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Why text messaging is yet to be used inventively in India

text messaging, messaging, India, SMS, marketing,  transactional communication, BFSI, Future Group

By Venkata Susmita Biswas

For nearly two decades, traditional text marketing - the oldest mobile marketing tool - has remained unchanged. Marketers still use it to send out information on products and promotions, and consumers continue to perceive it as intrusive and unwanted. This is in contrast to how brands are harnessing the power of over-the-top messaging apps like WhatsApp, Hike and Facebook Messenger by creating stickers, memes and GIFs that users send to each other on these apps. Short messaging service (SMS) marketing, on the other hand, continues to be a medium for transactional communication, eliciting very little engagement from the consumer.

Text to transact
Even though promotional texts are considered spammy by nature, text marketing is, surprisingly, a useful performance marketing tool. Avadhoot Revankar, chief growth hacker and product evangelist, Netcore Solutions, says, "Over the years, the volume of messages sent out by brands has fairly increased. A user now receives as many as 30 to 40 texts a day. Despite this clutter, the overall read rate on SMS is high. In fact, brands do see traffic (online and offline) arising from the SMS channel."

Industry estimates suggest that 90% of all text messages are read within three minutes of being received. Experts say that an SMS costs more than an e-mail, but has a higher click-through rate. Cost of one SMS is around 12 paise, whereas a promotional e-mail could cost 2-4 paise. A retail brand organising a high intensity campaign for its seasonal sale could end up spending Rs 15-20 lakh to reach its consumers.

Rajdipkumar Gupta, MD and group CEO, Route Mobile, a mobile marketing agency, says that text messaging is an integral part of a consumer's life. "SMS is part of nearly 80-90% of a consumer's transaction over the internet. From banking alerts, OTPs and alerts for purchases made online, movie tickets, e-commerce purchases to gate change alerts and doctor appointments - everything is sent over SMS."

Largely, retail, e-commerce and BFSI brands use SMS to reach out to consumers. Retailers rely on SMS mainly because they collect phone numbers of people who shop at their stores and have a large first-party database.

"We use text messaging for the purpose of closing the loop with a consumer. SMS cannot be used to recruit a customer; it works mainly with a customer who has already shown interest in our products and brands," says Pawan Sarda, group head-digital, Future Group.

Text to talk
Despite the benefits of SMS marketing, "it is among the most underutilised and unrecognised communication tools available to marketers," says Ajay Kakar, CMO, Aditya Birla Capital. Text messaging has significantly lost out to app notifications, which allows rich text, especially preferred by e-commerce players. The future of text messaging, then, lies in the coming together of Rich Communication Services and turning the native messaging app into a chatbot. "This will solve the challenge of installing multiple apps for various services, and bring all services within the text messaging environment. For instance, a user will be able to purchase a flight ticket by communicating with an airline's chatbot and even receive the PDF of the boarding pass via SMS," says Gupta.

Text messaging, experts say, has the potential to facilitate engaging conversations with consumers. "Imagine if text messages were personalised and not sent out en masse; or if a brand could send a customised coupon to a user who walks into a store in real time, and ensure that the coupon is redeemed as well in real time," shares Kakar.