text messages is now a part of everyday life, and millions of messages are sent every day in the UK. The brands which are jumping on the bandwagon are, for the moment, mainly youth brands. But this is fast beginning to change with other brands showing a keen interest in integrating text into their marketing strategy.
Meanwhile, making the most of the relationship consumers have with their phones is fast becoming a vital element of striking the right balance in SMS campaigns targeting a youth audience.
"For reaching young teenagers it is absolutely essential (to use text messaging). If you are not involved, you are missing a huge trick," Emap's head of marketing for pop, Nikki Causer, says.
Smash Hits magazine, which falls under Causer's remit, has a text club called Poptxt which boasts more than 45,000 subscribers who are regularly sent snippets of gossip about pop stars. Emap runs it with the help of the mobile marketing agency Flytxt. "They think we spend all our time in the office with Gareth and Will sipping tea," she says. But, joking aside, Causer says the dialogue with teens through text messaging is immensely valuable. "It's a way of finding out how our audience is thinking."
It's not just teen magazines though who are getting in on the act. Metro newspapers is launching a text club with the agency 12snap which will offer readers of their free giveaway newspapers exclusive competitions.
"It gives us a new way of communicating with our readers beyond putting something in the newspaper. It's also an opportunity for our advertisers to get in touch with our readers using a different channel," Scott Spirit, a cross-media planner for Metro, says. "It is not going to obliterate direct marketing by traditional mail. Some campaigns are suited to text and some are suited to direct mail and that won't change."
Members of Metro's text club will be asked for their postcodes, gender and age, which Spirit says will give advertisers a precise audience to target: "Text messaging is never going to replace advertising in the paper but if you want to drill down and identify a target audience, SMS is the perfect way of doing it."
In the summer, Chapstick ran its first text messaging campaign with 12snap.
The campaign targeted 18- to 30-year-olds from MTV's database with details of Chapstick's sun protection lip products. Offering holidays to Ibiza as prizes, the text messages encouraged sun seekers to ensure they had "snog-tastic" lips. The campaign generated a 15 per cent response rate from the target audience.
"I was very impressed with the results we achieved. I think the fact we had MTV's opt-in database gave us credibility. I would say it was good value for money," Thryth Jarvis, the product manager for Chapstick, says.
Next year the company is planning more SMS campaigns. Despite SMS being a new medium, Jarvis argues that the old principles of direct marketing still apply.
"Like any campaign, it is important to know your target market. If you are going to use a third-party database, choose one that has some kind of connection with your brand," she says. She also adds that a compelling incentive and the kind of messages sent are also crucial factors in the success of any SMS marketing campaign.
While SMS is seen as predominantly a tool for younger people, direct marketing agencies believe this will change.
"It profiles very well against 14- to 30-year-olds. It is not very strong against C2 housewives. A cultural shift is needed to bring older people on board with mobile marketing. There is still a way to go before the older market recognises this as another channel of information like their TV or regular press diet," Chris Seth, the media director of Proximity London, says. He believes that an investment in SMS is worthwhile because of the responsiveness of the medium. "It is highly responsive. Response rates are higher than any other channel. But it's still a new medium. People are surprised when they receive commercial SMS messages."
There are risks that spamming could spoil the overall credibility of SMS campaigns. "The key is going to be ensuring that you get permission from individuals and that the messages are relevant to their interests and needs," Seth says.
Interest in text messaging is on the up and a lot of tests are being carried out by agencies for their clients. Many brands are trying to make up their minds whether SMS should be used to retain existing customers or to acquire new ones. "For some brands it is better used to develop a dialogue with existing users," Seth says.
Pan Macmillan Children's books is using text messaging to promote a new book called The Princess Diaries, which has been written by the popular author Meg Cabot. Children more than 12 years old are being sent excerpts from the book, competitions and games to play. It's Pan Macmillan's first taste of SMS and it is excited about its possibilities. "I think text messaging is a great new tool.
It's too soon to have an idea of whether it will affect sales but we hope that it will," Viviane Basset, the Pan Macmillan marketing manager, says. "The limitation of SMS is that you cannot send pictures yet. It would be great to be able to send an illustration of the cover of a book and I think that will develop soon."
Fulfilment of offers is an area where SMS campaigns can have weaknesses.
Pub chains frequently offer free drinks via text messages which you can claim if you show the bar staff a correct number on your mobile. But to be redeemed these numbers have to be entered manually by bar staff which takes time. The competition mechanic is also open to abuse because the numbers can be forwarded on to other people. "Fulfilment of offers by SMS is not practical at the moment. It's clunky. It would be nice if it could be integrated so a barcode reader could run over your mobile phone screen," Mark Cripps, the head of digital communications for Draft Worldwide (formerly Lowe Live), says.
Generally clients are impressed by the cost effectiveness of SMS campaigns.
Metro sees it as a much cheaper alternative to traditional direct marketing mail techniques because there is not so much creative work involved.
Proximity believes that SMS should be treated like e-mail. Seth says: "E-mail has not replaced direct mail but it has added another level of effectiveness. SMS enhances direct marketing."
The cost of an SMS campaign largely depends on what you are trying to achieve. Seth adds: "If you are just relaying messages to existing customers it would not cost you more than about £10,000. Volume is the key determining factor."
Dealing with SMS response rates can be complicated from a technology point of view. But the new-media marketing executives at Smash Hits are unfazed by these issues. "I'm a complete technophobe," Causer admits.
"SMS is just a marketing tool. If you are working with an SMS agency which really know its stuff then you don't have to get involved in all that. It's about getting your message across in the most impactful way. You should treat it like traditional direct marketing and don't be deterred by the technology."
BUILDING AWARENESS AND GENERATING A RESPONSE: CAMPAIGNS USING SMS
CLIENT AGENCY Type of Campaign Investment
BARCLAYS Flytxt viral 4 weeks £40,000
CHAPSTICK 12snap viral 2 weeks n/s
SONY 12snap integrated, 1 month part of
CLIENT Target Response Results
BARCLAYS 14- to 17- 6 per cent Helped to generate a
year-olds (opt-in) 157 per cent rise
in student applications
CHAPSTICK 18- to 30- 15 per cent 16 per cent of respondents
year-olds played again; 24 per cent
forwarded text to friends
SONY 15- to 24- 18 per cent 7,500 individuals logged on
year-olds to explore the online
adventure game to see
if their numbers had come up
Source: 12snap, flytxt.