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Two Reasons Why SMS Should Be on Your Shortlist

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Nielsen Mobile estimates that 2.9 million people received Barack Obama's vice-presidential pick text message in the early morning hours of Saturday, August 23, 2008. The 26-word text message was a small communication that answered months of hugely anticipated speculation on who would be Obama's running mate.

In combination with other text-messaging (SMS—short message service) efforts by prominent marketers, it's clear that mobile is proving itself a legitimate messaging medium.

Though heralded as a success, the Obama VP text message caused some frustration for recipients. For one, the text message was sent late in the evening (some subscribers received the message at 3 AM!). Another group of opted-in subscribers did not receive the message at all.

Despite the possibly flawed execution of this campaign, the announcement of Joe Biden as Obama's running mate joined the ranks of other high-profile marketers' use of text messaging as a part of their multichannel strategy.

NBC complemented its Olympics coverage with various SMS campaigns, and American Idol, banks, retail establishments, and even some B2B marketers are employing SMS as a new way to communicate internally with employees and externally with prospects and customers.

Combined, all of these instances of text messaging as a marketing medium prove that there are, in fact, SMS programs for which subscribers will provide their cell phone numbers.

But should SMS be used for every marketing message? No, definitely not. Your company must consider whether your intended message is urgent and determine whether subscribers will appreciate receiving it in mobile form.

That said, here are two major reasons SMS should be on your shortlist:

1. Subscriber-centric communications: Ask a room of your friends whether they'd provide their cell phone number to a marketer, and the answers will vary. Some will say no; some will ask, "Why can't that be delivered via email instead?" Others might offer a wishy-washy response. But ask that same group of people whether they'd provide their cell phone number to receive infrequent text messages on specific topics or marketing offers that are extremely important to them, and the interest perks up.

The key in considering an SMS campaign is to provide potential subscribers with clear expectations and clear options.

For example, by providing the choice of receiving an SMS campaign instead of, or in addition to, an email program, marketers can get credit for being subscriber-centric. Add on frequency and content options, and your subscribers will love you for thinking of them first!

2. Early-adopter advantage: Nic Covey at Nielsen Mobile calls Obama's text message of his VP pick "one of the most important text messages [ever] sent and one of the most successful brand engagements using mobile media."

If the same Obama VP-pick text message had been sent via email alone, observers may have dismissed it as yet another "mass blast" message that would have been redundant by the time subscribers logged into their Web-based email clients (as most feature some sort of news on their homepages). Plus, the Obama VP-pick text message offered no personalization, no behavioral targeting, and no other bells or whistles available to marketers today.

But the message was sent via SMS—not email. By delivering his VP pick via text message, the Obama campaign garnered the attention of the press, the political establishment, and most importantly—the 2.9 million subscribers who provided their cell phone number receive it.

With SMS, a marketing message arrives in the most personal of communication methods—via mobile phone.

Marketers will get the most credit when creating an SMS program that delivers only urgent messages, or those communications that must be delivered to subscribers no matter where they are. As pioneers in the text-message realm, marketers have the opportunity to explore, make "rookie mistakes," and, ultimately, stay one step ahead of those marketers who let others take the lead.

Your company may not ever need an SMS program, and it may not be on your radar today. But with recent, prominent uses of text messaging as a way to deliver urgent and portable messages, all marketers should do their homework in considering text messaging as a legitimate medium to add to their marketing strategy.

No matter a marketer's current stance on SMS, the message has arrived: SMS should be on the shortlist.  

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R.J. Talyor is vice-president of mobile products at ExactTarget . Reach him at

LinkedIn: R. J. Talyor

Twitter:  @rjtalyor

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  • by Angela Khan Tue Oct 14, 2008 via web

    I love text message communications! I recently used my Papa John's offer received in a text message to order a pizza. For me, it is easier to open up my mobile text and type in the offer than it is to view and open my e-mail to find out what the offer code is. It's great to have the flexibility to view the offer in both places.

  • by kirkr Wed Oct 15, 2008 via web

    I think we need to be careful about overstating the value of text messages as a marketing vehicle. To say that Obama's use of texting to announce his VP pick as one of the "most important text messages ever" says more about the frenzy around his campaign than it does about texting. And people were more excited to receive the announcement via text than email simply because it was new. If this were 1994 and a big announcement had been sent out via email as opposed to fax, people would have been ecstatic as well, simply because it was new.

    While texting is undoubtedly a valuable addition to our marketing mix, let's give it some time to mature before we decide start heaping on accolades.

  • by JANT Thu Oct 16, 2008 via web

    In this new era of comunication, it seem all right for the digital generation. How ever the importance of the message coud be misundertood from the inside (company) and the outside (costumer), you dont want to appear as a braking privacy advetising company. it seams to me that the risck of crossing that line has to be well messured and diagnosed vs the importance of the message to your company or client.

    México DF

  • by Antony Mon Oct 20, 2008 via web

    I know a company called NearU implemented something for small business owners. Mobile advertising is the next wave of direct mailing. The fact that is it for the most part permission based will give you access to your best customers instantly.

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