?  No and what marketers are realizing is that while some subscribers may need an aggressive offer with an immediate benefit, some subscribers simply need a reminder or nothing at all.

With SMS marketing where communications and offers are triggered by context, operators are prodding customers in a simple yet effective manner – and in the case of recharge stimulation, they are realizing a 15 percent uplift in revenues.

Marketing in context: SMS is here to stay

Nearly every player in mobile is focused on how to market to the device to more effectively engage customers, activate sales, and build long-term relationships.  Technology is evolving, and marketers have more “whiz-bang” choices to consider, but despite all of the buzz –  it’s the relevancy of each message that matters and not the channel through which it’s delivered. Mobile operators are proving that SMS marketing is not dead.  In fact, they are putting it in context and showing that it’s very much alive.



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