For an even deeper dive into my thoughts on the Renaissance of Messaging, you can watch my closing keynote at the annual Mobile Ecosystem Forum here:
Everyone knows the anticipatory feeling you get when you send a text and prepare yourself for an instant response. What you write in a text cuts through the clutter of the many other channels competing for your attention. It whistles its way in through a myriad of distractions and presents itself as the new top priority on the personal device that your recipient is using for 5-6 hours a day simply managing their life. You know they see it; you therefore expect a reply.
For a marketer, that precision is powerful and therefore dangerous – the communication must be perfect. The channel best known for quick notes among friends or colleagues has amazingly just celebrated its 30th anniversary. That’s right - the first text message sent read “Merry Christmas” in 1992. This anniversary, combined with record-setting brand engagement over the most recent holiday period – got me thinking about the current wave of messaging evolution between businesses and consumers.
I’ve built my career and much of my life on this channel, and have been present overseeing and helping to manage its evolution from that very first message to over 2 trillion messages sent & received per year in the USA alone. So in 2023, I took a closer look at:
What’s the same?
What’s driving the renaissance of messaging?
It’s clear we’ve recently passed a tipping point for business-to-consumer messaging. We’re all getting more appointment reminders via text. We’re all getting more shipping notifications via text. We're all resetting passwords and confirming our ID with a code sent to our most personal device. These experiences with messaging are all simple and have high utility both to ourselves and to the business with whom we interact.
Furthermore, these use cases have shifted our mode of thinking and are enabling a comfort and trust with messaging that has the mass market now communicating with the businesses that serve them at unprecedented rates.
Proof of this mindset shift lies in the fact that there’s now little holding consumers back from typing their mobile number into POS terminals to identify and match to a rewards profile at the grocery store or pharmacy. It’s become part of the daily lingua fraca of becoming a better consumer, and it all takes place on the smartphone, not via email.
The cold reality is that email is simply not interactive – and email open rates are now in the single-digits. Just try and find a teenager or an early 20-something who relies on email for their daily communication, as opposed to text, and you’ll be looking for far longer than you'd like.
Two-way interactions are the expectation. The same expectations we have of our closest friends and relatives applies equally to the businesses who engage with us on the most intimate channel that is native to our most personal device.
If it’s not seamlessly interactive, distractions can easily derail a communication attempt. The estimated adult attention span today is 8 seconds – “beating” the 9-second attention span of a goldfish – so if the message doesn’t land then you, the marketer, risk disrupting a consumer’s day with a distraction they don’t value.
QR Codes: The Comeback Kid
With this surge of messaging we’ve also seen that, sometimes, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The resurrection of the QR code has become one of the easiest entryways into this two-way, interactive world. What was it that drove the QR code comeback? It just came down to how easy and convenient it was to use, particularly when Apple and Android devices built QR code scanners into their native cameras. The pandemic then drove the adoption as seemingly the entire population began scanning menus at diners and white tablecloth restaurants alike. Now that smartphone usage and life on-the-go travel hand in hand, nobody wants to be met with barriers to interaction if they can avoid it. Scanning something that links to precisely what the consumer wants is the new way of consumer + brand relationship building. All of this is likely why the US saw a 433% increase in QR code scans in 2022 compared just to the year prior.
The Rise of Messaging Apps
The proliferation of newer mobile channels is on the rise as messaging as an interactive communications channel becomes increasingly apparent. Just look at WhatsApp, which has over 2 billion monthly users and delivers over 100 billion messages per day globally. WeChat users send 45 billion messages every single day in China alone.
This suggests that the world is beginning to revolve around messaging, and shows that it has the potential to enable an infinite dialogue that can encompass every imaginable consumer interaction. As such, brand marketers should already have a plan for implementing mobile-first strategies like SMS, push, mobile wallet and more. The challenge for them, however, is to bring as much of the customer experience — ranging from customer support to commerce and loyalty — into a messaging-based experience as rapidly as possible.
The Conversion of Conversational Messaging & Commerce
When the term was first invented by Medium in 2015, conversational commerce was defined as the act of companies having interactions with consumers either through chatbots or through conversational apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook Messenger. Through these mediums came the opportunity for brands to offer personalized recommendations on products or services based on data gathered from the interactions in real-time.
