Oisin Lunny has been in the world of mobile since the late 90s, or as he says, “the Napster days”. Oisin is part of the Market Development team at OpenMarket, providing mobile engagement solutions for global Fortune 2000 companies.
We recently caught up with Oisin to talk about what he’s learned after working in mobile for over 20 years. Read part 1 of the interview here. In this, part 2, we chat about the future of SMS in mobile marketing…
The sophistication of SMS
“SMS has been around for about 22-23 years” says Oisin. “Like many technology innovations, it wasn’t designed for the purpose that it ended up being adopted for, but once consumers found they could send short text messages to each other globally, it was a communications revolution. There are over 6 billion SMS capable handsets on the planet today, so in terms of sheer quantity, it’s the most commonly used method of written communication in history. There’s never been a time before that 6 billion people have had access to the same written communications channel globally. It’s incredible.
“In the early days of mobile content, SMS was seen as more of a transactional channel where you could sell things like music clips and ringtones for mobile devices, so it was very much tied in with mobile payments….
“The payments industry has evolved to such a tremendous level that, although mobile payments are still very important, the real form factor that the world has embraced emphatically with mobile devices is text messaging. Where messaging would have in the past been seen as a broadcast marketing channel or a content selling channel, now consumers are so sophisticated and so in tune with using a mobile device in everyday situations, that SMS has evolved into this global hotline for 6 billion people, with an unprecedented open rate of 98 percent.”
The art of not being ignored
One of the most important aspects of SMS for marketers is just how unlikely it is to be ignored by consumers says Oisin.
“If you, as an enterprise, want to communicate with say one hundred people, you can send an email and you will consider yourself hugely lucky if less than 80 people ignore it completely. With a text message, because of the personal nature of the devices, you’ve got an open rate of close to 100 percent… Consumers don’t need to install an app to receive and respond to text messages, they don’t need to scan a QR code, they don’t need a data connection, or even a smartphone. SMS works instantly on every handset on the planet.”
Where mobile messaging has grown in popularity, Oisin points out that, “person to person (P2P) messaging traffic is moving to Over The Top (OTT) apps like, WhatsApp, Wire and Riot Chat. I totally get that because they’re fun and you can do cool things with photos, video chat, stickers and you have other useful features like end to end encryption. Because a lot of the P2P messaging is moving away from SMS, it’s becoming less crowded as a comms channel, which is fantastic news for enterprises.”
Spam and regulation
Oisin points out that because SMS isn’t free, it’s relatively light on junk traffic “compared to other channels and it is regulated unlike email. So if somebody sends you a message that they shouldn’t have, they can get fined. The fines are large and can be a significant deterrent.”
“You need to have opted in to receive a text message” says Oisin. “This is something that not many people realise.” To opt in for SMS marketing messages, users have to consent in some way by registering their mobile number when they create an account, or texting a number to make a donation, or interact with a booking for example.
“These can be forms of opt in which means the company has the legal ability to contact you afterwards” Oisin explains. “Not to spam you but to send you useful messages and send you updates that are going to be of interest to you as a consumer. In a retail scenario, text messaging can be fantastic for informing people of sales or new store openings. A text message above all has to be relevant and it has to be delivered at the right time. It can’t arrive at 5am or you’re not going to like that brand very much. It’s got to be informative and it’s got to be wanted. It’s got to have some useful information and give you value.”
“It wouldn’t make sense so much for Topshop for example to send you a hundred pictures of new outfits by MMS, or a large press release by SMS, but it would make perfect sense if they’re adding a flash sale on the website, if they wanted to send you a voucher, or there was a celebrity opening a store near you or any of those kind of timely things, those are VIP nuggets of information.
“Working with the right partner is incredibly important to navigate the many nuances of running an effective SMS communication strategy.”
The beauty of SMS, says Oisin, is that it is a two-way conversation rather than a one-way broadcast.
“SMS is a two-way engagement channel”, says Oisin, “particularly with the introduction of things like Chatbots and artificial intelligence, this facilitates one-to-one engagement at scale. Enterprises are steadily embracing SMS, and increasingly realising what an effective channel it is.”
Oisin discusses one client who he describes as a major European broadcaster: “We supplied them with the platform for engineer deliveries. Every time one of their engineers would turn up at somebody’s house, and the customer was not at home to meet them, it would cost the company $200. Due to the large number of customers and engineer visits, this issue cost them a fortune. People just forgot the engineer was coming because they got an email confirmation somewhere, or they got a phone call which they ignored. These communication channels weren’t important enough to the consumer to deliver this urgent message. When they adopted SMS, the numbers of missed appointments pretty much vanished, and so they started saving many millions of pounds every month.”
Another interesting use case Oisin describes, from the same company, was two-factor authentication (2FA) required to sign in to the company Wi-Fi for visitors. “Guests to the company premises would sign in at reception, where there was a kiosk with an iPad as a screen. To access the Wi-Fi visitors just needed to put in their mobile number, and would then be texted a six digit guest assess password to login. This authenticates any guests to make sure that Wi-Fi access is for registered visitors only. I was delighted to use this when I visited the company in question, particularly as they built their 2FA solution from scratch using the OpenMarket Mobile Engagement Platform (MEP).”
Chatbots and AI
Oisin believes the next wave of SMS is already happening in “the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and chatbots which can hugely extend the user journey using mobile messaging. One of our clients, a travel company in APAC, are using AI to provide a virtual concierge on guests’ mobile devices. Instead of ringing up the staff at the reception desk of a hotel, the hotel guest can send a text message asking ‘can you get me some water’ for example. The AI analyses the text message, which can come from any handset in the world, and a chatbot can have a conversation with them via SMS to confirm.”
This has been so popular that the same company are now using the system for staff queries. “Members of staff can text in if they want to find out when the next shift is, find out how many holiday days they have left and when the next payroll is going to run. SMS use cases are getting more and more sophisticated with the introduction of artificial intelligence.”
SMS: The sleeping giant?
While technology is ever evolving, Oisin believes SMS is evolving as the unsung hero of mobile marketing.
“SMS is a sleeping giant in a way” he says. “I mean, it’s never gone away, but now it’s usefulness is really coming into its own. With OTT chat apps and mobile device adoption globally, and crucially because of new developments like AI and chatbots, SMS is becoming this singular global communication channel that nothing else can really touch.
“The way that people can interact with it is getting more and more exciting. SMS has been around for so long that we do take it for granted, but it is uniquely ubiquitous and reliable. As a consumer, if you do opt in and start a relationship with a brand via SMS, it’s going to be highly valuable. Smart brands will be sending you communications that are important to you. This is technology that vastly improve the qualities of people’s lives, and streamlines how we juggle our many interactions in this data-rich, time-poor, mobile-first world.”