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Pittsburgh Penguins SMS is billionth text message for Vibes Media

When mobile marketing veteran Vibes Media recently deployed a mobile campaign for ice hockey team Pittsburgh Penguins, it hit a milestone: 1 billion SMS messages sent on behalf of clients.

The billionth SMS message was part of the Penguins? mobile effort around the 2013 NCAA Men?s Division 1 Ice Hockey Frozen Four Championship. In the 12 years since its founding, Chicago-based Vibes Media has deployed SMS campaigns for more than 300 clients including Best Buy, Fox Broadcasting Co., Subway and Bon Jovi.

?You use text because it?s a great simple way to get a message out quickly to someone and get their reaction to what you?re saying,? said Vibes Media president and cofounder Jack Philbin. ?If you?re a brand, it?s no different. You just have to remember that?s what you?re doing.? 

In this Q&A with Mobile Marketer, Mr. Philbin outlines his company?s philosophy around mobile, why SMS works and the channel?s potential for retail and CRM. Please read on.

One billion text messages served ? that sounds like something you?d hear from McDonald?s. What?s this milestone mean for you as a founder of Vibes?
As a founder, it really makes me proud. 

We?ve been doing this for a long time and we?ve learned a ton about the space. 

I remember when mobile marketing was really young, and we were just out there trying to figure out what worked. 

I think the fact that we?ve reached this milestone is proof that we found at least some things that not only work, but work really well. 

This milestone was accomplished over the 12-year history of the company, right?
Well, sort of. 

We started the company 12 years ago, but we launched our messaging platform in 2002. Before 2002 mobile marketing didn?t really exist. 

Our philosophy has always been to focus on what creates value rather than what the current flashy widget is today. We like to think of ourselves as the oldest new guys on the block. 

Where would such quantity of mobile marketing SMS messages place Vibes among other players in the space?
It?s important to make a distinction about our message volume. We don?t aggregate for other mobile companies. 

This volume is entirely from programs that Vibes runs for clients using our platform.

Messaging is an awesome way to interact with people. It doesn?t get a lot of the hype that display gets, but that?s fine with us. We like it because it works. 

According to Nielsen?s first-quarter Mobile Media Audience Measurement data, we are second only to Facebook in terms of the quantity of people interacting with our platform. Google is No. 3, just behind us. 

We enable hundreds of marketers and publishers to interact with their customers and audiences. 

The frequency is likely less than that of a teenager updating their status or messaging their friends, but our billion-message milestone is tremendous given that it?s comprised of marketing campaigns alone. 

Vibes owns and manages the most short codes in the industry and we process more mobile marketing messages than anyone ? with the important distinction between mobile marketing and mobile advertising.

On an industry level, is this billion SMS messages milestone a result of the channel?s growing effectiveness?
Absolutely.

We are seeing exponential growth in our volume with roughly 25 percent of the billion being generated so far this year. 

Retail is one segment that has recently emerged out of the sandbox phase. It is a space where mobile engagement and incentives are becoming very powerful. 

Brands are experimenting with loyalty and mobile CRM, and mobile databases are being further segmented and targeted to increase the depth of conversations and interactions.

All of this has lead to phenomenal growth for us. 

What do SMS messages work best to accomplish?
Having a one-on-one dialogue with a customer is the Holy Grail of marketing.

Don?t get me wrong. We?re marketing people, so we know why SMS doesn?t get the hype ? it?s not a flashy app or high quality multimedia, but it works. 

Messaging is the core of one-to-one interaction with a customer. You have to be short and direct while at the same time adding value to a customer?s life ? all in less than 150 characters. 

The brands that you work with ? what?s their primary use of SMS?
SMS is fantastic for loyalty and customer relationship management.

It?s OK for branding, but you wouldn?t just start a conversation with a complete stranger by sending them a text message. 

You send text messages to your friends, and expect your friends to send you text messages. We encourage our clients to think this way.  

Think about it ? you send friends text messages to maintain your relationship with them.

You use text because it?s a great simple way to get a message out quickly to someone and get their reaction to what you?re saying. If you?re a brand, it?s no different. You just have to remember that?s what you?re doing. 

Any interesting campaigns that you ran this year?
One of the coolest campaigns we?ve done was for the 2010 BET Awards Show. It was a record-setting telecast for many reasons and Vibes was an integral part of its success. 

The No. 1 cable awards show among adults 18-49 for the fifth consecutive year drew 7.4 million total viewers, making it BET?s No. 2 telecast of all time.

Vibes provided direction and execution for three mobile campaigns during the awards show season where over 3.8 million SMS messages were trafficked through our system in an efficient and timely manner.

Another exciting area is retail.

We have a retail client that had a conversion rate of over 10 percent. And this wasn?t a small campaign to 30 people. It involved millions of people. To get 10 percent of millions of people is a pretty big accomplishment.

What?s really exciting for us is that we saw this in the retail segment. We?ve seen this before in other segments, but we see retail really fitting in well with mobile, so it?s exciting to see we were correct in some of our earlier ideas.

A good conversion rate for email is just under 2 percent, according to the Direct Marketing Association.

What?s your goal for this year?
Our goal has always been, and will always be, to create value for our clients.

Our core purpose in life is to help our clients in ways they can?t imagine. 

While that sounds pretty straightforward, sometimes it?s hard in mobile because we constantly have to deal with the hype of what?s coming next year rather than what?s working today.

Final Take
Mickey Alam Khan, editor in chief of Mobile Marketer, New York.