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Two years ago, my daughter, Anna, sent me her first text message. She borrowed her older brother's mobile phone and composed this question, "Where R U." When the message arrived, I was happy to know that she was thinking about me. My initial thought was to reply, "@ wrk."

Before sending a response, however, I considered the real meaning of my daughter's question. I knew that she was not actually interested in my physical location. She did not care whether I was at my office, a client's office, or a restaurant. She really wanted to know when I would be home. She wanted to know when she would see me. She cared about timing, not location. I replied, "@ wrk, b home in 30."

As I meet with people in enterprises throughout the US, I often ask the same question, "Where R U?" My question, like my daughter's, is context-sensitive. Its broader meaning is "Where is your text message strategy?" Or, more pointedly, when will your organization begin using text messaging and other mobile-messaging services in your marketing, customer care, and collections processes?

Like my daughter, I am not asking about geography or political positioning; rather, I am asking about timing. And I have found that very few organizations in 2008 can answer this basic text-messaging question.

No longer do American consumers lag the rest of the world in text-message adoption. Text messaging has become the preferred communications channel for millions of people, and not just teenagers. For many people in America, text messaging is considered indispensable.

The Rise of Mobile Messaging

Some 80 percent of all Americans carry mobile phones. There are more mobile-only households than landline-only households.

The volume of text messages sent in America doubles each year. As of mid 2007, Americans sent over 1 billion text messages per day.

While US consumers are fully embracing text messaging, very few enterprises have followed suit. It is true that some organizations have begun adoption, but there are others that continue to overlook the mobile data phenomenon entirely. If enterprises do not adapt to this channel, they will, eventually and certainly, suffer a disadvantage compared with those organizations that catch the vision of mobile data communications and take full advantage of the channel.

There are five critical considerations that an enterprise should consider when implementing mobile data communications.

Text Consideration #1: Get started

Establish a presence in the text-messaging channel. It would be foolish for any company to operate without an Internet site. Similarly, the time will soon come when consumers expect basic text-messaging services from the companies they know and trust.

Consumers will expect visibility into account information, order status, store locators, FAQs, and more. Far too many companies do not support text messaging at all. The key ingredient for most companies is simply to get started.

Text Consideration #2: Demonstrate proficiency early

Text messaging can be effective at all stages of the customer lifecycle, such as marketing, customer care, and collections. By demonstrating to consumers that your organization has text-messaging proficiency early in the customer relationship, it is possible to fully leverage the channel throughout all the sub-processes of customer acquisition, support, and retention.

It is important that customers understand early on that your organization speaks the language of text messaging. This will increase the opt-in rate that your organization needs for the channel. Early proficiency enhances the usefulness and value of the channel in all downstream processes.

Text Consideration #3: Keep it short

Text messaging is well suited for sending and receiving information that is relevant, timely, and brief. Consumers expect text messages to be highly relevant to their needs and interests. Unwanted or unnecessary text messages will damage customer relationships.

Timely delivery of information increases the value of information. No other communication channel can elicit an immediate response like text messaging. Consequently, people expect information in the text channel to be timely.

By definition, text messages must be short and concise. If you cannot convey the message in 160 characters, then the message is probably not well suited for text messaging.

Text Consideration #4: No need to remember

Text messages are often stored for an extended period on the mobile device. So, when you send text messaging containing detailed information, it is easy to retain and easy to forward to another person. In contrast, detailed voice messages are cumbersome and time consuming.

Consider, for example, the benefits of a text message I received from a friend a few months ago regarding the birth of a new child: "Announcing the birth of David Jason Bay, May 4, 10:38am, 8lb 5oz, 20inch, brn hair, brn eyes. Mom and baby healthy." All the details were automatically retained on my phone. Furthermore, it was a snap to forward the message to another friend.

Text Consideration #5: Integrate all channels

Text messaging rarely stands on its own. There are situations where a text-messaging program may produce revenue or reduce costs independent of other communications channels, but those programs are rare. In most cases, text messaging is used to augment other communications.

A great example of blended and integrated channels can be found on cellular 411 calls. When directory assistance finds the telephone number you requested, it provides the option of receiving the information as a text message. That message allows you to record detailed information without writing it down; it is automatically stored in the memory of the mobile phone.

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Soon, consumers will ask your organization, "Where R U?" When that time comes it will be important that you have fully considered the positioning of this important new channel in your organization. Text messaging will provide many profound benefits in marketing, customer care, collections, and more.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alan Berrey is VP, Market Development, Text & Mobile Messaging, SoundBite Communications (www.soundbite.com/channels). He was the founder and CEO of Mobile Collect, which was acquired by SoundBite in February 2008. Reach him at aberrey@soundbite.com.