Jonathon Linner

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Hitting the Mark with Text Messaging

Hitting the Mark with Text Messaging

How would you like to ride on the back of a Superbike driven by champion Gary Mason or have the very latest Mitsubishi Evo featured in "2 Fast 2 Furious" sitting in your garage? Or how would you appreciate up-to-the-minute flight info sent direct to your mobile when traveling, or a timely reminder of your next doctor's appointment? Fact is, whatever you desire or might find useful, before too long it's likely to be available to you through a new means: the text message.

For over two years in the UK, and now in the U.S., we have charted the rise and rise of mobile communications that add value and strengthen the bond between companies and their customers. This impetus has come from brands looking to exploit the benefits of tight, timely, personal targeting. But, importantly, it has also come from consumers themselves realizing the value of the medium to respond at will for more information, to request a call, receive an alert, claim a voucher, enter a draw, or vote in a TV show.

If the Levi's Super Bowl campaign and "Pop Idol" were the first national examples of targeted text messaging and text voting, there will soon be a plethora more where consumers are stimulated to respond via text to marketer promotions or to receive CRM messaging - if experience in Europe is anything to go by.

In the UK the promotional wave broke nearly two years ago with the first big Txt to Win promotion for Cadbury candy bars. Since then marketers have found many imaginative ways to integrate the medium into their brand activity.

Within this activity, stimulated text response has become a key mechanism for engagement, which short codes (5-digit numbers that are easy to remember and use) and premium rate charging (up to $2 per message sent, charged direct to your phone bill) facilitate. Cross-network carrier agreements that make these possible have been slower to develop in the U.S., but a growing majority of U.S. operators including AT&T, Cingular, Verizon, and Leap are putting these in place, making such activity an attractive option for the autumn and early next year.

One of the earliest sectors to adopt the medium has been the film industry, which now regularly uses SMS to help promote new releases.

With "Two Weeks Notice," the love story starring Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock, the opportunity was taken to use text to drive viral interest in the film. The movie opened on Valentine's Day, so a message targeting young women interested in films was sent two weeks ahead of the day asking them if they would like their partner to take them to see the film. If they responded with their partner's name and number, a free personalized message was sent to him with the request. Independent research showed that over half of the women who were sent messages recalled the campaign and thousands took up the Valentine's Day offer.

For "Phone Booth," a viral buzz was created through combination of outbound and inbound activity. Ahead of the launch, members of the Fox Txt Club were sent personal invites to a preview, while 20,000 matchbooks inviting people to the previews and featuring a text-in competition using a detail from the film were also distributed across university campuses. Entertainment and event listings magazines and city center posters promoting the film then also featured the competition via SMS. All respondents were sent notification of whether they were a winner or a loser and were given a chance to join the Fox Txt Club, thereby building the database for future release promotions.

For "2 Fast 2 Furious," the highly anticipated follow-up to "The Fast and the Furious" about the supercharged world of street racing, the combined use of a network short code and premium rate charge created a powerful self-liquidating promotion. Fans on every major phone network were invited via national press and posters to text in to a premium text competition for a chance to win a replica of the star vehicle - the EvO VII, worth over $60,000 - and a host of other prizes inspired by the film.

The personal nature of the mobile phone means it's an ideal vehicle for deepening consumer interest in an ongoing event or service. For Virgin Mobile, sponsors of Team Virgin Mobile Yamaha in the 2003 Superbike Championships, the medium was seen as a perfect way to extend the value of their sponsorship through a text club that offered fans a chance to win "money can't buy" prizes at race weekends through the summer, from racetrack rides to VIP tickets and pit-stop passes.

For Vittel, the natural mineral water brand, a text competition was seen as an ideal complement to its sponsorship of the London Marathon and use of its brand champion Paula Radcliffe, the world marathon title holder. A text-to-win promotion on 5 million bottles of Vittel at the time of the marathon offered participants the opportunity to text PAULA to a short code to enter a draw to win a round-the-world trip to three marathon locations: New York, Rio, and Sydney. When Paula Radcliffe subsequently went on to win the London Marathon with a new world record time, it was an added bonus!

