Text messaging: not just kid’s stuff

31 Jul 2003

Text messaging or SMS (short messaging service) has been one of the great success stories in mobile technology. Initially developed as a value-added service that allowed users to send short, 160-character messages to each other, nobody thought very much of it or marketed it very much until mobile users, particularly the teen market, discovered it and embraced it in their droves.

Unlike the mobile itself, SMS succeeded in the consumer space before it made any impact on the business sector. However, it does have its business applications and it’s only in recent times that people have begun to pay attention to its potential.

In many ways SMS can work because and not despite of its limitations. It’s short, snappy and cheap. In Europe at least, it’s also more pervasive than that other great communications tool, email. What’s more, SMS is also more direct. While people have to sit at a PC in most cases to access email, most are never too far from their mobile phones. SMS is also pushed out to a user, which means that it arrives instantly.

The technology’s simplicity also means that it’s relatively easy to integrate it with existing systems. Both O2 and Vodafone are already offering solutions that bolt on SMS to existing enterprise communications systems. According to Vodafone, around 20pc of its corporate customer base is already using such solutions. O2 meanwhile has further simplified the issue with the recent launch of Desktop Text. The product was developed in collaboration with General Wireless, a Swedish developer. It allows any single user to integrate SMS into their desktops by simply downloading an add-on for Microsoft Outlook from the company website.

Applications of SMS in these circumstances include diverse scenarios such as informing workers of shift changes, delivery confirmation in transport companies and customer service messages.

However, SMS has further applications. For example, one company — Minorplanet Ireland — has integrated it into its vehicle tracking system that it sells to transport and logistics companies. The system can locate a fleet of vehicles down to street level at any location across Europe. It works via a combination of GPS (global positioning system) and SMS. Each vehicle unit can gauge its position via GPS and then relay this position back to base via SMS.

Marketing and customer service is another arena that has seen a lot of activity recently. In many ways, SMS is a perfect medium to communicate with one’s customer base while the advent of premium-rate text messaging allows for competitions and promotions.

Púca is one company specialising in this arena. Since its inception in 1999, the Sandymount-based company has built a client list of major Irish and international brands and marketing, working with Sony, Coca-Cola, Mars, Guinness and Cadbury among others. The company has recently expanded into loyalty programmes and also launched a specialist mLoyalty service.

“We found that traditional paper-based loyalty programmes were losing their effectiveness. Fewer customers were prepared to cut out vouchers, stamp them and post them back to loyalty scheme operators,” explains Púca’s Eamon Hession. An example of the type of application of this service is Coca-Cola, which ran its recent Coke Red Collection promotion using mLoyalty. Every 500ml Coca-Cola bottle contained a unique code that purchasers texted to a mobile phone number as proof of product purchase. For every unique code sent to Coca-Cola, the customer received points that can be collected and later redeemed for rewards.

Another company operating in this arena is Pulse Solutions. The company has already collaborated with several high-profile brands in customer promotions. Clients include Pepsi-Cola, Lucozade, Heineken, Miller and Ster Century cinemas. The kind of promotion in which Pulse is involved is illustrated in the Ster Century example. Through a steady stream of SMS competitions and promotions, the cinema has garnered a customer database of 4,500 people.

Although texting has taken the world by storm, it’s still early days yet for the commercial applications of the medium. With the advent of multimedia messaging and the rich-media messaging it enables, there could be plenty of potential for further developments.

By Dick O’Brien