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The joy of text: Why 'threading' is rejuvenating SMS marketing

21st Oct 2014
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As a modern Mark Twain may once have said: rumours of the death of SMS are greatly exaggerated.

With more than six billion global users and revenues of around $135 billion each year, SMS is now so ubiquitous that it’s expected to remain the industry standard messaging channel for the next decade. Yet despite this, prophets of doom are still preparing to issue it the last rites as it trails in the perceived wake of ‘OTT’ mobile applications like iMessage, WhatsApp and Blackberry Messenger.

But one statistic alone provides sufficient reason to halt the funeral: the average open rate for an SMS message is a whopping 98%. In today’s fog of online, social and digital noise, the quiet simplicity of a text message clearly shouts the loudest and cuts through. And, as our email inboxes expand with unread correspondence and our Twitter feed melts in a haze of hollow hash-tags, it’s a fundamental reason why our modern Mark Twain was right. Rumours of the death of SMS are, quite ironically, OTT.

But hold the phone. Why is it that, despite overwhelming evidence of its impact as the ultimate in interruptive communications, few businesses are leveraging the rich potential of SMS messaging? Indeed why is it that many are prepared to believe the hype around new innovations, and potentially discard the most penetrative media of our time? The answers may lie in the common limitations that have characterised the historical use of SMS as a promotional channel.

Traditionally, whilst SMS has provided companies with cost-effective and instant mass messaging capability, the approach has been hamstrung by an inherent inability to correlate multiple outbound messages with specific responses. This in turn prevented the messaging from having any integration with – or impact on – associated business processes.

But these limitations have been laid to rest by the introduction of innovative ‘threading’ technology. Threading means that every inbound message can automatically be matched to outbound messages, accurately and reliably. And because the technology integrates seamlessly with organisations’ existing IT infrastructure, it means that associated business processes can also leverage the opportunity and drive operational gains.

Threading is rejuvenating the SMS channel. Moreover, it’s creating a powerful platform that’s allowing proactive companies to use text messaging to go beyond marketing communications and, in addition, automate processes, transform services and enhance customer experience. Best of all, it can be applied – uniquely – to any business in any sector.

The joy of text

The constraints of the traditional approach meant that companies were unable to handle individual responses to blanket messaging, and therefore many perceived SMS to be a simple one-way communication tool with precious little added value. But the combination of threading capability and the high penetration rates SMS enjoys means that companies can now get right into the faces of their users – quite literally via their mobile phone – and incorporate their own processes into the communication to drive significant operational efficiencies.

The opportunities are limitless. Threading can play a major role in helping companies address key strategic objectives and respond to critical business drivers – benefiting both customers and employees alike. For example, efficiency and productivity are now global commercial imperatives. To accommodate this, large organisations have deployed ERP systems to support employees and manage every aspect of the business. But despite the investment, companies are increasingly discovering that a huge amount of employee time is lost simply navigating ERPs to fulfill mundane processes. Basic activities such as applying for annual leave, filing expense claims or enrolling for training can be onerous and time-consuming. This is having a substantial impact on productivity and becoming a catalyst for employee frustration.

Such inefficiency can easily be avoided. With the advent of threading, employees can, for example, apply for annual leave via text message. By integrating threading technology with the ERP, large aspects of the application process can be automated – saving time, reducing labour and accelerating decision-making. The potential impact on efficiency, productivity and employee satisfaction is significant – but the authority and control of the management decision itself is never compromised.

Likewise, companies are under renewed pressure to deliver customer-centric services. The SMS channel is, of course, tailor-made for customer communication; it’s widely accessible, commonly used and, as we know, highly penetrative. However, historical use of SMS messaging has meant that many of the qualities of good customer service have been left unsatisfied. This is particularly evident in areas where consumers are awaiting service engineers, deliveries or face-to-face consultations.

Whereas traditional SMS has allowed companies to ‘broadcast’ messages to customers, back-office systems and primitive technologies have not enabled meaningful, real-time dialogue with individuals. Threading allows businesses to open two-way communication channels with individual customers; this means that engineers and couriers can keep customers informed and allows customers to cancel or rearrange appointments via text. At the same time, the management of associated business processes can be automated. This has huge downstream benefits; field-based resource becomes more productive, call-centre resources are reduced or redeployed and, above all, customer satisfaction and retention levels naturally increase.

My best friend’s threading

Embedding intelligent communications into workflow clearly empowers organisations to complete many stakeholder transactions automatically – reducing costs, improving productivity and driving brand loyalty. The business benefits – whether for start-ups, SMEs or global conglomerates – are significant. And so, despite a misguided narrative that suggests SMS has had its day, the most progressive organisations are those that have ignored the OTT hype and are instead tailoring threading technology to suit individual business needs.

Global industry is a diverse and colourful landscape – but, despite the variability, strategic objectives are often surprisingly universal. Threading can not only help businesses meet these goals, it can also help system integrators and channel partners deliver competitive advantage on behalf of their clients.

Rumours of the death of SMS are indeed greatly exaggerated. It’s time to refocus the debate and return to the text-speak. After all, as Mark Twain would never have said, threading could just be your BFF.

Alan Dye is sales and marketing director at Boomerang.


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