Online Exclusive: Text Messaging: Take It Personal

With more than 38 million mobile phone users in the United States using text messaging, 2004 has seen mobile marketing begin to hit the mainstream.

Mobile has the power to revolutionize the way we communicate with customers. With this in mind, it's worth looking at what is being done in the market and where wireless technologies might take us next.

There are three main ways in which brands in the United States currently use mobile marketing.

Promotions. Least complex are text response promotions. An easy-to-remember short code is printed on packaging, direct marketing materials, billboards, placed in TV advertising or announced on the radio. Customers immediately use this code to communicate with the brand via text message in the same way they might send a message to a friend.

Cell phone users might text in to request a free trial, test drive a car, enter a competition, reserve a table or simply express an opinion.

Example: Murphy's Stout. The effectiveness of text response was demonstrated by the Murphy's Stout St. Patrick's Day Limerick campaign. Printed on special St. Patrick's Day cups and billboards was the first half of a limerick the public was invited to complete via SMS. The top 10 responses to the limerick were printed on the Murphy's homepage for the world to see. This campaign is a great example of how text response can be used to build brand affinity in conjunction with other forms of marketing.

Advertising and acquisition. Mobile also is used to acquire new customers and inform them of new products or services using outbound SMS messages. Many leading brands use opt-in mobile databases to target chosen segments of the population with useful information, in the same way one might use opt-in e-mail data.

It is important to strictly abide by privacy regulations for legal reasons, but also because fully opted-in mobile phone owners are far more likely to be receptive to marketing and advertising. Enpocket is pushing for original permission holder identification to be included in the U.S. Mobile Marketing Association Code of Conduct. (Original permission holder identification is the concept of naming — in each message — the company that the consumer gave permission to for messaging to be sent to their phones.) Only by demanding higher standards will mobile marketing be able to avoid the pitfalls and stigma sometimes attached to other forms of marketing.

Wireless opt-it messaging has higher impact and response rates than alternative media in terms of being able to reach the consumer, due to the advantage of the mobile phone always being on and carried by its owner. Enpocket Insight's direct response study of 200 mobile marketing campaigns showed average response rates of 15 percent and that 94 percent of messages are opened.

Example: The History Channel. Enpocket Insight's study into an SMS campaign run by The History Channel shows just how strong an impact targeting and creative can have when well matched. The History Channel sent an SMS message to a group of opt-in 25-54 year-old males informing them of the new Barbarians show. Forty percent of those affected by the campaign went on to watch The History Channel and 18 percent watched the Barbarians program.

It's worth stopping here to mention a key part of getting mobile marketing right. As SMS messaging offers a maximum capacity of 160 characters, many lazy marketers abbreviate words and compromise their use of language under the premise that they are talking in more consumer friendly 'txt speak' as used in peer-to-peer messaging.

This is akin to a salesman approaching you in the street, pretending to remember you from college and addressing you in an overly familiar manner. We don't cram paragraphs onto billboards or speed up TV advertising to the point of indecipherability because we've got too much to say and too little time to say it. This is why mobile marketing should be grammatically correct wherever possible to ensure maximum impact.

Mobile CRM. The third and most sophisticated use of mobile marketing practiced in the U.S. is mobile CRM. The long-term goal of brands running text response and customer acquisitions programs should be to build lasting relationships with their customers. This is what mobile CRM does.

To achieve real mobile CRM, brands need to build a mobile database of loyal customers using existing CRM systems and past mobile campaigns. Then they can profile and segment this database to target customers with highly relevant communications.

Example: FCUK. FCUK, the clothing retailer, became one of the first to do this in a trans-Atlantic mobile strategy that tied in with its in-store radio station. By texting into the number 8FCUK (83285), advertised on posters in the store and on the radio, customers signed up to receive information regarding which star DJs would be playing on air. They could even enter a competition by text to play live on-air themselves. Using text messaging, FCUK also can keep its customers informed of news on product lines and sales as well as provide branded content direct to the cell phone.

With the advent of MMS and picture messaging, the benefits of a long-term mobile CRM strategy become even clearer.

To the majority of direct marketers, mobile remains a misunderstood and underused medium. However, there's a lot of activity boiling underneath the surface and use of text among the public at large is rocketing. With impressive results from the first generation of mobile campaigns and more interactive and graphical mobile applications around the corner, the next year will see many direct marketers opening up to this highly effective medium.

After all, what better way is there to communicate with your customers than by putting information targeted to their needs in the palm of their hand?

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