It seems as if texting has replaced talking, if you go by the numbers alone. Michael Bush writes about this in Advertising Age, noting that marketers are still trying to figure out how they can get in on the texting explosion.
Maybe most marketers can't and shouldn't try. I'll explain in a minute.
According to the wireless trade association CTIA, mobile users in the U.S. sent 1.3 trillion text messages during the year ending July 2009. That's nearly double the number of cell phone calls made during that same period--660 billion.
It may not be a fair comparison, since most text messages are short?even shorter than a Twitter tweet--and they're often part of an ongoing dialogue. So what would count as a single call could be--in texting terms--a continuing series of text messages back and forth.
However you look at the numbers, they are very big and it's only natural that marketers would want to participate in the phenomenon that's become an important part of everyday life for so many of us. The Pew Research Center reports 68 percent of Americans 18+ send text messages and among the 18-24 year olds, 95 percent text. That's hardly news, but what may be surprising is how pervasive texting is among older demographics including boomers like myself--43 percent of us text. The numbers are impressive across all age groups:
- 25-34 at 87 percent
- 35 - 44 at 74 percent
- 45 - 54 at 69 percent
I'm not a big texter. If I send half a dozen text messages a month, that's a lot. I'm all thumbs on the cell phone keypad; it's probably just in my generational DNA.
But as I think how texting might be used in marketing or public relations, I can only think of a few situations where it might work, and those could be full of potential minefields. Most of us--76 percent according to a survey released last December--don't like to get ads texted to us. It's easy to understand why. Our cell phones are highly personal. There are no Yellow Pages (yet) for cell phones so, for the most part, only people we want to communicate with have our cell numbers. Receiving a text message demands our attention as we retrieve and read it, so after we go through the effort and we find an ad, it can be seen by the recipient as intrusive and annoying.
So how can marketers get in on texting to reach target consumers, without the risk of annoying or alienating them?
Texting might be acceptable to some, on a permission-based method. If you're a Toyota owner and you've given permission for Toyota to send you text messages, you might appreciate a text alerting you to contact your dealer to schedule a fix for your brakes. But would you want them sending you messages trying to sell you a new Prius?
Just as celebrities on Twitter have been able to amass huge followings, I could see celebrity-related marketing?promoting a concert appearance or a new song available for download?as a possible use of text messaging, but only to users who have indicated they want such messages.
Some public relations messages such as informational updates and news could be disseminated in the same manner?but only to users who've indicated they want--or wouldn't mind--receiving them. Email and some social media might be more appropriate venues for these messages, but also on a permission-based model.
As Mike Bush points out in his article, it's a tempting arena for marketers and some are experimenting. As marketers and PR professionals, texting is a new venue to be explored and--if we're not careful--spoiled for us.
Text ads and promotional messages will need to be more informative, conversational and less hard-sell or most people will see them as little more than spam. And if that happens, I wouldn't be surprised to see a new smartphone app (if it doesn't already exist) that's a text spam-blocker.