A Long-Range View Of Business Messaging

Man sitting with outdoors with shopping bags, using cell phone --- Image by © Sandro di Carlo Darsa/PhotoAlto/Corbis

This post first appeared on D!gitalist on May 20, 2019

Normally, each year in the dead of winter, I publish a predictions article about the coming year. Earlier this year, we published my 12th consecutive predictions for the mobile industry. However, today, I would like to dust off the crystal ball and push it a little bit further into the future to look at how the messaging industry might evolve over the coming five to 10 years.

I believe that in 2019, we are starting to see the fruits of a new generation of solutions for messaging – especially business messaging. Consequently, this is a good time to take a long-range look at how this communications channel (and all of its subtle variations) should impact how we interact with businesses, how businesses interact with us, and where this new generation will take us.

First off, messaging forecasts are all over the place in terms of the impact of business messaging – notably application-to-person (A2P) SMS, rich communications services (RCS), as well as social/chat app messaging (e.g., Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, WeChat, etc.). Juniper’s recent whitepaper, “How RCS Business Messaging will Disrupt the Messaging Landscape” notes that A2P RCS will account for only 2% of the global 3.5 trillion A2P messages in 2023 (but that IS 70 billion messages) with social/chat apps accounting for 5% of the total. The rest remains SMS.

In past posts, we’ve outlined many of the benefits that RCS business messaging brings to business-to-consumer interactions along with additional reliance on chatbots. In fact, Juniper Research forecast that chatbot interactions in retail will reach $22 billion by 2023. I believe a substantial portion of that will be chatbot interactions over rich messaging channels, and that will only increase.

Now, if we use this as a starting point and assume that fragmentation of social/chat apps will continue, but traditional mobile operator-based RCS/SMS channels will continue to grow in influence (where RCS now generates hundreds of billions of messages annually), then we should have substantial new paradigms for consumer interactions in the coming years:

  • A shift away from brand/business mobile apps to more engagement with conversational messaging, meaning chatbots will grow in influence and continue to play an ever-increasing role to manage consumer interaction with business. I doubt this will affect business websites, but you’ll see less “Download our App” buttons for Apple and Android and more buttons to “Launch our Messaging Bot” – which will send an initial RCS message with built-in fallbacks to other channels such as SMS and even social channels when appropriate.
  • Search engines, especially Google, will evolve to include messaging bots in the results, especially for mobile device-originated searches. That way, users could simply tap the result and initiate a bot-controlled conversation through a messaging channel.
  • OEM device manufacturers and OS providers (e.g., Android) will evolve. Default messaging apps will be able to search or discover messaging bots as a built-in option. This is already happening to an extent, but it is not ubiquitous and is dependent somewhat on the device. Currently, RCS search (or discovery) is only available on Samsung devices on a limited number of mobile operators, but search and discovery from default messaging apps will lead to substantially greater usage and interaction from consumers.
  • Default mobile device messaging apps will evolve into feature-rich engagement apps with the “inbox” allowing for customized separation between saved business bots vs. person-to-person contacts. You’ll see an array of business icons for businesses you’ve interacted with instead of a list of combined personal and business messages. Search and discovery will be key elements of the new messaging app. It would readily differentiate between SMS and RCS.
  • Business and chatbot names or aliases will become the “new domain name.” Businesses will want to validate their brand names so they can be found easily as a messaging bot – especially in a strong mobile operator-centric A2P RCS ecosystem as well as across various types of social/chat apps. While RCS will likely dominate mobile network operator (MNO)-provided messaging, there will still be options in the social/chat app domain that will need to be coordinated. For example, a business name registered and approved in a regional or national RCS ecosystem will want to have the same name registered for multiple social/chat apps.

This “messaging-centric” utopia won’t be easy to reach, but rest assured that many very smart people, across multiple trade associations and organizations, are working together to solve many of the problems and issues that will ultimately result in a new generation of capabilities centered around messaging and bots – well beyond what we are starting to see today.

Of course, today, RCS is an Android-only messaging capability. If Apple never supports RCS, then perhaps much of this new messaging ecosystem may not fully come to fruition in markets where Apple iOS devices are strong. But if Apple ultimately supports RCS standards (or RCS Universal Profile standards) as part of its default messaging app, then these benefits will likely accelerate.

We won’t ever totally get rid of mobile apps. They are here to stay, but for many use-cases, conversational interactions with businesses and brands will continue to shift toward messaging channels – especially once RCS becomes more ubiquitous among the mobile operators. We also won’t totally get rid of SMS. There will be many use-cases for text-only – but in many cases, what is good today in SMS can become better with RCS. After all, RCS is the next generation of SMS.

The messaging future is bright and getting brighter. That’s not to say it won’t get more confusing for an enterprise or business brand, but consumers should be able to contact and interact with their favorite brands and businesses through their favorite messaging channel. Businesses will need even more competent advice and strategy to be able to benefit from this exciting and evolving ecosystem.