What’s next in SMS messaging—and why brands should care

By Tim Fujita-Yuhas, OpenMarket for Bulldog Reporter

Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen the traditional text message evolve from being a simple way of communicating with friends and family into a preferred method for consumers to interact with brands. Today, with Google’s recent news announcing it will be bringing RCS messaging to Android users worldwide, we’ve entered the next phase of mobile messaging that will enhance and modernize the handheld tech.

Described by Google as an “upgrade” to SMS text messaging through “bringing more enhanced features to the standard messaging experience,” brands are interested in learning more about what this Rich Communications Service will mean for their marketing strategy. Will it fall victim to a passing fad (think of the mobile app which has an already deteriorating user base) or is RCS messaging something that will bring widespread permanent attention?

We chatted with OpenMarket’s Tim Fujita-Yuhas to get a sneak peek into what RCS means for marketers and communicators.

What is RCS and how can marketers and communicators benefit from it?

Fujita-Yuhas: RCS, or Rich Communication Services, is essentially an upgrade to the traditional text messaging experience. Picture text messaging, but with enhanced capabilities such as group chats, high resolution photo sharing, video chats, read receipts, and typing indicators. An RCS message gives the standard text message a face-lift—its capabilities are similar to those when using a mobile app, but it’s delivered in a far simpler way as opposed to downloading or toggling back and forth between mobile webpages. Marketers will be able to send QR codes (think coupons) in the RCS message as well as high resolution pictures of merchandise or communicate their information using data visualization. An RCS picture can really replace a simple text to capture the attention of consumers.

Connected brands have already been embracing traditional SMS text messaging as a marketing channel to communicate with their customers, based largely by consumer demand. In fact, 80 percent of millennial consumers prefer to receive a text from a business before any other communication touch point like an email or a phone call. By making customers’ lives easier and delivering important information at exactly the time they need it, marketers can both boost brand loyalty and bring in revenue.

How soon can we expect to see RCS embraced by brands and marketers?

Fujita-Yuhas: Ultimately, the goal is to have every mobile device and every carrier fully compatible with RCS. Recent international partnerships with carriers from around the world indicate RCS messaging is well on its way to widespread implementation, and if the current interest rate is any indicator, we can expect to see brands experimenting with RCS messaging regularly by the end of the year.

Are there any current RCS use cases?

Fujita-Yuhas: A prime customer use case is the implementation of RCS technology in the hospitality industry. Upon arriving at a hotel, for example, guests can receive an RCS-powered text that provides not only a welcome message, but also a full check-in experience–think visual pictures or amenities such as the pool and workout room, as well as pictures of food available via room service or the hotel’s restaurant. Additionally there can be RCS messages for visual weather updates, coupons for nearby restaurants, and maps to tourist destinations. RCS takes the traditional text message to the next level by staying accessible and timely to the customer throughout their entire journey experience.

Is RCS the end of text messaging?

Fujita-Yuhas: Despite its “old” age of 20+ years, SMS has maintained its position as the most convenient, simple, and real-time form of communication in the digital age. In fact, it hasn’t just held its ground; it has gained momentum—as the majority of millennials prefer to communicate with businesses through it over email, voice calls, and social messaging platforms. Since SMS is essentially the foundation of RCS, I like to consider RCS as the next evolution of mobile messaging, rather than the end of an era. Whether it’s receiving a package delivery notification, an appointment reminder, or an emergency alert, 77 percent of consumers report they currently enjoy communicating with businesses via SMS. RCS embraces these customer preferences for more visual information and introduces interactive and intuitive app-like capabilities.

What we are beginning is the end of the highly touted app era. With its decline in user base, RCS’s ability to offer app-like features without the need to download or create an account is just another nail in the app coffin. More than anything, RCS is the next frontier of mobile engagement, as it builds off SMS’s technology to deliver users an enhanced messaging experience. While SMS may have been due for an upgrade, RCS brings a dose of new and improved experiences to compete in the ever-changing mobile mindshare of consumers.

What are your best recommendations and tips for implementing such an initiative?

Fujita-Yuhas: While RCS is still in its infancy, we’re already seeing companies in Google’s Early Access Program spearheading the next frontier and they will be testing RCS’ capabilities firsthand. Early adopters such as FICO and Philips Healthcare are considering how best to use it in ways that vastly improve their customer experience rating. FICO, for example, is thinking about how to leverage RCS messaging within its financial security and fraud detection program. If a FICO customer’s account has been compromised, the customer receives a standard text message informing them of the purchase, but RCS messaging could deliver an image of the exact account used, the amount spent, and the date that the payment occurred. Philips Healthcare is another early user of RCS messaging and wants to provide healthcare technicians with visual e-alerts when advanced equipment needs servicing.

The time is now—brands need to start considering the most effective ways to implement RCS in their mobile marketing plans.

Tim Fujita-Yuhas

Tim Fujita-Yuhas currently serves as Director of Product Management and New Product Strategy for OpenMarket’s Mobile Engagement Platform, specializing in enterprise mobile engagement services. He is responsible for product strategy and business planning for the company’s mobile messaging solutions. Tim blogs regularly on mobile engagement topics. Prior to joining OpenMarket, Tim held a variety of Product Management positions focused on voice, video and mobile communications, and SaaS technologies, including positions at Varolii and Cisco’s Unified Communications Business Unit.