SMS is more relevant than ever as a marketing and communications channel in a world where customers are flooded with communications across a wide range of channels, from email and social media to more traditional media such as post and print.
That’s according to Brent Wantenaar, aggregation product manager at Cellfind, a subsidiary of the JSE-listed Blue Label Telecoms group. He says that Internet penetration in South Africa is not yet high enough to make email a viable replacement for SMS as a mechanism to communicate special offers, marketing offers and even bills and invoices.
At the same time, SMS is also more reliable and cost-effective than post, especially for low-income consumers who may not have a permanent address.
“SMS does reach a device the consumer always carries and almost never switches off,” says Wantenaar. “Even when a consumer’s landline number and fixed-address changes, they are likely to keep the same cellphone number.”
What’s more, SMS messages are more likely to actually be received, read and acted on than email messages, he adds. Legitimate marketing messages often struggle to find their way through spam filters at internet service providers and on users’ computers, and even when they reach the inbox, they are often deleted without a second thought.
Most consumers still read each SMS because the cellphone is a trusted and personal channel, Wantenaar says. They’ll usually read each SMS as soon as the alert is delivered because the volumes of SMS messages most people receive are more manageable than the amount of emails received and because they get time-sensitive messages such as banking notifications by SMS.
SMS is a particularly good channel for focused, call-to-action marketing. Marketers are forced to hone their messages because of its 160-character limit, which means that the call to action can be sharp, precise and punchy. SMS is also bi-directional – customers can respond immediately with a request for more information by a return message.
What’s more, an SMS marketing database can be segmented to ensure that messages are personalised to clients’ needs and interest. Companies can leverage their CRM databases to craft messages that directly appeal to their customers and interact with them directly wherever they are, he adds.
“Another benefit of SMS is its immediacy. It gives companies the flexibility to deliver personalised messages in a mass-scale at rapid speed – so they can quickly put together a campaign if they have a warehouse of goods they want to clear ahead of a shipment of new products, for example,” Wantenaar says.
They don’t need to worry about design or media placements – they can get a simple text message out almost immediately.
“SMS is one of the few marketing channels that cuts across demographics in South Africa,” says Wantenaar. “It allows for simple automation of communications for users from the lowest to the highest LSM’s.”
Wantenaar says that SMS is one of the most effective forms of marketing, with a return on investment which outpaces most other forms of direct marketing. But to enjoy its full benefits, companies should follow best practices such as interacting only with people who are already customers or who have opted-in to receive SMS communications from them. They should make it easy for people to opt out, as well.
Companies should partner with bulk messaging partners who are members of WASPA – the organisation that regulates value-added mobile content and services in Africa – to be sure that their messaging partners adhere to best practices in how they manage customer databases for SMS marketing.