Friday 28 January 2011

Why aren't more companies using SMS notifications?

My wife is what I would regard as a digital housewife.

She is an eBay veteran (on more than one occasion I have asked where something is only to find that it was sold a month ago) and does a large proportion of her shopping online.  She also has an iPhone and when not sat on the sofa with the laptop on her lap, she uses any one of the number of apps she's got to shop or browse retailer apps.  With two kids, she's on the go most of the time so this fits nicely with her lifestyle.

Which helps to explain why I am so impressed with what is, on the face of it a really simple thing - the Ocado SMS notifications.

So... we've got a food delivery on order and the day before, she gets an SMS reminder her that the delivery is due the next day and confirms the deadline to change it (so the reminder can act as a prompt if you now need more goods).  Then on the day of delivery, another SMS that includes the 1hr time slot; the name of the delivery driver; the type (i.e. livery) and registration plate of the delivery van; and details of any missing items.

So with a couple of simple text messages, including some relevant information, it makes an online and remote transaction into a more comfortable, reassuring and personal process.

Ocado aren't the only guys that do this - my wife has had similar notifications from Sainsbury's and the Home Delivery Network.

And one of my local taxi firms also does the same thing - I called to order a cab and then received one message straight away to confirm the booking and then another a bit later to tell me the car was a couple of minutes away; that would pick me up; and the name of the driver.  Great if you're a single female.

It is such an easy thing - there are any number of Mobile Technology providers that offer these kind of capabilities, and of course the more retail moves digital (note that I don't say "online" as mobile retail is growing too) and the more suppliers doing this, the more comoditised and cheaper it will become.

And as I mention above, a simple SMS like this (bear in mind that as a more personal channel than email, SMS can provide a more emotive reaction), can provide both a differentiation in terms of service and build a degree of consumer interaction and brand affiliation than would otherwise not be possible.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Is MMS neglected by mobile marketers?

Before I go on too far, let me state my hand.  The answer to the (almost) rhetorical question is "Yes, it is neglected".  But I should probably explain why I believe so...

To set the context, I think that we can (probably) all agree that Mobile Marketing is increasingly becoming recognised as an effective comms channel.  The use of mobile is, generally speaking, evolving in a couple of areas.  Firstly, there is that which is targeted at top-end devices, smartphones.  Be it QR codes, Augmented Reality, Social Network integration, NFC or rich mobile internet sites, the speed of pace of change in this channel; the degree of richness that it provides; and the levels of engagement it can encourage produce a compelling case for its inclusion in the marketing mix.

And then alongside and, in many ways, complementing this area is the activity at the lower-end of the "cool-spectrum".  This is the activity which is broader and enables mass reach but, because of its nature, is typically SMS based - the beauty of which being that it can be driven through traditional and above-the-line marketing and is supported by any/all mobile devices.

And then there is MMS.

MMS is not a new technology.  It provides a similar degree of reach as SMS as only old legacy devices do not support MMS at all (although there is a reliance on the device carrying the right settings).  However, it can also carry the degree of richness that you would ordinarily associate with a newer, smartphone-led technology.  Built correctly an MMS message can include video, static images, animated or slideshow/ frame-managed images and audio content alongside as much text content as you can throw a stick at.  iMMS, which is supported on some devices, can include internal links - like a mini-mobisite on your phone.  And even better, in this smartphone age, you can also utilise location-aware content that provides an additional degree of relevance.

MMS content is, by definition, rich and visual and accordingly can generate amazing cut-through - particularly in comparison to SMS.  An often quoted example is of an MMS campaign run by BMW in Germany.  I won't go into too much detail but there were many good things about this campaign including the timing and contextual nature of the messaging. The MMS was personalised to the recipient and the richness of the content was backed up by the brands positioning as a luxury marque.  The results speak for themselves - c.$45m of revenue off the back of a c.$60k spend.

