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SMS Marketing: Permission is the key

By Madanmohan Rao

Sometimes it almost feels like “e-marketing” déjà vu from the dotcom years: promises of the power, reach and immediacy of mobile marketing, especially via SMS. Perhaps the key success differentiators, however, are the importance of getting permission from mobile subscribers before launching targeted SMS campaigns, and the possibility of greater control over SMS spammers thanks to operator gateway monitoring.

Either way, SMS marketing is taking off in the GSM world, especially in Asia. Asian players are building up a wealth of marketing capital in terms of concepts, working models, alliance strategies, ethical practices, industry lobbies, technology tools, consumer behaviour knowledge and revenue sharing formulas in domains ranging from the humble SMS in most of Asia to advanced data services like 3G in Japan. Some of this expertise, homegrown in individual markets, can cut across to other parts of Asia as well.

Countries like the Philippines can be the pioneer in Asia when it comes to mobile marketing, according to Arthur Policarpio, chief operating officer of Global Wireless Connections (GWC) in the Philippines. GWC is reportedly expanding to Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong this year, based on its experience with operator Smart, a subsidiary of PLDT.

A key to growing the mobile market is understanding the needs of subscribers and consumers, in areas ranging from device preference to buying patterns.

For instance, a recent consumer study conducted by MORI for Nokia in Asian countries like Singapore and Thailand indicate that socially active youth may have a strong preference for mobile multimedia services like content sharing (eg. videos), presence and instant messaging, which can thus form an enabler for marketing activities. This includes injecting elements of fun, entertainment and community affinities in marketing messages. Challenges to be overcome range from technical incompatibility to privacy concerns.

Viable audience groups for mobile marketing include the youth market, for the whole spectrum of the mobile value chain: handsets, accessories, content and games. For instance, Philips hopes to increase its youth customer proportion for handsets from 50% to 70% in 2005, via an MTV campaign branded as "Things to do your thing.”

Increasing mindshare for mobile marketing among media planners and buyers also involves persuasive lobbying, research and educational activities. For instance, in India, a new company has been formed called Media2win, an online and wireless media planning and buying services firm. The company offers its clients end-to-end new media solutions; it has been created as a sister company for Contests2win and Mobile2win, which offer competition and gaming services for Internet and mobile channels.

“Internet and wireless media have now matured significantly and it’s time that specialists began operating in this space in collaboration with clients, agencies and media buyers to first discover and then deliver value in these new mediums which is measurable and tangible,” according to Alok Kejriwal, CEO, contests2win, cited in industry publication Exchange4Media.

SMS marketing has taken off in a big way, and marketers are using short-codes in their offline commercials and on radio. Of about 30 million short messages exchanged in India every day, an estimated seven million SMSs are exchanged between short-code operators and consumers every day, according to V. Ramani, CEO, Mediaturf.

“The advantages of mobile marketing are manifold - it's an intensely personalised medium, it attracts immediate response, it brings interactivity to new levels, and it tracks response by the hour for any marketing campaign,” according to Rajiv Hiranandani, CEO, Mobile2Win.

Yellow pages providers like IndiaCom Directories are aligning themselves to tap into the location-based services (LBS) market for context-specific mobile marketing.

Key challenges to address in wireless marketing include avoiding the mobile spam demon, creating compelling mobile content, and devising complementary channels for effective marketing. For instance, an interesting trend to watch for marketers is the growth of “mobisodes” or mobile episodes of radio and TV content.

A number of opportunities are thus opening up for start-ups in the mobile services space. The company Textalert.com has devised SMS marketing campaign solutions for US businesses who have built up a database of mobile subscriber numbers. These can include promotional messages and alerts about cancelled or re-scheduled appointments.

In Malaysia, mobile business solutions provider MNC Wireless offers Web to SMS gateway services and datamining tools. Singapore-based BuzzCity offers subscription-based SMS marketing services for communities and clubs in a number of Asian markets.

For the beer guzzlers, pubcrawlers and coffeeshop aficionados of this world, SMS-based voucher schemes can be a powerful draw! For example, UK mobile marketing firm I-movo uses SMS coupons for promoting free drinks among potential regulars in pubs.

Cautionary steps have to be taken against abuse of SMS marketing or “overmarketing,” however. Mobile operators in some Asian countries like India have drawn considerable flak for unscrupulous SMS gimmicks, including sending out unsolicited messages at unearthly hours of the night, according to Varun Singh of TechTree.com.


Madanmohan Rao is the editor of “Asia Unplugged”


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