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SMS is key to a well-rounded app strategy

SMS is providing opportunities for businesses of all kinds to both extend their reach to the mobile phone, as well as move consumers from one mobile channel to another.

When well implemented, SMS reminds customers about what is important to them, no matter where they are or what they are doing. It is key to a well-rounded application strategy.

?SMS allows developers to take their product off individual platforms and sites, and bring their product to any consumer with a cell phone and a text plan,? said Kirsten McMullen, director of marketing at 4Info, San Francisco. ?This creates tons of opportunity for game developers, publishers, app designers and even brands to connect with consumers, wherever they may be.

?It also allows developers to diversify their product to reach an expanded audience and mitigate any risk associated with one particular site or platform,? she said.

SMS for reach
Mobile social media is exploding. 

For example, Facebook has more than 100 million people actively using the service via mobile every month.

Much of the mobile industry is wondering what the future of advertising on Apple devices will look like.  This trend has one mobile channel that holds all the pieces together ? text messaging.   

The simplicity of the technology, along with its reach (SMS is available in nearly 100 percent of the 288 million mobile phones in the United States and 5 billion mobile phones around the world), makes it the obvious choice to be the ?middleman? of mobile outreach and commerce.

Facebook?s Mafia Wars has more than 23 million monthly active users. FarmVille has nearly 76 million monthly active users.

Facebook has 34 million monthly active users. Bejeweled Blitz has 9.8 million monthly active users.

?Taking advantage of the passion consumers have for these games (or apps) requires that developers allow them to tap into game play, even when they?re not in a browser,? Ms. McMullen said. ?The obvious solution is the mobile phone.

?Apps are the hot trend of the moment, but only 17 percent of phones are smartphones,? she said. ?How do you reach the other 83 percent of cell-phone owning, passionate game players? 

?You can reach everybody through SMS.?

What is interesting to Alex Hall, chief operating officer of Tigerspike, New York, is that SMS is still growing as a technology in conjunction with application growth and mobile site browsing.

Full conversations are increasingly taking place by SMS with IM style behavior being adopted, and it is not uncommon to be sending hundreds in a day.

SMS and social gaming
This is the insight the social gaming companies have seized upon, which is a marked change from recent years, where experts were predicting the impending demise of SMS.

Additionally, SMS provides a fantastic platform that does not significantly disadvantage players without access to smartphone applications, be it publisher or Facebook led.

?From a mobile app perspective, I see the use of SMS as a great alerts and sharing tool,? Mr. Hall said. ?It?s also a great tool for sending ?on the scene? information to news broadcasters, due to the reach.

?However, MMS adds more value in this instance from a rich media perspective,? he said. ?As far as social gaming goes, the products are built upon stickiness. Mobile engagement allows the game to be with you at all times and bring communities of friends together even more.

?Arguably the very sight of people using their mobile in such a manner will introduce new users as well, as a result of the more public locations in which the engagement will be taking place.?

Jared Reitzin, CEO of mobileStorm, Los Angeles, strongly believes that while applications can be used for more engaging mobile content, SMS should be used in tandem to reach the widest possible audience.

Complement a mobile app
SMS can complement a mobile application strategy through interactivity that only SMS can provide. 

In addition, SMS provides the opportunity to build a mobile database to market to again in the future, as opposed to mobile application downloads where no valuable user-information can be obtained, per Mr. Reitzin.

A good example of SMS being used in tandem to a publisher's mobile application strategy would be to place a call-to-action on traditional media or on a publisher's Web site that allows the user to text-in, and receive a link to a mobile version of the same content found in a mobile application. 

This extends the reach exponentially to those who do not have devices capable of downloading mobile applications, for example.

SMS sits outside the walled gardens of on-deck or stores centered on specific operating systems.

The universal accessibility of SMS, combined with the ability to provide information in real-time, creates opportunities for publishers/developers to connect with their audiences.

Publishers/developers can use SMS to:

  • Reach consumers/players who do not have a smartphone
  • Reach consumers/players who have not played recently
  • Keep consumers/players engaged in the game
  • Acquire consumers/players who did not even know a specific game existed
  • Retain consumers/players
  • Monetize their interactions through incentivized offer paths

?A limited number of messages can produce significant ROI, and combined with a nearly 100 percent open rate for opted-in messaging, it provides a means to build brand awareness, two-way communication and interactivity that are unmatched by any other mobile channel,? Mr. Reitzin said. ?A mobile strategy simply can't be deemed ?well rounded? without including SMS.

