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Direct Marketing using SMS to cellphones

by Grant Shippey

As more companies cut costs, attention has been refocused on marketing return on investment (ROI) and more tangible ways to stretch limited budgets. And because of these budgetary short cuts, marketers seem to be considering fewer plan options, and they spend little if any time on developing new and creative media ideas.

But marketers should not give up. According to research by Jaywing, a communication management agency, marketing budgets will be shifted away from costly traditional media and into direct marketing campaigns harnessing new media such as email, SMS, and digital television this year.

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This is mainly because new media has proven itself capable of delivering double-digit response rates consistently, and at a very competitive cost – not an unattractive proposition. SMS, especially, has gone beyond the stage of quirky little campaigns to become a really valuable part of the marketing mix.

SMS was first launched as a commercial service in Europe in the early 1990s. As the popularity of mobile phones spread, especially among teenagers, SMS changed from a little-used niche service to a mass-market moneymaker.

Therefore, in a media-saturated marketplace, companies who need to get their message across should turn to SMS marketing to give them an edge. After all, SMS is cheap, personalised, time-sensitive and effective.

Mobile phones are also nearly always with their users, allowing them to immediately respond to what they see on television, billboards or in-store campaigns. In addition, SMS has a viral component in that participants in promotions could forward relevant messages to their friends.

One thing to consider, however, is that with SMS, a mobile phone screen is all the display you’ve got to capture someone’s attention. On the other hand, every message is delivered in an extremely personal way – into a person’s pocket or purse.

So if, as a marketer, you’re looking to build a trusting relationship with your customers, and you want them to think of your brand as their friend, something upon which they can rely, then what better way to do that than to communicate with them on their most intimate and personal communications device?

But be careful, because it is such a personal form of communication, it could spark strong feelings if abused. Recipients of intrusive, untargeted and irrelevant marketing communications won’t hold back in lashing out at those who invade this very private space.

As with any other marketing medium, there are rules that need to be adhered to in the use of SMS as a marketing tool. And responsible SMS marketing must involve a two-way relationship between marketer and customer, ensuring that recipients have opted-in to receive messages – and by allowing them to opt-out at any time.

Getting users to opt-in may not seem like a big challenge at first because typically, people will register in response to television, billboard, outdoor or in-store campaigns. Initially, you may even find that people sign up just because they are curious. When that blows over, it’s time to get creative, and offer them something more… the promise of fun, interactivity, content, or – even better – prizes.

Now what makes SMS any different from e-mail? Not a lot. SMS is more interactive than e-mail marketing, but the two mediums share positive characteristics such as real-time response tracking and the ability to segment lists.

The key difference is that SMS invites two-way communications. With SMS, you know whether the sender is on or off, and you can send one-to-one time-sensitive messages announcing a unique opportunity or a special deal. And the more you are able to keep that interaction going with the user, the higher the response rate you are likely to get.

Ultimately, SMS is a double-edged sword. If you misuse it, it can ruin your brand. Alternatively, SMS has the potential to greatly improve and deepen your relationship with your customers, and could be extremely effective in creating customer loyalty if used correctly.

So, aside from the fact that consumers are demonstrating a preference for communicating via SMS, the issue for marketers is the building and controlling of brands through an SMS campaign, and possibly changing the standard communications model from unsolicited junk to solicited exchanges.

Just think about it. There are a lot of mobile phones out there…what would you do with an SMS marketing campaign?

  • Grant Shippey is CEO of Amorphous, a digital communications group focused on the provision of new media services, design, production, marketing and consulting services. He can be contacted on +27-11-3806500.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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