In a similar way, the BBC has capitalized on the widespread use of messaging by providing supporting text services to two major UK TV series this spring: "Bitesize," the corporation's innovative multimedia study aid for high school students; and "Diet Trials," which won the Best SMS Service Award at Global Messaging 2003 in New York last month.

With "Bitesize," the opportunity was taken to extend the TV and Web service provided at with a text messaging option called Txt Bites, through which students could get sample exam questions (and the correct answers!) on the core subjects of math, English, and science sent direct to their mobiles. For $1.50, students received 15 study questions via text, plus the option of 15 more Q&As after the last question was sent. Students' financial exposure was limited to a maximum of $22.50 to cover the cost of sending and receiving up to 225 premium rate messages.

Andrew Lees, "Bitesize" producer, said of the Txt Bites ser-vice: "Mobile phones play a central role in the lives of 15 and 16 year olds. Revision Q&As sent by text message direct to their mobiles are an ideal way of jogging students' memories and getting them to think about their studies. When we ran Txt Bites last year the feedback from the students was extremely positive."

In the groundbreaking series "Diet Trials," four of the most well-known diet regimes - Slim-Fast, Weight Watchers, Rosemary Conley, and Dr. Atkins - were put to a six-month test with 300 clinically overweight people analyzed by leading scientists. At the end of the series viewers learned which diet worked for which person and who had lost the most weight.

The premium rate SMS ser-vice introduced during the program provided viewers who texted the word DIET to a short code with 14 daily diet tips from the series.

In both of these projects, a Web-based interface enabled BBC producers to take control of a sophisticated SMS alert service without having to worry about the technical infrastructure behind it. The success of the programs clearly showed that SMS has an important and enduring role to play in extending the involvement and benefit to be derived from TV programming.

For marketers, these examples have major significance. Text messaging is such an efficient and easy way to communicate with customers that the medium opens up many new ways to deliver service and develop loyalty. For airlines and hotels there is value in delivering booking references and travel updates direct to the travelers wherever they are. For event organizers, mobile ticketing and vouchers can enhance service and sales. For public sector and private companies alike, such as hospitals, banks, retailers, and state departments, employee and customer alerts and reminders can not only improve communications, but can significantly lower costs.

To take just one example, in the British National Health Service, nonattendance of patients at hospital appointments is estimated to cost the NHS more than $600 million per annum of wasted staff time. Realizing that a simple text reminder could be sent the day before an appointment, an enterprising hospital doctor started texting his patients from his mobile and found that attendance could be improved significantly. Trials of a more wide-scale NHS appointment reminder service are now being undertaken.

In all of this, one thing is clear: text messaging opens the door for more timely, direct, and spontaneous customer communications. Provided the channel is well managed and not abused, marketers and consumers alike will benefit hugely from its use.

In the U.S., as in the UK a year ago, it is the youth sector that is leading the way. In January, Levi's ran the largest U.S. SMS campaign to date to promote its competition to win a $150,000 pair of diamond-studded Type 1 jeans. As Jessica Day from Levi's agency, Media Contacts, said: "Text messaging is a perfect channel for targeting the notoriously hard-to-reach youth audience as it utilizes a medium and a device that they hold in high regard. We specifically used wireless to drive people to the Levi's Web site and remind them to watch the Super Bowl for the final competition clue."

In a market as large and dynamic as the U.S., it can only be a short time before broader-based activities like the BBC diet tips or NHS reminder service catch hold. The market for premium messaging services is still just starting to be exploited, and as these examples show, the possibilities for text-based applications are limited only by the imagination.

More Stories By Jonathon Linner

Jonathon Linner is CEO of Enpocket, the mobile media and technology solutions provider, which is a market leader in Europe and has now opened east and west coast U.S. operations. Jonathon's career spans two continents, three successful startups, and a range of media, broadcasting, and technology businesses. Before founding Enpocket, Jonathon was worldwide head of the Engage wireless business. Jonathon graduated from the University of Miami and has an MBA from Cornell.

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