SMS is the Telemarketing of Mobile
A cautionary note to advertisers about text messaging as a marketing channel
I use SMS as a communications channel between friends, family, and people I know. I use it the same way I previously used a home telephone. When my mobile phone alerts me to a text message, I expect to look down and find a message from someone I know, just as I had always expected to pick up the phone and actually know the person who was calling.
Except when a telemarketer got ahold of my number and interrupted whatever I was doing to sell me something that I wouldn’t buy precisely because of how it was being sold. Interrupting me with a sales pitch through what I consider an exclusive communications channel will always result in failure and negative sentiment toward whatever brand is being represented.
Does this mean SMS marketing is not effective? Hardly. In fact, it’s every bit as “effective” as telemarketing. It’s a numbers game. As long as the direct ROI is sufficient, it doesn’t matter how many people you offend in the process. Right? If you agree, then we can agree to disagree. Because this approach isn’t sustainable. Not in a hyper-connected world and not if you value brand equity.
But what if someone has opted in to receive SMS advertising? In this case, you have to consider the consumer experience. Do you want to be an interruption? Do you want your brand associated with that feeling? I’m sure telemarketers use this same justification. After all, your phone number is publicly listed in the phone book, right? And as a Bank of America customer, you volunteered your phone number. You already use several of the company’s services. Why wouldn’t you want more? So BofA calls and calls and calls again. If you didn’t want telemarketing calls, well, you shouldn’t have become a BofA customer in the first place. You opted in.
So what is the alternative? It really comes down to push versus pull. Mobile advertising is no different than what’s come before. It just happens to be more immediate, more relevant, and more personalized. So if SMS is like push-style telemarketing, then mobile applications are like pull-style glossy magazines.
When you open Vogue, Men’s Journal, or Car & Driver, you expect to see advertising. In fact, that advertising is part of the experience because it’s relevant to why you opened the magazine in the first place. It complements the editorial content. In many cases, the advertising has independent value of its own. This type of advertising has pulled (lured) you in based on the value of the overall experience…as opposed to being pushed (shoved) at you with little or no exchange of value. Mobile applications don’t interrupt the flow of what you’re doing because it’s precisely what you are doing. The environment is ad-friendly. And that’s how LBS advertising works through mobile apps.
Location-based applications promise a valuable pull experience. Consumers open these apps precisely to engage with a place or product, often in a social context. Receiving relevant advertising is not only permissible but expected. If I engage with Best Buy or 7-Eleven enough times, I expect some form of reciprocation. It could be as simple as, “Thank you for checking in to 7-Eleven!” Over time I’ll expect more, such as a coupon or exclusive reward, but this is a good first step. The app experience is much more like that of an enthusiast magazine than a telemarketing call.
SMS advertising is tempting because of its ubiquity and scale. And it may have a place with less sophisticated audiences. Otherwise, I don’t see it as an appropriate or sustainable marketing channel for brands that value advertising as an experience.