SMS Marketing Is Not Dead, It Has Just Become More Smart: Jay Sheth, CEO – mGage India [DDialogue]

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The explosive adoption of mobile phone and internet in India has given wings to mobile advertisers and brands who are always looking for clutter-breaking ways to attract potential buyers. With 1.17 billion mobile users in India, marketers have been bullish with SMS promotion since the advent of falling tariffs in the early to mid 2000s.

For the last five years, however, the advent of other social & instant messaging apps have emerged as newer ways of promotion on the mobile. Increasing affordability of smartphones and 4G data have further given an impetus to these channels. The plain simple text SMS has competition from graphically rich content over these new media.

But, wait.. there is more to this.

Following China, India is the second largest market by the number of internet users and mobile phone. In a country where mobile penetration has reached 80%, 73% of mobile phone users are still using feature phones. Interestingly, 40% of those 23% smartphone users in India are hooked to pathetically slow speed mobile data connectivity, also known as 2G. Therefore it’s safe to claim that for 83% of mobile users in India SMS is still the most preferred messaging platform.

Clearly, opportunity window for SMS promotion is much bigger than new-age messaging apps and this leads us to few intriguing questions:

  • Why is SMS being declared dead, albeit by some isolated voices?
  • How can brands really leverage the true potential of SMS marketing?
  • Is SMS marketing good enough to keep potential buyer engaged and connected?
  • How is SMS marketing going beyond the usual and obvious promotional blasts and becoming ‘smart’?
  • And, more importantly, can brands and marketers afford to ignore SMS considering four out of every five mobile users in India rely on SMS communication?

With the above questions and some more, we reached out to Jay Sheth, CEO – mGage India, the leading mobile engagement player, in a bid to understand the real potential of SMS marketing in the fast-changing digital era.

Looks SMS marketing is here to stay and is definitely not ‘plain vanilla’! 

Q: Is SMS Marketing dead in the era of digital economy?

Definitely not. For peer to peer (P2P) messaging i.e. between friends, relatives, etc., there is an explosive growth of data network, and application enabled messaging services commonly called OTT messaging like WhatsApp, WeChat, etc. However, for the enterprise to consumer or application to peer (A2P) messaging SMS continues to remain the preferred channel – and we see this continuing for a long time. SMS is the de-facto messaging capability which comes with every phone – from the basic feature phone to advanced smartphones. Use of SMS does not require either presence or subscription to a data network. And finally, SMS is regulated – i.e. spam is minimized, and there are mandated rules that must be followed. SMS is here to stay in its A2P avatar and will actually continue to witness robust growth.

Q: How is the blend of SMS and Analytics changing the landscape of Mobile Marketing?

India has one of the highest number of active smartphone users, expected to cross over 300m by the end of 2017. Brands and enterprises would be bleary-eyed to overlook the role of SMS, the most pervasive medium in the mobile world, in their digital marketing strategy. SMS has always been thought of as a great acquisition tool, but without measuring the “bounce” of your message, there is no way to know the profile of your new customers or where he/she comes from. Its success will be rather constrained if you also aim to drive customer loyalty, satisfaction, brand advocacy and retention through a plain SMS.

To be able to drive better ROI for your SMS campaigns, while facing the text real estate limitation of 160 characters, is the real challenge. Clearly, the secret sauce of a successful SMS campaign is a link which binds customer profiles and valuable insights to ROI.

Click thro’ links embedded in the SMS with embedded code for analytics is the key to these insights. Mobile marketing has become lesser about blasting your consumers with unwanted messages and instead more and more about enabling a two-way interaction between the enterprise and its prospects/customers.

Q: Considering mGage India is a leading player in this space, we would like to know your views on the effectiveness of Smart SMS as a marketing tool vis-à-vis social media and app-based marketing.

As discussed earlier, for the enterprise to consumer messaging – between brands & consumers, prospects, etc., the preferred channel remains SMS. For smart users, the SMS also needs to be smart, and that’s where SMS marketing is seeing a paradigm shift from plain vanilla SMS to Smart SMS as the chosen marketing tool.

mGage India’s SMART Links, for instance, is a sophisticated analytics tool that enables advanced segmentation for tracking, conversion & optimisation of clicks that are generated over SMS. This also enables retargeting of engagement content in real-time for improved campaign results. With the help of SMART Links customers can get detailed insights of the end consumer and take informed decisions for spending their customer engagement and marketing budget.

Enterprises can push content as diverse as YouTube videos, audio clips, app pages, website pages or simply direct users to the app store to download their app. The beauty of this link is that it not only guides the users to the content but also allows enterprises to track who these users are, how many chose to be directed to their content and what was their journey once they landed on the content page. It also allows subsequent retargeting of the audience who showed sufficient interest or no interest at all. Organisations have seen an increase in their customer engagement go up by 36% as they began measuring the responses from users by way of feedback surveys, satisfaction scores after an interaction with retail or a call centre executive, loyalty points summaries, coupons clicked vs. redeemed, etc.

One of the brands that use the smart links is able to effectively map dissatisfied customers and their reason for being detractors for the brand. They would call these customers within 24 hours and take corrective action. This brand saw a 54% increase in their net promoter score. This is not just commendable but also shows how progressive organisations value their customers and their mCRM initiatives.

