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SMS Will Never Die

I often get asked if I think SMS is on its way out, dying as a channel. People cite the growth of smartphones, mobile email, mobile IM and applications that mimic the feel of text-messaging and even enhance it by allowing more characters and embedding images.  At the same time mobile marketers seem confounded by the simplicity of SMS, turned off by its text-only format and gravitate toward the shiny objects of apps and QR codes. Layer in the increasing incidence of spam and there you have it: the perfect storm for sinking the SMS boat, right?

I don’t think so.

According to Pew Research

  • Cell owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day – a majority of whom (55%) prefer a text message over a voice call.
  • Smartphone owners also send and receive a significantly larger number of texts per day on average (52) than owners of more basic phones (30).

Push Marketing

SMS is really the only push-style mobile medium available to marketers. It’s the only one where a targeted recipient can be going about their day and, bam, a message arrives – one which will almost assuredly be read in the next 15 minutes. Sure, you can argue that there are push notifications available to users of your downloaded application; assuming you’ve programmed it that way. But there is a list of caveats to heap onto that notion:

  • Doesn’t work for non-smartphone owners
  • The person must have discovered your app (not a small feat)
  • The person must have downloaded your app (hope it has good reviews)
  • The person must have allowed your app to send notifications
  • The person must not have deleted your app
  • The notifications better be related to the app, or else (picture the first time you get a notification in the form of an offer and is not directly related to the app. This is encroachment and won’t be tolerated. Your app will be deleted in a heartbeat.).

Bottom line? SMS is the ONLY medium for you to reach out and engage your fans, 1+s, followers, etc. where they don’t have to DO anything (such as open your app or pull up your web site or scan your QR code). The content just arrives. And it WILL arrive.

It is, however, up to the marketer to make sure that content is timely, relevant and valuable. Mobile phones are, first and foremost, a means of personal communication (you text with and talk to real people in a two-way fashion typically). As soon as your SMS recipients feel like you’re just blasting them with your random thought or promo of the day they will desert your list in droves. You need to keep it conversational.

Familiarity and Ubiquity

SMS is one of the only applications that is installed on all today’s mobile phones. Every one of them. There are smartphone apps like Ping Chat that allow you to ‘text’ but only with other users of that application. Apps like this are a closed network. SMS is for all intents and purposes the only ’open’ network.

It is also the most familiar. Nearly three quarters of American adults use text-messaging. Among Millenials it is nearly 100% according to Pew Research. Other than a voice call there is no other mobile phone activity that is more familiar or prolific.

Mobile operators are invested heavily

Finally, the mobile operators make too much money on SMS to let it get pushed aside. They will acknowledge the services that go around the SMS network, such as Ping Chat, but they will keep their eye on text-messaging in terms of pricing and promoting its use (e.g., free to any other user on that carrier’s network) to make sure there are ongoing reasons for people to keep texting.

SMS is not going away. Ever. In fact, if SMS isn’t playing a role in how you stay connected with your customers you should contact us about how it should.

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