Myself and the team at Movement have probably been involved in more MMS campaigns than anyone else and so have a deep understanding of the medium (NB: vested interest admitted) and have some great example of effective campaigns.  Probably the most recent was run as part of a multi-channel campaign that drove users online to claim a gift.  Although the MMS needed to drive users to a different medium (mobile to online), it outperformed both email and SMS for response rates!

So why is hardly anyone doing it?

The mainstay of our clients over the 6-7 years that we have been involved in MMS campaigns have been carriers.  And herein lies part of the answer - the carriers have a couple of significant advantages over brands when it comes to delivering MMS.  Firstly, MMS is an 'owned' channel.  It's their network and so any costs borne for the delivery of the messages are internal, or opportunity costs.  Carriers are not subject to their own and the messaging aggregator's mark-up and so delivery is less expensive than it would be for a brand (I'll come  back to that point later...).  And secondly, they 'know' the consumer.  They know whether they are a data user, or sends MMS and they know the device that the user owns (another important point I'll come back to).

So on the flip-side, the problem for brands is this lack of knowledge and ownership of the channel.  Firstly, the cost of MMS has typically been prohibitive.  Carriers have often been accused of not given the channel the chance to succeed because of their pricing.  At a typical cost of 20p per outbound message (in comparison to c.4p for SMS) for message delivery, and with production costs being higher than the copywriting of a 160 character message, it is easy to see why SMS is the default.

Then there is the knowledge of the user and their device.  This is relevant in a number of ways - if you know the consumer's device then you can optimise the creative to it.  There are technologies that do this on-the-fly, but managing it at the production phase means that you can tailor-fit the creative, assets and SMIL (basically, the MMS mark-up language) rather than just re-size and or/transcode the entire message.  And then there is the understanding of the consumer - MMS typically achieves a 60%-70% delivery rate, compared to the 95%-99% of SMS, and sending MMS requires the user to not just have a phone but also the right MMS settings and, in some cases, to have actively used MMS.  

But even given the advantages, carriers can still do it poorly themselves - the quality of the MMS creative that I receive from O2, even though it has the real benefit of being location aware and is generally a good offer, is typically poor.  And they should know better.

So why should anyone do it?

I guess I've done a fairly good job of explaining this issues with MMS...  It certainly needs to be recognised that there are barriers or issues with the use of MMS.  But the same applies to any channel - the trick is in understanding the issues and mitigating against or eliminating them.

Because MMS has proved itself to be an effective channel.  Produced correctly, the result is an engaging, effective and surprisingly (given its age) novel message which can surprise, delight and achieve real cut through with consumers - and of course this means results.

And so given all that, yes, it is woefully underused!

Thursday 6 January 2011

2010: The Year (in Mobile) That Was Part 2 – When Mobile grew up

In my last post I talked about the moving-and-shaking in the smartphone market in 2010.  I lead with this topic because, although smartphones still account for the minority of devices (vs. feature phones) in the UK and global market, it is (basically speaking) the space where all the interesting stuff happens.  In this post, I want to take a slightly wider look at a few of the things that I’ve picked out as being of interest or relevance in 2010.  As this is my personal look and given the year that has passed, I will no doubt have omitted any number of other comment-worthy happenings, please feel free to add comment if any of these omissions are too glaring...

An SMS mechanic was awarded a D&AD Yellow Pencil
Produced by Isobar agency Farfar of Sweden for Nokia Maps, and not massively trumpeted (at least in the mobile space) at the time, this may seem pretty innocuous but I think it’s fantastic.  This is the ultimate demonstration that doing something innovative in mobile isn’t about using the latest technology, it’s about doing something new – and that could just as easily be using something as simple and basic as SMS.

