The Friday Interview: Eamon Hession, Púca

28 Nov 2003

Púca boss Eamon Hession (pictured) is at the coalface of change in the realm of advertising and marketing, creating a whole new world order whereby text messaging and MMS creates a direct relationship between brands and the consumer.

A realisation that there was little revenue to be made from websites led Hession to start integrating SMS with website community software. His efforts caught the attention of drinks maker Ritz, which asked him to develop a clue-based game for its customers. This got the attention of the masses and turned out to be a sound investment. Púca now develops engines that enable companies to use the internet to manage SMS marketing campaigns as well as change strategies, measure interaction, view statistics and identify winners.

As a result, Púca claims to have tapped the majority of SMS marketing campaigns, as well as some 70pc of the available premium SMS market in Ireland. Companies that Púca is working on campaigns with include Carlsberg, Nokia, Guinness, Champion Sports, Jurys Doyle Hotels, RTÉ and Aertel, McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Cadbury’s. Readers who want to see the strategies in action could walk into a shop today and rip a wrapper off any Coke bottle or Dairy Milk chocolate bar to see actual SMS marketing strategies in action.

Use of text messaging as the glue that sticks marketing campaigns together is a growing phenomenon amongst traditional and not-so-traditional brands. The popularity of reality TV show Big Brother resulted in a total of 1.3 billion person-to-person text messages in the UK during its period on air.

Total revenues from premium SMS votes sent by viewers topped €1.33m, with SMS accounting for 30pc of overall votes. By 2005, 37 billion advertisements and alerts could be sent to mobile devices in the EU, according to market analyst Frost & Sullivan, with revenue from wireless banner ads expected to reach €475.7m.

Forrester Research believes that SMS marketing response rates are up to five times higher than those of direct mail marketing. Average response rates are 11pc, with the average campaign costing €24,000.

However, despite these notable achievements, Hession and others like him believe that text messaging in the broader business world is generally undervalued as a potential “killer app”.

“I think to some extent in business, but certainly in marketing it is being exploited properly. More and more we are seeing it spread into business,” Hession says. “Businesses have only scratched the surface in terms of getting competitive advantage out of text messaging. For marketers, it is opening up new possibilities by using the real-time element of text to create two-way dialogue with customers. Brands are integrating it with point of sales and packaging and on advertisements, hitting customer touch points. A lot of marketers print web addresses on packaging, but why not use SMS, which is quicker, easier and instant? Major brands are using this to create permission-based sales. The other aspect is in general business with firms enjoying increased competitiveness from its real-time potential, using SMS to achieve reduced call centre response times, employee communication and supplier information.”

Hession sees his company as helping business in the marketing aspect, but not limited to marketing. “Communication is a key thing for business. SMS is interactive, real-time, communication anywhere. Any business should look to exploit these communications abilities to do such things as communicating key performance indicators like sales, stock levels, quality performance. If workers were to get that information quicker would it give them competitive advantage. Look at retail for example. In retail normally it is quite hard to communicate with workers. McDonalds are using text messaging to improve employee communication, informing them of incentive schemes.”

While businesses slowly shift in the directly of empowering entire mobile workforces, the impact of SMS on the marketing and media world has been extraordinary, enabling greater meaning of the term ‘one-to-one-marketing’.

Hession says: “In terms of marketing and advertising, there has been a wider shift in the last number of years towards one-to-one communication. SMS has facilitated this and helped speed it along. If you look at some of the brands that have been using it, a consumer brand that wouldn’t normally have direct contact with customers on the retail floor; Coke has been adding it to packaging for competitions. SMS is being used to make advertising interactive in the physical world. It also provides a level of measurability, it tells you what media are driving the responses. We are only really beginning, it’s the tip of iceberg.”

In terms of firms such as Púca and media companies like E4 gaining revenues from SMS, the advent of premium messaging, appears to afford the best hope for direct revenue streams. “So far, so good,” says Hession. “If you look at the ringtones market, it is now bigger than the CD singles and that is driven by SMS. TV media companies are getting a whole new revenue stream through text voting, look at Big Brother for example. One of the key things is that with mobile networks there is also an established way of collecting micro payments using text messaging, something we never really had on the internet. So premium messaging is helping to generate proper, viable revenues.”

However, constrained to a mere 160 characters, it is hard to see what kind of future SMS text will have. What has Hession excited, however, is the new abilities and opportunities for entertainment and information that MMS, when it matures, will deliver. “We’ve just launched an MMS platform for marketers and media companies that incorporates streaming, Java games, and a whole raft of multimedia possibilities. The fact that you are able to do a lot more than 160 characters of text helps give expression to brand identity and reflect more what is going on above the line. Among the possibilities we would see would be the ability to request information from a property ad and an MMS would arrive on the phone that would have pictures of the inside a house you are interested in. Trailers of films can be sent to phones as well as entertainment alerts such as a short video of goal scoring.”

Although text messaging is now used by the majority of mobile users, Hession feels that the medium is still battling to be viewed as a mainstream medium. Text messaging, he says, is really only the beginning. “My view is that it is not just text messaging. The overall trend is a convergence between mobile devices and other channels; for example in the retail area, integrating text messaging with point-of-sale loyalty card schemes. You could use your phone to redeem vouchers at point of sale. If you integrate it with TV advertising, using the phone as a back channel, it could create a more direct, interactive form of advertising. There’s lots more innovation to come. In terms of making direct response easier, you could soon be able to scan your phone over an advertisement and be brought to the web page. That overall convergence of device with other technologies leaves huge room for innovation. Companies should start looking at text messaging as way to achieve competitive advantage and achieve cost reduction and productivity gains and new revenue streams. Text is just the start of it.”

By John Kennedy