SMS is good for communication

That’s easy enough, right? There has been a few articles recently focusing on SMS. That’s exciting because I’ve been working with an SMS platform for 7 years and happy to be hearing more buzz about the channel. I read an article, What SMS is good for and here is my take.

For many channels- apps, email and web- businesses need to learn the tricks and secrets of the channel. SMS is a little different. Text messaging is the most human communication channel, so if you use SMS in your personal life, you have a really good start to using SMS in your business life.

The shortest and most direct answer to the question, “How can a company use text messaging?” is. If communications will help achieve the outcome, then SMS can usually help achieve that outcome. SMS is the best channel to reach the most people period. It’s really that simple, but of course more explanation helps.

From a business communication perspective, SMS is similar to email. In fact, conceptually, they are exactly the same. A company is going to build a list of people and then communicate with those people. These communications can be marketing/broadcast type communications or more specific, targeted and transactional communications. SMS, just like email, can do both.

There are some key differences with SMS, I’d call them advantages.

SMS vs email: starting from a high level, the first advantage is that it’s 2015 and text messaging is a more ubiquitous form of communication in the world, and definitely in the U.S. More people check there text more often than they check any other channel. Certain demographics ‘never’ check their email (< 20 years old, <$30k). Basically, anyone that doesn’t have a desk job, fairly rarely uses email, but they do text. 6% of 19 year olds check their email daily, that’s about the same number that check their telegraph messages daily. That same 19 year old sends or receives 181 texts per day. This is all pew data.

SMS vs email: going down a level… Text messaging is the way that most people talk to their mom, kids, significant other or best friend. So text is most people’s most important channel. The open rate for texts is 99% (as per the ctia) and the average text is opened in 90 seconds. Compare this to your email list open rates- if your doing a great job you see a 20-25% open rate and that takes 2 days. SMS is a much more direct channel- your message is going to be seen, and it will be seen quickly.

SMS vs email: now PMA more conceptual level… Email is built for blasts, SMS is build for conversations. Transactional messages are straightforward and SMS probably works a little better than email- “your uber is arriving now”. But the real power of mobile is that it’s built to be conversational, and users will respond to messages when asked- that behavior is built in. Think about, “your uber is arriving at the house. Should we come to the front or side door?” or “your uber is arriving, do you need to put anything in the trunk? Reply yes or no”

SMS vs email: the final big difference is that SMS can be used for acquisition. Email has nothing like that. Unless someone is already filling out your form, they will be more likely to text in their email address rather than give it to you online. So if you tweet out, ‘click here to sign up’, you will get less acquisition that if you tweet ‘text signup to 12345 to signup’. This might sound counterintuitive (I promise it’s true), but it should be glaringly obvious from traditional media. Is anyone out there opening up their laptop to go to your site instead of continuing to watch the cavs beat the clippers? Worse yet is anyone writing down your website, going home and signing up for your on-site promotions? But they absolutely will text in, they’re already texting Rhee friends right now.

When you combine the user behavior with the conversation advantage, that is where the real acquisition happens. “Thanks for texting in to join NBA mobile. First reply with your name and email address.” That message is sticky, valuable and converts better than any webform ever. The average response rate is greater than 80% and depending the population being targeted, can be as high as 95%. So when we talk about mobile acquisition, it’s not just a phone number, it’s an actual profile- name address and phone.

** an important key to making all of this work is that the SMS platform needs to be good at processing those income texts and parsing data. Most platforms focus on blasting out only (that’s what email does), but completely skip the more important part- processing outgoing messages.

Back to the original question, “what is SMS good for”. The first answer is acquisition as noted above. If marketing will include an SMS call to action, next the the url, the company will generally see a 3-5x increase in response to thee dis they’re already doing.

The bigger and realer value is that as you build the list of subscribers, the people that allow you to communicate with them over SMS will take more action than the people you cannot text. Obviously, there is some selection bias (I’m not going to let you text me if I’m not really interested). Assuming demand actually exists, the people on the mobile list will convert much better because they are actually seeing the messages (99% open) and they are seeing the message quickly (90 seconds). Back to the basics- if people actually see the message, they are more likely to do what you want them to do.

The most exciting part is that when someone receives your text, they are not locked in to a platform or network. The action can be anything- not just a like or retweet. Obviously response can be an action, but so can a click or phone call. Texts can amplify the results from a web or email campaign, and SMS works tremendously well at driving real world action like reminding people to vote, quit smoking or reorder a product. We have a client that’s helps people start the process to donate bone marrow by texting.

The most important factor to make all of this work well is for the company to know what actions they want to drive, and for that to be valuable for the user. Uber knows that if the text you, you’ll get to the car a little faster (action they want) and it’s a better user experience (value for user). Besides focus from the company, the second most important thing is relevancy.  Because people are actually going to read the messages, they can’t be bullshit. Most people ignore there emails, so send as many as you want- not true for texts. That’s exactly the same as how you text in your personal life, you message friends with relevant information- not product name changes and new login processes. Just like real life… There are no tricks to SMS.

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