Marketing By Using Text

The “youngistan” spends hours on mobile phones and handheld devices today. Smart phones are used for watching movies, sending clips and pictures on a real time basis, playing games and enjoying live sports. In addition, typing out messages is something we all do irrespective of whether we are young or old as it is mostly non intrusive. The range of subjects youngsters type out in text form is so wide that I will need pages after pages to just list them: politics and jokes to love bytes.

Current generation is born tech savvy and has been ardently using short messaging services (SMS) or text message services of mobile telephony.

This 24/7 use of cell phones should prompt marketers of all types to innovatively use text messages as a quick and cheap way of reaching prospects. Cell phone subscribers send about 70 trillion text messages globally, according to industry sources. Person-to-person ‘texting’ still accounts for most traffic, particularly among youth, but marketing applications are becoming more common.

Text messaging, if used rightly, can be an excellent means of communicating brand values. It is such a personal and direct medium. And, the strength of an individual’s relationship with his or her mobile phone is unique. Nevertheless, this form of marketing is not without its serious problems. A big obstacle in creating a successful text message campaign usually is the telecom service provider. Unless they are willing to opt-in to a promotion, it won’t work, because they are hesitant to give away phone numbers. And with all the data privacy issues looming at large, it will be increasingly difficult to do a successful campaign in the days to come. Unfortunately, carriers are not adept at putting together this as a revenue generator. They haven’t done their homework profiling individuals, so promotions often come off as spam. This has caused a lot of backlash in many countries across the world including India.

Most telecom companies haven’t figured out how to use this new form effectively since it appears they are treating text messaging as mass medium rather than a personalised medium. These companies are happy to sell the premium texting services for obvious reasons. Many channel running reality shows make good revenue by doing cellphone-based voting, etc.

The costs vary depending on whether marketers send messages to consumers, or consumers to companies, or both. The cost to the client is less than 20 paise today per customer, depending on numerous variables, such as whether an agency was involved for strategy and creative; carrier and  third-party data costs; and the overall complexity of the campaign. So far, the two most successful forms of text marketing involve digital coupons and time-or event-based messages, which usually involve other forms of media and an intuitive process on the part of consumers, who opt-in voluntarily.

Coca Cola started off a successful text marketing way back in 2001 when they partnered with a leading mobile phone brand then to create a messaging contest in China. Mobile phone users were invited to guess the next day’s temperature in Beijing; a correct guess could win a Siemens phone or a one-year supply of Coke. Contestants who didn’t win were invited to download Coke’s jingle as a free ring tone. The result: 4 million messages were exchanged during the 40-day promotion; nearly 50,000 people downloaded the Coke jingle.

Several ad agencies have set up interactive divisions to handle messaging campaigns. This is especially true for India where texting is particularly hot.

We all know that mobile phone penetration has outstripped that of fixed-line phones and PCs here in India. As I was mentioning at a forum recently, we have more mobile phones than toothbrushes.

This part of the world is, in many ways, the great mobile part. It is a trendsetter, and the interest of advertisers in messaging or text marketing is very high. Asia Pacific Breweries did a text teaser campaign to promote Anchor Beer’s new packaging and flavour. They invited potential customers through texting to ‘have a beer on us’. About 24 per cent of recipients accepted the offer and were sent a secret serial number redeemable for a free beer at select clubs. In another Asian country, where they wanted to boost the usage of text messaging in general, one of the leading ad agencies developed a campaign titled ‘King for a Week’ for a telecom’s brand. Each week, the person who sends the most number of text messages is treated like a king, his wishes fulfilled, filmed and aired on cable TV. The contest boosted the texting services revenue by more than 25 per cent on a weekly basis.

Singapore created a buzz when people flipped open their phones to find friendly messages from God. Working for the evangelical Churches of the Love Singapore Movement, Ogilvy transmitted witticisms purportedly from God via SMS. On Friday afternoons, many Singaporeans received a message saying, ‘Thank me it’s Friday. God’.

When are we going to create some interesting innovation on this front from India? Heard of any success stories?

(The author spearheads execution and innovation for clients @CustomerLab)