In addition to helping drive purchases, these interactions also help drive brand awareness as well as elevate the post-purchase experience, from offering more automated tailored customer support, providing shipping and delivery notifications, and more.
The opportune word here is interactions, which is the root of what’s occurring between a brand and their customers to drive the buyer journey. So while these chatbots have become a marketing communication trend, let’s not forget the O.G. of interactive marketing channels, the one that still reigns as the top choice for communication channels: SMS.
The good news is most consumers prefer and primarily engage with marketing content from brands on their smartphones, 48% of whom prefer direct communication from brands they love via SMS.
CPaaS: The Ultimate Messaging Solution Bundle
With the expectation of instant response and conversational back and forth – efficient delivery of billions of messages is expected. All the businesses that used to provide voice and internet solution have clamored to offer messaging as well. These platforms are often called Communications Platforms as a Service, or CPaaS.
This explosion of messaging is why we’re seeing Enterprise brands investing in their I.T.staff who can effectively “unbundle” the different parts of a CPaaS solution. In order to respond to this as a solution provider, the way to give enterprises the ability to unpack the CPaaS bundle in order to give consumers they type of messaging they want is enhanced APIs.
Enhanced APIs, or “Experience APIs”, are more robust. They do more than just simply send and receive messages. They can do the heavy lifting of business logic, targeting, segmentation, compliance management, opt-out management, disconnects – all of that stuff is on the enterprise’s plate if it’s not bundled into the API, or provided to them in a SaaS platform.
Finally, we’ve got artificial intelligence, or AI, which will add a whole new layer to Experience API sophistication. And when API sophistication and machine-learning models are provided to a robust developer ecosystem, the messaging use cases will flourish (more on this in a little bit).
What’s the Same?
Amidst this renaissance of messaging, what’s not-so new (yet more vital than ever)?
There’s no denying that many of us are incessantly connected to technology: we watch TV while checking news, sports or social media on a tablet in our laps, sometimes with a laptop nearby. Yet when a text message comes in, all of one’s attention is immediately drawn to it.
SMS messaging enables us to communicate with one another simply and immediately, on the device we pick up to check every 10 minutes.
Equally as important is the fact that mobile phone numbers are used as customer identifiers and almost never change. Consider, for example, how mobile numbers are used to authenticate and resend passwords for the most secure of websites, such as those from financial institutions. They understand that it’s a more instant, simple, and constant platform than email.
By using SMS as a brand, you aren’t at risk of being spammy; in fact it’s quite the opposite. A primary benefit of mobile marketing is just how personal it can be. It unlocks this exciting and intimate world of SMS – a world that once was reserved for just family and friends, but now sees nearly 70% of consumers using it to communicate with brands on their phones.
Tier 1 SMS Aggregators
Successfully delivering a text message to your customers is more than just the sending of the message. It also includes the creation, segmentation, and publishing of that message.
Once a message is created in a mobile platform, it typically needs to be sent to one or more aggregators before being sent to the carriers, who then send the message to the consumer. That’s at least 3 touchpoints, each with their own throttle, which refers to the number of messages they can send per second before the message reaches a brand's customers.
The number of touchpoints and the throttle at each one makes it challenging for many platform vendors to deliver timely messages at scale.
This is decidedly not the case with those Tier 1 aggregators who have direct connections to all of the US wireless carriers, making message deliverability speed 3x faster than other messaging platforms.
Unlike other mobile marketing platforms, Tier 1 aggregators do not have additional companies in the middle of the delivery process handling messages from all over the country, which slows processing times and causes delays, queueing and other unseen impacts to message delivery.
In other words, Tier 1 aggregation means a guarantee that when a message is sent, it’s rapidly received.
Connectivity + Mobile Marketing Expertise
Today, it’s not just about the binds: enterprise brands need a partner that knows how to scale, how to integrate, and how to help them be successful.
Enterprise marketers deserve a partner who has the amount of knowledge around how the mobile marketing world works, providing them the “Wow, I didn’t think of that!” factor.
