Mobile Marketer has re-launched! Click here to learn more!

SMS marketing: How to stop the end user from switching off

By Jo Wall

When it comes to mobile marketing, here is a word of caution: It is about using the medium intelligently and not bombarding consumers with so much untargeted SMS advertising that they become desensitized.

This approach will adversely affect both brands and wireless carriers. For brands, de-sensitized consumers will show a lack of interest in any mobile advertising ? they have switched off. For carriers the consequence is a flood of complaints about mobile spam resulting in subscribers switching to another provider. 

The key to avoiding SMS advertising morphing into a new email spam phenomenon is targeting and opt-in methods. After all, there is no doubt that there are many positives to SMS marketing which should not be overlooked. 

Using SMS for advertising provides companies with message personalization, relevancy and immediacy for their marketing campaigns. 

Additionally, with SMS being the most penetrated mobile data channel it epitomizes the reach that advertisers are seeking.  

According to Internet World Statistics, by using mobile the potential online reach to consumers increases from 1.6 billion global Internet users to more than 4.1 billion mobile consumers.  

More importantly, the dynamics of advertising is changing as mobile enables brand-to-consumer advertising based on a direct relationship with the consumer instead of merely a contextual or broadcast one.

Combine all this with the multipurpose nature of SMS and marketers have a rich medium for advertising campaigns. 

Text is legible
SMS advertising can take the form of simple push campaigns where the campaign message is the sole content of the text, to delivering an ad insert where the advertisement is included in an existing SMS message such as a carrier notification ? missed call alert, welcome message or a VAS content message including weather or sports alerts. 

SMS can also drive calls to action, click rates and consumers to respond to surveys as well as jump or visit mobile Web sites.

Not only can SMS be used as the bearer of ? or bridge to ? the marketing message, but also as an ideal channel to solicit feedback from end users by way of a conversation or dialogue.

It is this two-way dialogue which makes it possible for companies to gather important targeting information such as demographics and preferences as well as interests from willing consumers.

Dialogue is particularly important in countries, especially in North America, where regulation prevents the use of network orientated data for marketing purposes. 

The popularity of SMS is clear.

In a recent Forrester survey the results indicated that 74 percent of marketers preferred to use SMS messaging as a marketing tool, while 44 percent of consumers surveyed said they would rather receive product information and other marketing messages through SMS campaigns than via any other channel.

A positive example of an SMS-based campaign is Johnson & Johnson?s BabyCenter in Latin America.

The company targeted young and expectant Latino mothers, as PC Internet penetration is so poor within this demographic. They were invited to text their due dates to a short code to join the community and receive advice and product offers relevant to the stage of the pregnancy. 

After twelve months the community had attracted several thousand members and was achieving retention rates of more than 90 percent on a monthly repeat opt-in. This was because the end recipients were receiving something that was of interest, relevant and targeted to them and their lifestyle. 

As a result, BabyCenter rolled out an English version in the United States and now provides the same community-led service, including Booty Caller, a mobile ovulation alert service. The key to the success of the campaign was relevance, which underpins all effective examples of mobile marketing.

Another effective example is where Paramount Pictures developed an interactive SMS campaign that counted down to the opening of the new ?Transformers II: Revenge of the Fallen? movie. 

The goal of the campaign was to increase brand metrics and make the movie release a massive event.  

In the week before, new creative was served every day, counting down the days until the movie release.

Nearly 1 million conversational text ads targeted to entertainment fans were served during the six-day campaign.

The campaign goal was achieved: Unaided brand awareness for the movie increased by an unprecedented 27 percent in the week leading up to its launch. 

Bulk fail
With instances such as this, why the cautionary note at the beginning? Not all SMS campaigns are as relevant or targeted. And as the use of mobile advertising accelerates so too does the potential for misuse. 
Unfortunately, unscrupulous marketers exist around the world and can promote negative undertones towards SMS advertising.

