Home Cyberpsychology & Technology Why the Mobile Industry Needs to Simplify Business Text Messaging If We Are to See It Reach Its Growth Potential

Why the Mobile Industry Needs to Simplify Business Text Messaging If We Are to See It Reach Its Growth Potential

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To frame this article, I first need to get one thing straight – my personal definition of text messaging. Talking to people in different countries and text messaging can mean different things.

For starters, some people equate text messaging with SMS. For others – and I fall into this camp – text messaging is a wider catch-all for SMS and chat apps such as WhatsApp, Viber etc. So, for the purposes of this article, I will be sticking with the wider definition.

SMS might have been around for 30 years, but it took a long time before it found regular use in getting the content of organisations of all types, shapes and sizes out to their clients, members, prospects, team members etc. Here in the UK, it’s commonplace for people to receive SMS from businesses, the content fulfilling any number of use cases.

It’s versatile, ubiquitous and something that people are comfortable with today. Very comfortable. And it drives urgency. Just think of how long it takes for somebody to receive an SMS and pick up their phone in response to the flash or beep. Not long at all.

I’ve spoken with many research companies in the sector, and many agree that when consumers are asked how many A2P (Application-to-Person) SMS they receive from organisations each month, the figures the people quote are lower than the real number of messages they receive. This is down to so many not regarding messages from organisations such as dentists and hospitals as being business-to-consumer (B2C) type messages when they are.

Businesses are getting into the world of chat apps now too

WhatsApp launched in 2009, and it wasn’t until 2017 that they came up with a WhatsApp for business applications. WhatsApp is a powerful channel with over two billion monthly active users globally. Still, it is important to state that there are many globally (think Telegram, WeChat, Snapchat and many more), which means the market is fragmented.

The only text messaging type channel out there today, which has access to over five billion people globally, and doesn’t require the message recipient to have access to the internet or own a smartphone, is SMS. Sure, SMS isn’t rich and lacks the cool factor, but it gets many jobs done without fanfare and shouting about it from the rooftops.

See me coming, and many people view me as a living SMS. Having been to numerous industry events over the years, I found myself on the receiving end of so many people saying SMS is dying on its feet. Remember when MMS came along? Picture messaging. That was meant to kick sand in SMS’ “face” and bury it, but that never happened. Then RCS (Rich Communication Suite – now Services) appeared, and the same thing was said about SMS.

That it was toast and about to be consigned to history. Years later, RCS has only just breached the one billion accessible users level. Don’t mention the number of RCS monthly active users.

You get the picture. SMS is powerful and here to stay. And I love it.

With so many messaging channels available to organisations today, it doesn’t take long for confusion to set in. It never takes long for industry experts to say that one channel is better than another for this, but not that etc.

With conflicting messages and without the assistance of somebody from the business messaging space to guide them, it can all devolve so quickly that little wonder so many will ignore all the hype and noise and continue doing what they always have. Using email. Spending a truckload of cash on digital ads. Now that’s an area that amazes me.

Digital advertising

Hundreds of billions of dollars a year are spent on digital ads, but if you look into the conversion rate statistics for them, let’s say they tend to be on the “sub-optimal” side in general. SMS is far more effective. And then move up to richer messaging channels such as WhatsApp and RCS (or, more accurately, RCS Business Messaging, RBM) and the effectiveness increases.

So how come digital ads, in all their flavours combined, are doing a far better job than business text messaging in attracting (in particular) marketing spend? The answer is simple – simplicity.

No matter how small, any company can sign up very fast and, oh so, easily send digital ads. The leading providers are quite literally household names, but the same can most definitely not be said of the top business messaging companies. The likes of Twilio, Infobip, Sinch.

All from the mobile messaging world will know those names but ask anybody on the streets of the US, Croatia or Sweden (the countries where the three aforementioned companies hail). Nobody will have heard of them unless they are from the cities or – in Infobip’s case – the town they were founded. Those three carry billions of messages – such as those through mobile push notifications – each month for enterprises worldwide, yet the average person does not recognise them. So, knowing who actually to go to is an issue.

Where to go?

Logic would dictate that the providers of mobile services (think mobile handsets, internet connectivity etc.) to billions of people and enterprises globally would be the first port of call for any business looking to communicate more effectively with their own clients. But try to do that. Pick a mobile operator. Practically any.

Go to their website and search for business messaging solutions. You won’t find many offering a clear path to sign up and easily take advantage of the powers of business text messaging. Even fewer have anything to offer smaller organisations, only interested in doing business directly with larger entities. So why is that?

On the face of it, the answer is simple: mobile network operators worldwide are primarily there to offer great service to their subscribers. To ensure you and I can make and receive mobile calls, send and receive SMS text messages to friends, colleagues and loved ones, receive mobile internet service and roam with partner operators abroad when on holiday or business. They are not set up with an army of specialist salespeople well versed in dealing with marketing experts of enterprises.

It’s not uncommon for enterprise messaging sales teams of even large operators with millions of subscribers to number way less than a dozen. It’s not their area of expertise or focus, but operators have something most companies can only dream of – stellar brand presence and recognition. But look at their revenues.

Partnerships

The largest mobile network groups are doing well if 2% of their revenue comes from business text messaging in all its forms. While it’s generally a very high margin for operators, there isn’t the focus to ramp up this area themselves, but they could and should be doing far more to grow this.

Ask practically anybody to name a mobile phone operator in their home country. Even though I am not a betting man, I would bet money on 99% of the population living in cities between the ages of 10 and 80, being able to name at least one. The most powerful brand in Africa is MTN. Now even their brand name is exemplified – Mobile Telephone Network, MTN. They do exactly what the name says on the tin. So, brand strength is there in spades. The solution, in my mind, has to be partnerships.

Companies like Twilio, Infobip and Sinch have spent years developing and refining messaging technology and the knowledge of interacting with all types of enterprise stakeholders. The dedicated business text messaging companies (often alternatively called aggregators or CPaaS providers) have built up huge libraries of data about how best to communicate in the most effective manner at any given time with practically any person on the planet – well, certainly anybody with a mobile phone.

That is an experience that cannot be gained overnight. No matter if you are an MTN, Vodafone, Orange, or China Mobile of this world. Therefore, the key to unlocking the full potential of business messaging must surely be partnerships.

Suppose I could wave my magic business text messaging wand. In that case, I’d ensure that every mobile network operator on planet Earth had an amazing partnership with a company expert in business messaging. No need to reinvent the wheel or waste any time.

White label is a great omnichannel solution from a business messaging player, leveraging their sales expertise. That experience they’ve gained in front of people from every industrial sector is the key to unlocking real value. And make sure that any business of any size can easily find information on the solutions operators offer – whether somebody goes to the website, hits them up on social media or sees them elsewhere.


James Williams is the director of programmes at Mobile Ecosystem Forum.

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