?SMS can be used to distribute similar mobile content found in mobile apps to a wider audience, while giving that audience a choice in how a publisher's content is consumed on the go,? he said. ?SMS can be used to provide timely information that can be ?pushed? to the user as opposed to relying on the user to open the app and ?pull? the content themselves. 

?In addition, using SMS provides the ability to utilize carrier-based billing for premium content revenue opportunities, which is a convenience for consumers over other forms that may defer them from a purchase.?

SMS is key to having a 360-degree mobile strategy. A 360-degree mobile strategy means creating opportunities for mobile interaction, whenever the consumer wants it and wherever he or she may be.

Ubiquity of SMS
With billions of SMS messages sent every month in this country alone, it has become the most effective and cost efficient mechanism to communicate and market.

Virtually all handsets are capable of sending and receiving SMS messages.  It is simple to use and is universally available. For these reasons, it provides the key to unlocking all other mobile media. 

Ringtones, video, applications and purchases can all be pushed through SMS.

?You can take this one step further,? Ms. McMullen said. ?Want to talk to someone? More and more frequently, you touch base with friends by sending them an SMS ? in some demographics, SMS usage exceeds call volume.

?The phone has become less a method for making phone calls, and increasingly a device for sending messages, playing games and getting information,? she said.

The same is true if you are a social gaming company.

SMS is the most expedient way to communicate to your users and let them know what?s going on with their game.

As a marketing vehicle SMS is critical for user acquisition, retention and monetization.
By surrounding the user with opportunities to connect, any SMS can lead to multiple interactions over SMS or other mobile channels.

Offline calls to action (signs, POS display, packaging) featuring an SMS action are universally acceptable.

An invitation to text a keyword to a short code is a welcome diversion when waiting in line at a retail store, and the content received in return is relevant to your interests.   

Mobile Web banners can lead to WAP sites that offer SMS alerts. Or an SMS ad can bring the consumer to the WAP site. 

A brand might be featured in a display ad within an application; with a click the user can receive a coupon via SMS.

?The story behind all this is that people are opting in for disruptive experiences around their entertainment sources,? Ms. McMullen said. ?One example is social gaming, but other examples abound: NBA scores during playoffs, a Tweet from a friend, or a notification that a new picture of you is on Facebook.

?Regardless, each of these examples is all about using SMS - stopping what consumer is doing, so they can attend to an activity they would prefer to do,? she said. ?SMS provides the most cost effective and simple mechanism that complements any publisher app strategy.?

Including SMS as part of application marketing is critical.

For example within social gaming, SMS can be used at any of the following points to enhance the gaming experience and create valued engagement with the game:

? Alerts for adding any new weapons, armor or to change characters
? Alerts to top off virtual currency
? "Take a Break" alerts ? a SMS invitation to play a game at random parts of the day.
? Text to get suggestions on similar games (based on which ones you subscribed to or like)
? "Daily Challenge Alerts" ? get a daily SMS notification with name of game and score/time to beat.  For competitive players, this can be irresistible!
? New game alerts for any new games or updated versions
? Notifications when someone comments on your profile (if applicable) or wants to play with you, or if your rank has changed in game standings
? Game tips and tricks alerts (user gets daily/twice a week tips on how to play a game/win a certain game/secret tricks)
? Play a game via SMS (reply S to shoot at the other player, for example)
? Forward games that players like to other friends through SMS

Each of these activities creates value for the player, and therefore value for the developer as well.

Developers can extend this value by using SMS to monetize their game, such as special offers for virtual currency, incentivized paths for application installations, and advertising or third-party offers.

?SMS can be integrated into the mechanism for consumers to discover and download a mobile app by placing calls-to-action in traditional media, for example, or introducing premium content capabilities through SMS-based billing solutions,? Mr. Reitzin said.

?If you're a news organization or a magazine, for example, you can also offer additional real-time news and article updates that's only available through SMS, and that also helps build ones mobile database,? he said.