Bulk Text Messages: An Obituary

December 5, 2012 9:57 am Published by

On the 20th anniversary of the sending of the very first ever text message it seems appropriate to write a post about sending bulk text messages and text messaging in general.

The very first SMS was sent on December 3rd 1992 by Neil Papworth. The 22 year old engineer used a personal computer to send a text message via the Vodafone network to the phone of Richard Jarvis, wishing him “Merry Christmas”. Soon thereafter the world fell in love with this new short message service and by 2012 the Irish were sending over one billion text messages every month.

In relevance to us however as with all new technological breakthroughs, like voice, TV and email before it, it didn’t take long for marketers to realise it’s potential and they quickly begun to harness it to communicate with consumers. Soon thereafter brands and businesses the world over were sending out marketing text messages. The mobile marketing industry had begun to take it’s first fragile steps into the wider business world.

Unfortunately as with all new marketing channels, the spammers were not far behind and with it came dreaded phrases like ‘bulk text messages’, ‘bulk sms’ and ‘bulk sms marketing’. Basically paraphrases for spamming people’s mobile phones with marketing text messages that they neither wanted nor asked for and had no way of stopping (opt-out).

According to the Pew Research Centre – “57% of adults with cell phones have received unwanted or spam text messages on their phone.” There was even the emergence of the text premium service where subscribers (generally unaware of what was happening) were being charged extortionate prices to receive regular text messages.

Although the mobile marketing industry was in it’s infancy it was also at it’s lowest ebb and had a long way to go to become an accepted and valued marketing channel. From an evolutionary stand point mobile marketing and SMS advertising were just about dragging themselves out of the ocean to dry land.

Thankfully after a very unsteady start the regulation finally kicked in and we now have an excellently regulated industry with similar laws and best practices to that which you would find in any other form of direct marketing. The key changes being:

  • Marketing bulk text messages cannot be sent without prior consent from the recipient. (the opt-in)
  • Bulk text messages recipients must have a free and easy way of opting out of further marketing messages. (the opt-out)

In addition to the statutory laws, as discussed above, there has also been the emergence of best practices that are adhered to by most mobile marketing agencies.

  • Bulk text messages should not be sent outside of working hours.
  • Bulk text messages should be limited to a very maximum of 1 per week.
  • Bulk text messages should always contain something of value to the customer.
Bulk text messages permission

You have to ask for your customers’ permission before sending them marketing messages.

Now that the industry has come out of it’s infancy and regulation is firmly in place it is time that we moved well beyond words like ‘bulk text’ and any other phrase which evokes the old emotions associated with mobile marketing. Although not necessarily spam, bulk texting still feels like banging out the same standard message to every single person in the database.

Low targeting, low effectiveness and a great opportunity wasted. For a long time now it hasn’t been acceptable in the digital marketing world to send non-targeted messages, and so it should now be the case with all forms of mobile marketing, but especially in SMS advertising.

  1. Would you pay Facebook if it just offered to splash your post randomly across people’s timelines and not target them by their demographics and interests?
  2. Would you pay for a Google Adword campaign which displayed your ad on random searches and not specific ones?
  3. Would you pay for an email marketing campaign which didn’t report on unsubscribes and opens?

I’m guessing you would answer ‘No’ to all those three questions.

So why then would you pay a mobile marketing company to send bulk SMS for you that were not targeted by demographics and interests; which didn’t supply you with detailed reporting on click-through-rates, open rates and unsubscribe rates; which didn’t offer you the option to target your customers by their individual purchase history? Any modern mobile marketing company should offer you all these features in their SMS software and through their online SMS gateway.

At Text Republic we reluctantly still use phrases like ‘bulk SMS’ and ‘bulk text’ solely because we know that some businesses are still searching for that. We do however consider it old hat and once we obtain a customer we try to do everything in our power to open their minds to the possibilities of targeted marketing within the mobile channel.

Our sister company Zinmobi specialise in this type of highly targeted mobile messaging. They offer messaging based on demographics, purchase behavior and ROI. They also report on click-through-rates (CTRs), Open Rates, Unsubscribe Rates and for the most part it’s completely automated. Make no mistake about it, this is the future of mobile marketing. Soon all the old sentiments of ‘intrusion’ and ‘not being in control’ will be flushed away with the old terminology once associated with it like ‘Bulk SMS Marketing’ and ‘Bulk Texting’.

The scatter gun approach is no longer acceptable in the wider marketing world so why settle for it in the mobile marketing world. Demand precision marketing from your mobile marketing agency and if they still use the old terminology then cavaet emptor.

Bulk Text – RIP. Good riddance.

Image reference: Featured Image, Say No.

Conor McAleavey

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