Q: Which is the most effective marketing platform among SMS, Voice, Email and Social Media?

For brands to build a direct and personalised relationship with each of its customer and prospects, the identification of the right channel or the combination of the right channels becomes a necessary launchpad for their campaigns and communication. Marrying the features of their preferred channel with their content gives not only an added boost but also ensures a better return. It is not an either-or approach when it comes to designing your channel strategy. In our view, all channels belong in a comprehensive mobile marketing strategy. What is important is that enterprises are enabled to communicate with consumers in the most optimal channel for the particular interaction, and then offer an ability to use cross-channel solutions to maximise the engagement.

Q: In the era of the smartphone, when the cost of data is lower, and usage of free messaging apps are skyrocketing, why do you think smart SMS should be the first marketing strategy for brands?

As mentioned earlier, SMS is a messaging capability available on every mobile phone (basic or smart). Dependency on data is lowered as SMS does not require the same and of course regulation and mandates ensure no spamming & high security. Reaching out to a customer through SMS without intruding into their private space also ensures brand communication is not lost or ignored. The platform enables the shortening of the URL in the smart SMS, aligned to the enterprise brand name to capture viewers’ attention and at the same time significantly decrease the no. of characters. When the recipients click on the link, it allows brands to know them much better; the detailed campaign report generated automatically contains data such as mobile phone operating system (iOS, Android, Windows Phone), mobile browser used (e.g. Safari, Chrome), type of device (e.g. iPhone or Samsung), click date, time and location. These insights open new opportunities to enrich the profile of consumer database over time and make enterprise campaigns more efficient in acquiring and engaging.

Other relevant content can be pushed to users that traditionally has been sent through emails, especially if availability and accuracy of e-mail ids is a concern. These can be newsletters or brochures, Discount coupons (for abandoned cart users or for first-time buyers), etc.

This is a huge step away from bombarding customers with ad hoc, impersonal and uninteresting messages that are viewed as spam. Numerous marketing studies have shown that a mere 5% increase in customer retention boosts company’s profitability by a staggering 65% or so. So, it is imperative for enterprises to make that shift to smart SMS marketing if they haven’t already.

Q: With nearly 40% of mobile internet users in India still hooked to 2G internet connectivity, is smart SMS is meant to target those, or it can create magic with smartphone users alone?

SMS itself has no dependency on the data network. Hence it is democratic in the sense that it is equally effective for all phones. The link in a smart SMS needs data connectivity, and the trick in leveraging it effectively for high ROI is to have it lead to an optimal landing page/microsite which is not very data intensive and can work well even on 2G networks.

Q: What is the key metrics that every brand must pay attention to, in order to keep the customer engaged on mobile?

In addition to adhering to the basic effectiveness rules of communication pertaining to the message and creative, the medium here i.e. mobile is, obviously, of much importance. One cannot ignore the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with respect to the mobile i.e. battery, data usage, cost, and storage space. Smart SMS balances priorities perfectly with these needs. SMS does not need data itself, and the links which lead to a landing page/microsite are light in terms of data usage and cost. Also, as there is no app involved per se, storage space is also not used up when one engages with this kind of promotion

Q: What are the top 3 challenges for any brand to ensure superlative customer experience in the mobile environment?

Firstly, there is continuous demand from enterprise customers to provide evolved leading edge solutions, given the highly dynamic market & consumer base that they cater to. Secondly, solution providers are always subject to the pressure of building scale as India grows in general and rural India becomes urbanised in particular, at a scorching pace. Thirdly, but not lastly, we need to ensure that we keep pace with the digital initiatives of the government. The demonetization initiative and the resulting explosive growth in bank accounts and downstream in mobile communications is a prime example.

Q: We would like to know the best, and the most interesting, case study of mGage India.

Rather than focusing on the technology or the medium, it is more important to focus on the overall benefits of mobile engagement and the integrated multichannel capabilities that interact and serve varied business use cases.

From a segment perspective, we are focused on our key sectors like BFSI, retail, e-commerce & internet tech, government/PSU, media and consumer products & goods. From a solutions perspective, we target to grow our portfolio with focused go to market around newer offerings like intelligent SMS marketing (SMART Links), push/in-app messaging (Acton) and SMS chatbots.

The government of India has taken a rather leading and innovative posture when it comes to effectively interacting with the citizens. This should be applauded. We are proud and excited to offer our platform to enable the time-critical government to citizen communications. For example, a citizen applying for a Passport now receives up to 5 mobile messages tracking the progress of their application – from receipt to delivery. No need to call the agency. Likewise, farmers are receiving real-time communications from relevant government agencies on weather, commodity pricing, etc.

Where there is a need for communication of time-critical information to the widest audience, scale and reach become paramount considerations. Here SMS excels as the most cost effective and instant channel. Nothing can illustrate this better than our participation in delivering the Independence Day greetings SMS message from the current government to all citizens of India. Just imagine – in one day a message from one person was communicated individually to over 800 million recipients representing 1/7th of humanity! This has never been done before in recorded history!


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