Together these pieces help brands do their work better and more efficiently, and drive a bigger emphasis on the need for messaging done right, and right now.
There also remains what is often called “the engagement gap” – that portion of consumers that marketers may not be reaching by app or email, yet could be reaching through the native mobile channels of SMS and Mobile Wallet.
Despite its reach, email is ineffective at engagement. Email open rates and click-through rates have been plummeting for years; the retail industry, for instance, has dipped to an average 17.1% email open rate and an anemic 0.7% click-through rate.
Myopic marketers can often be infatuated with their own mobile apps, yet find themselves unable to drive further downloads due to the lack of reach. Like Taco Bell said – think outside the bun.... mobile experience executives need to think outside the app.
A brand’s mobile app connects them to your most loyal customers, but still leaves them with a large segment of customers that haven't yet downloaded that app, making it difficult to reach and engage these customers. Email might have the reach a brand is looking for, but with crowded inboxes and consumer inertia, it can be difficult to build engagement in a timely and relevant manner.
SMS, on the other hand, is the most valuable channel for marketers, and we have to do everything we can to seize, capture and protect it – or we risk handing it over to the over-the-top messaging providers like Meta or Apple.
When orchestrating the use of native mobile channels like SMS and Mobile Wallet to bridge the engagement gap and reach a larger audience, the beauty is that these channels are able to use customer data in order to work together to enhance the other. What’s even better is that these channels can curate the customer data you need without facing any privacy repercussions by only collecting two types of data:
- Zero-party data: customer information that they voluntarily offer up to you as a means of receiving more relevant content, such as survey responses, preference centers and 2-way text message interactions
- First-party data: information that’s collected around how your customers engage with your brand, from the text messages they open to the post-click browsing they do on your website
The mobile channels’ abilities to effectively use this data to engage more personally with consumers is a major pillar that makes it so powerful.
What’s changing in the mobile messaging space that’s imperative to know?
The messaging space has changed significantly over the past few years and has added new and different ways you, the brand, can send messages.
There are 3 different ways for businesses to reach consumers via SMS:
10DLCs (10-digit long codes) now need to adhere to the same SMS compliance regulations and approval process as short codes, but they don’t function in the same way. While 10DLCs may be more cost effective, they’re also less reliable and slower to deliver, which is why the companies using this type of code are most often smaller brick and mortar businesses, such as dental and optical care practices, salons, etc.
Toll-free codes are text-enabled 8XX numbers, which means that we’re now able to text-enable an 800 number for both U.S. and Canadian mobile numbers. Like 10DLC, toll-free numbers are less reliable and slower compared to short codes, so these codes are also most often used by small businesses and local shops.
A short code is a 5- or 6-digit number that allows brands to have two-way text messaging with their consumers via a recognizable sender ID that arrives on the consumer’s handset. While short codes may be the most expensive of the 3 options at $500/month, if you are launching or optimizing a mobile program with a large number of SMS subscribers, a short code is essential to be able to successfully deliver a high volume of messages.
What’s next for the world of mobile messaging?
Our industry can’t just be about tonnage and getting as much messaging through the pipe as we possibly can, which leads me to the next renaissance that is going to blow everything out of the water: Artificial Intelligence. AI points away forward in the ways in which it enables you to fine tune your messaging to optimize outcomes. In other words, right message, right person, right time.
Large language models (LLMs) such as GPT4 will enable us to solve consumer problems& enhance experiences in ways we never imagined were possible – dramatic? Maybe. Powerful? Absolutely. The AI opportunity is ours to leverage and transform business.
My final prediction is that when Mark Zuckerberg admits that the metaverse was nothing more than a distraction he’s going to come back to messaging. This is because of the fact that all of the digital channels dominate our lives, but messaging dominates our attention.
The Bottom Line
Two-way messaging isn't going to dominate all of our lives, it already does – and it will continue expanding at lightning speed. The power of interactive, conversational engagement points users toward a personalized optimal outcome.
Now's the time to embrace messaging, the communication that's at the center of our universe. Talk with us today to prepare for the next wave in the ongoing renaissance of messaging.