It’s been over 25 years since the first text message was sent, but mobile users’ love affair with messaging shows no sign of slowing down. Since the mid-2000s, WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Twitter and many others have transformed person-to-person (P2P) messaging.
The estimated numbers are staggering. Tim Cook said in 2014 that Apple handled 40 billion iMessage notifications daily. WhatsApp users sent an average of 65 billion messages per day in 2018.
Consumer messaging today
In addition to P2P, thousands of brands use application-to-person (A2P) messaging for marketing, reminders and confirmations. It too continues to grow, with messaging analyst firm Mobilesquared estimating that nearly 85 billion business-to-consumer messages – nearly 232 million per day – were sent in the United States in 2018.
Most of these consumer-focused messages were delivered by way of OTT messaging apps, not via the native pre-loaded SMS messaging application on consumer devices.
The reason for the heavy use of messaging apps instead of SMS marketing is fairly straightforward. Plain text is not especially exciting for either brands or their agencies. However, if you ask marketers what channel would be preferable, chances are that they’d say SMS. Why? Because compared to email, SMS marketing achieves exponential higher open rates, response rates and click-through rates, according to Gartner.
Where messaging goes next
Super apps like WeChat and Line are well established in Asia and have billions of active users. Both began life as simple messaging services, but have evolved for consumers to do everything from making payments and transferring money to booking rides, flights and hotels – all within the same app.
Operators have watched these developments and have begun to explore the options and possibilities around launching similar services. In Japan, operators collaborated to launch a service called +Message in May 2018. Based on Rich Communication Services (RCS) technology, +Message started as a pure P2P messaging approach but has plans to add A2P messaging.
Brands are also increasingly focused on using secure marketing channels offered by operators. One key reason is that operators have a strong reputation for respecting consumers’ data privacy – something that has increasingly come under fire with OTT providers. Operators also serve as an excellent model of how to create a relevant consumer engagement model. Brands are taking notice and learning from them.
RCS provides the perfect solution. It is private by design, entirely permission based, and offers levels of security and control that OTT providers simply can’t match. This creates an opportunity for operators to offer brands new levels of differentiation, resulting in richer, more relevant and impactful campaigns to better engage customers.
If brands take the lessons learned from SMS and experiment with advanced messaging, they’re likely to benefit from substantially increased open rates, higher response rates and improved customer engagement. The end result – more sales and commerce interactions all within a single marketing channel that reaches virtually anybody with a smartphone – is marketing paradise.
Advanced messaging is what consumers want
When Synchronoss last year brought together dozens of US consumers of all ages to discuss the potential of RCS-based advanced messaging, consumers were excited about the idea of using it to interact with brands – but with some important conditions.
Consumers expect to be treated with consideration. If they engage with a brand, it doesn’t mean they’ve given tacit agreement to receive an avalanche of spam messages. Consumers also insist on control over third-party access to their personal information, including guarantees that it’s kept safe and secure.
And when it comes to the user interface, advanced messaging users want to keep brand and personal conversations separate to avoid clutter and to manage their different chat feeds.
Consumers clearly want to interact with brands via advanced messaging, but this does mean brands should take a no-holds-barred approach right off the bat. To earn brand trust, early stage advanced messaging engagements should be more goal-directed than experiential, such as giving consumers coupons and unique access to events or experiences.
These early exchanges are also a chance to develop useful customer service capabilities. When it comes to customer service, the focus group work found that consumers very much value personal contact from brands.
Next steps for brands
Messaging of all flavours has grown at an astonishing pace since its inception nearly 30 years ago. Advanced messaging is the next stage of this phenomenon. It gives brands that are intelligent and sensitive access to potentially hundreds of millions of consumers via an engaging and feature-rich channel.
So what must brands do next?
They now need to invest in and explore advanced messaging and the numerous extra features and functions it enables. Based on conversations at last year’s Cannes Lions International Festival, plenty of brands will be dipping their toes into advanced messaging in the next few years. When operators do launch commercial RCS-based services, these brands need to have creative and competent strategies in place and ready that make the best use of RCS and its capabilities, while also recognising and respecting the preferences and privacy of consumers.
In other words, the time has come for brands to prepare for the next frontier of mobile marketing. It’s just around the corner.
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