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!


  1. Great write up Bod.

    Any problem in my opinion is the lack of innovation from manufacturers, no one is implementing new versions of SMIL which would allow you to do amazing stuff with the messages that would add a whole new dimension to the channel.

    MMS is just as fragmented as mobile web development, look at how the iPhone handles MMS compared to the Blackberry. Funnily enough it's Nokia who have been the best at MMS playback, with a handful of innovative SMIL tags.

    It puzzles me why operators don't cut the price of bulk MMS to reinvigorate this channel. Any ideas?

  2. You're right, there are issues with MMS that I've only really touched on here.

    As you say MMS support on Nokia devices and indeed other 'traditional' manufacturers is typically good. The newer entries in the market (I include RIM here as their focus on the consumer market is relatively recent) tend to concentrate on p2p usage - so video and static image and no/little SMIL support.

    This could be symptomatic of the lack of support/interest/innovation from carriers.
    Why this is, I could only guess at, but a fair assumption seems to be that MMS is regarded as network traffic that they don't need when they are already struggling to keep up with consumer demand for data services.

    Now I haven't really talked about direct MMS here - where the messaging aggregator hosts the content rather than push this through the carrier (the equivalent of an SMS is sent through their network). This gives the added advantage of being able to make the content dynamic, based on the user/device retrieving it. Few aggregators offer this though.

    To say it is a frustration would be fair - knowing how effective MMS can be, whilst seeing it under-utilised and failing to live up to its potential is a real shame.

    I could say that MMS is the Stan Collymore of the messaging world, but maybe there are too many other connotations there...

  3. Landline texting allows you to market your business to thousands of people around the world at any moment. There is no limit to the demographic, location, or type of consumer that your brand can touch. That's pretty good.