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Integrated mobile messaging makes gains, but is it enough?

While mobile messaging often presents challenges for marketers interested in developing integrated experiences, this could be changing in 2015 as new options begin to emerge. 

SMS is a powerful channel for reaching a wide swath of mobile users but marketers are not enamored of it for a variety of reasons. Newer options such as push notifications and beacons are exciting but have limited reach while over-the-top messaging, although very popular with consumers, has so far presented limitations for working with these third-party platforms. 

?Marketers need to consider how the landscape is going to change over the next 5 years,? said Patrick Connolly, London-based senior analyst at ABI Research. ?I think indoor location technologies like beacons and Wi-Fi will significantly change the mobile advertising market. 

?Suddenly, major retail chains can own the location technology, the analytics and even the delivery medium, while tightly integrating it into its POS and loyalty programs, via a mobile application,? he said. 
?Taking this further, most major retailers already have advertising partnerships with major brands. This will create a gap in the market for a broker that can manage and integrate these smaller, targeted, high-value campaigns.?

Disjointed experiences?
The path to purchase is a disjointed experience these days. While mobile is playing a big role, consumers are also spending time on desktop and other digital devices as they research products and come to a decision. 
Marketers increasingly recognize this and want integrated programs that not only deliver a consistent experience across devices but also enable them to make the most of the marketing programs they already have in place, such as customer relationship management. 

However, one of the biggest hurdles to such experiences continues to be marketing silos, with some marketing technologies more effective at enabling information sharing and project collaboration than others. 
SMS is still one of the best ways to reach mobile users at scale. 

Additionally, wireless networks such as Verizon, Telefonica and WEVE are beefing up SMS capabilities through their entry into the location-based advertising space, with a combination of geofencing, analytics and SMS messaging. 

SMS promotions plummet
However, many marketers are not convinced of SMS? ongoing potential. 

"The biggest head scratcher of the holiday season is the report that seasonal SMS promotions by major retailers dramatically plummeted year over year, according to BDO,? said Jeff Hasen, founder and CEO of Gotta Mobilize, a Seattle-based marketing consulting firm. ?One third of marketers asked went the text message route in 2013. Only 7 percent said they would do so in the just concluded shopping season.

"This is a huge miss,? he said. ?While hardly the end all, loyalty programs keyed by an SMS opt-in have proven their worth. Sales are generated even during times like the Polar Vortex.?

Messaging apps?
The U.S. Fund for UNICEF reports reduced efficiency on SMS for text-to-give campaigns. Previously, the organization saw SMS as a great way to send out a ubiquitous call-to-action during an emergency. 

Chris Maddox, managing director of digital fundraising for the organization attributes the decrease in efficacy for SMS in part to the growth taking place on Facebook Messenger. 

?We are seeing it really growing on Facebook Messenger, seeing a cannibalization of core mobile features, the market share for SMS,? Mr. Maddox said. 

?One thing that will be interesting, as we see an increase in point to point communications, closed gardens for nonprofits and B2C - how do we work with them to make some type of integration with them,? he said. ?We are looking at this over the next 24 months.? 

?SMS is not integrated with anything else. There is a communications silo on the phone - I am not convinced it is where consumers are interested in being.? 

Streamlining integrated experiences
The challenge for push notifications is that not a lot of consumers download and regularly use brands? mobile apps. 

However, the pairing of Bluetooth Low Energy technology with retail apps could be a powerful combination by leveraging beacons in stores. 

While marketers such as Staples and Hershey are embracing SMS for driving in-store sales and loyalty, other marketers are more interested in push notifications and beacons, in part because with SMS users are often required to take a number of steps to access a coupon. 

In comparison, a beacon program that incorporates a smartphone application with automatic coupon redemption and mobile payment could remove many of these steps.

With beacons, marketers need to be careful not to turn-off consumers by sending too many messages. 

?The big fear with technologies like Beacons is spamming consumers into submission before the technology has had a chance to shine,? ABI Research?s Mr. Connolly said. ?Samsung?s new BLE standard creates an intermediate app layer that removes the need for an app running on the device- this is very powerful but also potentially very dangerous.?

Customer-driven marketing?
For savvy marketers who are already using data analysis and CRM, it is the customer who is driving where marketing dollars are being invested. 

?The worst choice for an omnichannel experience is to not understand the customer profile you?re engaging,? said Alex Campbell, co-founder of Vibes. ?An email to your most loyal customers needs to have the same voice as a direct mail piece or an SMS.?

Many marketers would agree that mobile needs to be at the center of an omnichannel strategy. It is just which of the many mobile tactics to use and how that is still undetermined. 

?What tactics the brands decide to use in the mobile marketing strategy should always align to their audiences behaviors, needs and wants,? said Bruce Hershey II, vice president of mobile strategy at Vibes. ?If the brand does not have a simple and easy - mobile optimized - way for the consumer to get relevant content, updates and information they will go to a brand that is thinking of them and buy from them.?

Final Take
?Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Marketer, New York