This post first appeared on my SAP Blog on December 15, 2014.
Over the past couple of years, people have asked me both publicly and privately if I thought SMS was dying or is a non-viable communications channel. My answer has always been emphatically that SMS is and will continue to be a viable choice for text-based communications – both for enterprises and brands as well as person-to-person (P2P).
As 2014 winds to a close, I want to direct the focus of this posting toward the use of SMS for enterprises and brands. First off, certainly I acknowledge that Person-to-Person SMS usage has declined, with many subscribers around the world opting for non-SMS messaging solutions from WhatsApp, Line, WeChat, and others. In other markets such as the United States and Canada, Apple iMessage has taken a bite out of SMS volumes; however, overall traffic volumes in 2014 have remained steady and have even increased one or two percentage points.
Brands and enterprises are increasingly turning to the SMS channel for a variety of solutions to reach all subscribers – not just subscribers with smart devices. But, in many cases, it is these very smart devices that can benefit from increased enterprise/brand usage of SMS. And, I’m really talking about A2P or Application to Person SMS.
In the early days, A2P SMS was mainly about acquiring mobile content from the operator’s walled gardens as well as heavy usages of premium SMS. Then the use-cases for SMS-based alerting came into being and this has helped fuel the growth of A2P SMS ever since. Premium SMS is all but gone, save a few Asian markets, and mobile content is now almost exclusively downloaded from app stores. The mobile operator walled gardens are gone and a new, social-savvy, IP-centric ecosystem has grown up. How can there be any room for simple SMS?
The answers are quite clear. In the survey that we (SAP Mobile Services) conducted early this year, called The SMS Advantage, we surveyed smartphone users aged 18 – 65 years in the USA, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Australia, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Singapore and UAE, and came up with some surprising answers. One of them was that 81% believe sometimes that a simple SMS is preferable to mobile app usage. Let’s drill into that conclusion a bit.
If you are a smartphone user and I assume the majority of my readers are, you probably have dozens of apps installed. Don’t you sometimes find that many of these apps along with the various push alerts that they provide, sometimes seem overwhelming? If you are like me, in many cases, you simply turn off push alerts. The problem with that is that sometimes, I can miss important updates or benefits. True, for a game that I might periodically play, I don’t need a push notification reminding me to “come back and feel the frenzy.” I’ll feel the frenzy when I am good and ready and not until then. Those notifications are definitely off. But think about all of the various store apps you download. Sometimes, just sometimes, there are notifications that you’ll ultimately miss because, along with “feel the frenzy” notifications, you’re just overwhelmed with little numbers all over your app icons. We call this “Icon overload.”
Our survey also noted that “consumers are acclimatized to frequent, habitual interaction with smartphones. 68% of respondents check handsets at least every hour, with 20% checking devices every 10 minutes or more often.” And what do they check? If they (and you) are like me, I prioritize my smartphone checks: SMS, Email (work, personal), then and only then might I look at social media such as Twitter, finally and only finally, I’ll review my notification center. Note what was #1 – at least for me – SMS (or iMessage in my case – which certainly includes SMS). Our survey also implies that respondents likely agree noting that: “81% also agree with the statement that ‘sometimes I just need a simple text message rather than complicated and varied apps.’”
A2P SMS (or the “simple text message”) is a key channel across a number of industries. Think about shipping logistics – especially as it pertains to engaging consumers. Do we really want a separate app for each of the shipping vendors to notify us about shipment statuses via push notifications or for that, a simple A2P SMS can suffice in our in-box from any or all of the shippers (UPS, Post Office, FedEx, DHL, etc.)? The survey noted that “the use of SMS is serving to enhance customer relationships with 83% of consumers saying that its use makes them feel as if ‘they care about my delivery / parcel’ and 81% saying it improved their experience of the organization overall.” This result suggests that for various types consumer-oriented logistics (shipping, order handling/processing, confirmations, status changes, etc.), SMS remains a very capable channel and logistics solutions should highly consider SMS as the primary delivery channel for consumer notifications.
Another industry that benefits from SMS is the area around social networks. Yes, those social networks: Twitter, Facebook, as well as WeChat, Line, and many, many other vertical social networks (those dedicated to a particular subject matter such as fashion/shopping or automotive). I know what you’re thinking: Why would social networks benefit from SMS? In reality, SMS is used heavily in a number of ways by social networks: identity management (2-Factor Authentication, One-Time Passwords, Registration Codes, etc.), notifications of new events, receipt of news as well as helping in acquisition of new social network participants. Our research noted that 74% of consumers think that SMS can help social networks improve the way they communicate with them and 67% also indicated that SMS can help social networks differentiate themselves from others.
Have you ever used a social network application where you wanted to send a notification to a friend to try to get them to also join that social network? Chances are, you sent them an SMS from the social network app – that is a heavily used capability. The message originates from you – from your device, from your phone number, to one or more people in your address book. While not strictly A2P – this is more P2P in nature – it still is a common usage of SMS for ecosystem that are not necessarily SMS-centric. This is just one of the many ways that SMS actually complements with competing social networking ecosystems – some of which offer competing types of P2P messaging.
Social networks, logistics, transportation, financial as well as brand awareness and more are some of the industry that are benefiting from SMS. Businesses and brands should remember that mobile subscribers are becoming savvier about which apps they install and how they engage with the enterprise or brand through them. One of the most telling results of the survey was that only 17% saw SMS messages from companies as intrusive. This means that consumers want to receive SMS – not more push notifications. Like me, they attach a high priority to SMS messages. SMS is a very wise choice and should remain so for the foreseeable future, even as the operator implementations may evolve – the ubiquity and reach will not decrease; therefore the benefit will remain.