Near Field Communications (NFC) started to take a peek around the corner
NFC will be the technology that brings mobile payment into retail stores (as opposed to being via an mCommerce site).  The carriers want it; the device manufacturers want it; the financial institutions want it; and the retailers want it.  The key question in my mind is who will “own” it, because I suspect that there may be a little bit of a jostling for position going on right now to establish the value-chain behind mobile payments as none of the groups I’ve mentioned want to be left out.
However that aside, think about what else you can do once NFC is fully integrated into devices and peripherals – TopUp by swiping your phone across an operators poster; unlock your car, house, computer etc.; gain entry to member-only locations, such as gyms or football grounds.  The list goes on and NFC will eventually be massive. 
But what will happen when you lose your phone or change it...?

Location based services (LBS) become de rigueur 
So Foursquare, Gowalla and, latterly, Facebook Places have been the media and (to a lesser extent) consumer darlings of the LBS space but, as with NFC, there is so much more to it than that. 
One of the principle differentiators that mobile holds over other channels is its ability to tell you, and allow you to share, where you are.  Location takes contextual to a new level – be that in search, social networking or other applications.  And it was in 2010 that location, with the advent of GPS-enabled smartphones, became mainstream.  And it is in 2011 that the questions around privacy relating to location will need to be answered...

Twitter started to find its niche
Of course Twitter has been around for a few years now (launched in 2006), but although the number of active users and tweets has increased significantly over the last few years, and whilst its users have been pretty happy following and tweeting away, it’s not really been that clear what the point of it was for brands and businesses.  I’m not saying that the answer in necessarily clear right now, but what we have seen in 2010 is brands gaining a greater understanding of Twitter and stating to utilise it for their own purposes – this post from Murat is a great example. 
Word-of-mouth has always been regarded as important by businesses given its impact on brand reputation and subsequently repeat and new business.  It is also often quoted that is a consumer has a good experience they will tell 2 friends, but if they have a bad experience they will tell 10 (or something like that).
Given the speed with which news spreads on Twitter it is not surprising that brands have their feelers pointed at the Twitterverse.
But, with some high profile #fails already, can Twitter be widely and effectively used as a marketing tool.  For me, the question is still out on that...

Brands still (mostly) failed to crack how to use Facebook
Not really a specific event, more the lack of one but given the recent $50 billion valuation of Facebook, I’ve been thinking about how that can be justified by the Social Networks revenue stream.  Obviously advertisers are a significant (more likely the significant) part of that revenue for Facebook.  But as an advertiser, how do you make Facebook work?  Currently the options available are pretty simple – bought or earned. 
Bought, is currently display ads on the site – which is pretty uninspiring so will certainly need some evolution for the sake of the brands and Facebook’s valuation. 
Earned, is the ground the brands are still trying to crack effectively.  There have been some good examples of the use of Facebook in brand activity but for the most part, do users follow or interact with brands on Facebook for a reason other than possibly getting free stuff? 

mCommerce started to become a meaningful retail option
In the back-end of 2010, there was an undeniable movement, highlighting the opportunities that exist within mobile commerce.  There is a slew of stats demonstrating the opportunity and an increasing number of examples of retailers (both digital and traditional and in some cases high-profile) that are either dipping their toes in the water or, in some cases, diving into the deep end with transactional mobisites and/or applications.
This is all pretty sensible - consumers are using their phones more and more, phones are getting ‘smarter’ and digital in general is becoming a significant retail channel.  I fully expect to see this run and run through 2011 and beyond.

Tablets hit the ground running
The iPad was released at the start of the year and not long after I blogged about how it has, in many ways, both created and started to fill a new gap in the market.  2010 saw a number of other tablet devices released, announced or rumoured as Apple’s competitors try and avoid being left in the wake of the iPad as they were for the iPhone.  Retail volumes for the year have shown that tablet devices are being purchased by consumers and although the way that the market will shape itself over the coming months and years – in terms of users, services, capability and price – is still for anyone to predict, what is clear is that they will only become more prevalent.

Having been in mobile for coming on 6 years now (which feels like longer than it sounds), 2010 really has been the most interesting in terms of the way the market has evolved, the technological advances that were made and the way that consumers and brands have engaged with the medium. 

And I’ll be mighty disappointed if 2011 isn’t better.