In 2006, for example, such marketers exploited Pakistani carrier Warid?s unlimited SMS offer. The end result was bulk SMS ad messages flooding Warid?s network with about 2 million SMS ads per day ? causing congestion on the network and upsetting subscribers. 

An Indonesian carrier recently explained that its subscribers were receiving as many as 10 SMS marketing and advertising messages per day.

Unsurprisingly the carrier?s subscribers have become de-sensitized to this form of marketing, with the majority of SMS messages being deleted. The average response rate was merely 1 percent. 

It is this type of misuse which has led to a number of self regulation guidelines to be produced by organizations such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau, European Advertising Standards Alliance, Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) ? all of whom endeavor to provide a code of conduct for mobile marketing companies to adhere to. 

In other cases, government bodies are now becoming more active by introducing regulation or, in some cases, are considering whether to stop SMS advertising altogether. 

In September 2009, Peru?s National Institute for Defense of Competition and Protection of Intellectual Property (Indecopi) introduced fines for any company making unsolicited telemarketing calls ? or sending promotional SMS or emails ? to users who do not wish to receive them.

Indecopi has now introduced a free nationwide service to allow Peruvians to register that they do not want to receive such messages. This type of service also exists in many other countries.

Although it is understandable why such a service exists today, we have seen how SMS marketing can have a positive impact so it would also be encouraging to see greater adherence to the best-practice guidelines by marketers ? alleviating the need for consumers to feel that black listing is their only option. 

So it is clear that targeting and opt-in are critical to prevent end users switching off. 

Targeting ensures that the SMS message is relevant to the person receiving it. In today?s semi-targeted world this typically takes the form of contextual advertising. 

Contextual advertisements involve the placement of an ad based on the content or theme of a particular Web page being browsed, or in the case of SMS in relation to the type of VAS message being received, e.g. a sports update. 

It is true that the advertisement will be relevant for the theme but is it really relevant for the person receiving the message? To achieve this, more targeted information is needed. 

This additional targeting information can be obtained, where regulation allows it, by working closely with a carrier to benefit from its network-based customer intelligence.  

However, it goes without saying that the carrier must protect its subscribers? privacy. It is essential that the mobile advertising platform which is being used to hold the inventory about the carrier?s end users only exposes the attributes and not the individual details. 

Opt for opt-in
Another route is to obtain targeting information via a dialogue with consumers or capturing their preferences as part of the opt-in process. Here, consumers are willingly sharing data.

According to Forrester Research, consumers can be broadly ambivalent about targeted advertising, but perceiving value and more importantly having the choice to opt-in can significantly increase their comfort level. 

Opt-in is a process where consumers agree to receive mobile marketing and advertising.

The MMA code of conduct states that ?consumers must opt-in to all mobile messaging programs ?? 

Particularly when it comes to sending push SMS campaigns, opt-in is essential as there is a fine line here between the messages being perceived as spam. It is the responsibility of the carrier and brand to ensure that they secure the opt-in permission of all their consumers prior to sending mobile advertising. 

Although opt-in is an essential pre-requisite for mobile advertising, it can be interpreted in a broad manner. If I have sent an answer to a brand?s mobile SMS competition, have I in fact opted-in to receive advertisements as well? Has the consumer inadvertently opted-in for more than they realized?

Clarity of the opt-in is critical for building trust with the end user.

Ideally the opt-in should cover not only whether you are willing to accept advertising, for instance, but over what channel, at what times of the day and the frequency and volume of the messages you are happy to receive and provide an easy mechanism to opt-out if wanted.

The opt-in scheme, when done well with ad exposure management, provides individuals with more possibility to control their mobile advertising experience.  

For mobile advertising to continue to reach its potential, before regulation suppresses it, building trust with consumers is paramount. This encompasses respecting their privacy and providing targeted relevant SMS campaigns which add value to the end user instead of being viewed as an irritant. 

Spamming people?s mobile phones ? their most personal of devices ? is unacceptable.

Jo Wall is proposition manager of mobile advertising at Acision, Nieuwegein, The Netherlands. Reach her at .