Going Retro with SMS

I’m just back in the office following a week abroad in Barcelona and London spent immersed in amazing cultural food and drink, and of course, all things mobile. I had high expectations given recent trips to Japan and China in the last 18 months, and was eager to experience an advanced mobile market with shorter-term applications to the US.

Added to the mix of jet lag and jam-packed schedules was pressure on my colleagues and I to host three clients we share across a couple of sister agencies. We were to participate in specific immersion activities and a series of vendor meetings designed to ensure we learned and absorbed as much as possible. The idea was we could learn from doing and use our personal experiences as springboards for ideation and feasibility testing of future marketing initiatives.

Admittedly, I was disappointed by week’s end. This isn’t to say the immersion activities fell short or the vendor and operator meetings lacked substance or failed to provide insightful information. On the contrary, the one-on-one dialogues provided more value than one could ever get from conference speaker sessions, sales presentations, or the bevy of mobile marketing programs we’d outlined for our clients (which, as it turned out, only proved too lengthy for the time we had in London).

Instead, I was disappointed because up until that point, I’d started to believe the barrage of negative press and trade articles claiming the US lags behind other emerging mobile markets. One simple statement from a vendor shook me awake: “Going retro with SMS.” These four words were all it took for me to realize it was no longer about the differences between the markets, but rather the commonalities.

To be fair, I’m not trying to sweep under the rug the fact the Eupean, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region has some big advantages over the US. Use of multimedia messaging is commonplace and cross-carrier, for example, resulting in really robust brand and carrier interactions with consumers. Carriers (or operators, as they’re commonly called across the pond) are openly willing to engage with big brands and agencies to learn and share the best executions for bringing value to subscribers, even if that means looking to off-deck solutions to do it. There are a handful of marketing programs live at any given time that take advantage of more advanced mobile technologies such as bar codes and RFID (define).

There are, however, just as many similarities between the EMEA region and the US. Both markets struggle with a lack of publicly available case studies from which to learn. Everyone wants to hold his/her individual program’s successes and failures so close to the vest it actually stifles innovation. This also leads to a lack of standards and a big knowledge gap between knowing how best to translate programs across multiple regions. Voice and SMS continue to be the biggest drivers of current interaction between device and consumer; feature sets that are often overlooked because they are deemed too simplistic. When considering these common market elements, the potential for future growth is clear.

For some, the above market observations may appear obvious and elementary. But the message here is intended for those who think mobile might have a place in their marketing mix or in the marketing mix of the clients for whom they plan or buy media. What better place to start than with a well-planned and executed SMS program? Without brand participation to bring mobile consumers the experiences and content they crave, we may never have the opportunity to leapfrog ahead and lead a market now rather than simply follow in the footsteps of those who have come before.

“Going retro” may just be best accomplished by utilizing an old school mobile feature that’s quickly becoming ubiquitous among mobile subscribers.

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