Business text messaging is key to mobile industry growth

By James Williams, Director of Programmes at Mobile Ecosystem Forum
James Williams, Director of Programmes at Mobile Ecosystem Forum. Credit: MEF
James Williams, Director of Programmes at Mobile Ecosystem Forum delves into how messaging has grown from a domestic tool to a crucial commercial device

Text messaging, which we’re going to define as a wide catch-all for SMS and chat apps such as WhatsApp, Viber etc., has been part of our lives for many years. If you are under 30, you’ve never known a world without texting.

The technology may have been widely available since the 90s, but it took a long time before it found regular use in getting content from organisations - of all types, shapes and sizes - to clients, members, prospects, team members etc. These days it is commonplace for people to receive SMS from businesses, with the content fulfilling a variety of uses. It is versatile, ubiquitous and something that people are very comfortable with. And it drives urgency.

Just think of how long it takes for somebody to receive an SMS and for them to pick up their phone in response to the flash or beep. Not long at all. Interestingly, many research companies in the sector report that when consumers are asked how many A2P SMS they receive from organisations each month, the figures the people quote are actually lower than the actual number of messages they receive. This is down to so many not regarding messages from organisations such as dentists and hospitals as being B2C-type messages when they actually are.

Business and messaging

WhatsApp launched in 2009 but it wasn’t until 2017 that they came up with a WhatsApp for Business application. With over two billion monthly active users globally, WhatsApp is a powerful channel, but it is important to note that globally there are many other such apps, such as Telegram, WeChat, Snapchat, which means the market is fragmented. The only text messaging type channel that has access to over five billion people globally and doesn’t require the message recipient to have access to the internet or own a smartphone, is SMS.

It may have been a while since SMS was ‘cool’, but it still gets so many jobs done with great efficiency. However, there are many messaging channels available to organisations today, and it never takes long for industry experts to jump up to say that one channel is better than another for this, but not that. Confusion is understandable. With conflicting judgements/views and without the assistance of somebody from the business messaging space to offer guidance, it is little wonder so many businesses ignore all hype and noise around messaging and just stick to what they always have. Using email. Spending a truckload of cash on digital ads. Now that’s an area that really amazes me.

Digital advertising versus messaging

Literally hundreds of billions of dollars a year are spent on digital ads but if you have a look into the conversion rate statistics for them, they tend to be on the ‘sub-optimal’ side in general. SMS is far more effective. And then move up to richer messaging channels such as WhatsApp and RCS - or more accurately RCS Business Messaging, RBM - and the effectiveness increases yet further. So how come digital ads, in all their flavours combined, are doing a far better job than business text messaging in attracting, in particular, marketing spend?

No matter how small, any company can sign up for very fast and easy to send digital ads. The leading providers are quite literally household names but the same can most definitely not be said of the top business messaging companies - the likes of Twilio, Infobip, Sinch. All from the world of mobile messaging will know of those names but very few civilians will.

Combined, just those three carry billions of messages each month for enterprises around the world yet the average person does not recognise them. So, knowing who to actually go to is an issue.

Hard to know where to go

Logic would dictate that the providers of mobile services - mobile handsets, internet connectivity - to billions of people and enterprises globally would be the first port of call for any business looking to communicate more effectively with their own clients. But try to do that. Pick a mobile operator. Practically any. Go to their website and search for business messaging solutions. You won’t find many offering a clear path to sign up and easily take advantage of the powers of business text messaging.

Mobile network operators the world over are primarily there to offer great service to their subscribers. To ensure the likes of you and I can make and receive mobile calls, send and receive SMS text messages to friends, colleagues and loved ones, receive mobile internet service and roam with partner operators abroad when on holiday or on business. They are not set up with an army of specialist sales people well- versed in dealing with marketing experts.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for messaging sales teams of even the largest operators with millions of subscribers to number way less than a dozen. It’s not their area of expertise or focus but operators have something most companies can only dream of - stellar brand presence and recognition.

The future should be about partnerships

For the largest mobile network groups, no more than 2% of their revenue will come from business text messaging in all its forms. There may be a very high margin for operators, but there just isn’t the focus to really ramp up this area themselves but they could and should be doing far more to grow this.

Most people will be able to name a mobile phone operator in their home country. Brand strength is absolutely there in spades. Meanwhile, companies like Twilio, Infobip and Sinch have spent years developing and refining not just the messaging technology but the knowledge of how to truly interact with all types of enterprise stakeholders. The dedicated business text messaging companies - often alternatively called aggregators or CPaaS providers - have built up huge libraries of data about how best to communicate in the most effective manner at any given time with practically any person on the planet who has a mobile phone. That is experience that cannot be gained overnight, even if you are a Vodafone or Orange or China Mobile of this world. The key therefore to unlocking the full potential of business messaging surely has to be partnerships.

Every single mobile network operator on the planet should seek an amazing partnership with a company expert in the area of business messaging. No need to reinvent the wheel or waste any time. White label a great omnichannel solution offering from a business messaging player, leverage their sales expertise. That experience they’ve gained in front of people from every industrial sector you can think of, is the key to unlocking real value. And make sure that any business of any size can easily find information on the solutions operators offer - whether somebody goes to the website, hits them up on social media or sees them elsewhere.

James Williams is Director of Programmes, Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), a global trade body established in 2000 and headquartered in the UK with over 200 member companies across the world. As the voice of the mobile ecosystem, it focuses on cross-industry best practices, anti-fraud and monetisation. The forum provides its members with global and cross-sector platforms for networking, collaboration and advancing industry solutions. 

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