Open Letter To The Mobile Marketing Association

The following is the weekly guest series by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of SMS marketing software Tatango. At Tatango we use the Mobile Marketing Association’s (MMA) U.S. Consumer Best …

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Mobile Marketing Association LogoThe following is the weekly guest series by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of SMS marketing software Tatango.

At Tatango we use the Mobile Marketing Association’s (MMA) U.S. Consumer Best Practices as any Christian would use the bible. This document guides every company’s decision in the world of mobile marketing and is looked to daily for both insight and resolution.

Have you ever read the full 165 pages of the MMA U.S. Consumer Best Practices? If you haven’t, you can download it here. Fair warning though, it reads like a technical manual so I would start off with a Red Bull before taking the plunge. Like any good technical manual, this document is extremely cut and dry, as it should be to protect consumers in what some are still calling the “wild west” of mobile marketing.Like the Christian Bible, there are parts of the MMA U.S. Consumer Best Practices that at times can be confusing to one that studies it as intimately as I have. Unlike the Christian Bible though, the authors are still alive and that’s why I write this open letter to you at the Mobile Marketing Association, to ask for a revision of this document.

Dear MMA,

Why do I ask for a revision of your best practices? In section 1.5-5 of the document you state:

“Subscriber may initiate opt-in from a paper-based consent form.”

In plain english, this means a customer can ask to receive SMS messages from a business by writing their mobile phone number down on some sort of paper form. The problem though is that in section 1.5-3 you state:

“When opt-in occurs via the web or other non-mobile point of origination, the content provider must obtain verification that the subscriber is in possession of the handset being opted-in to the service.”

In plain english, the business has to confirm that that the customer is writing down their own mobile phone number, not the mobile phone number of a friend, relative or a random combination of 7 digits. When trying to apply this to a paper-based consent form, I would have to quote the French: c’est impossible!

This verification process is possible with both a Web and mobile originated opt-in, but not with a paper-based consent form. With an opt-in from a web interface you recommend a “PIN code” be sent to the subscribers mobile phone, which then is entered back into the web interface to confirm possession of that mobile phone. With a mobile originated opt-in (i.e. Text PIZZA to the short code 68398) the mobile originated message itself verifies mobile phone possession. As I see it, there is no possible way to obtain verification that the subscriber is in possession of the handset when opting into an SMS campaign from a paper-based consent form.

My solution, the phrase “Subscriber may initiate opt-in from a paper-based consent form” must be permanently removed from the Mobile Marketing Association U.S. Consumer Best Practices. By removing this phrase, you are not only making your document clearer to understand and implement, you will also be eliminating the majority of SMS spam. Without paper-based consent forms, SMS providers will no longer be able to use this loophole to justify letting their clients directly import mobile phone numbers into an SMS campaign. Once revised, all SMS providers will be required to use either a web interface or mobile originated opt-in, thus preventing the death of SMS marketing.

Sincerely,

Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of Tatango.com

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26 comments

  1.    Reply

    At least you are illustrating my point though that paper-consent based forms need to be banished. Hopefully the MMA takes note and agrees.

  2.    Reply

    […] a potential business killer. In another (edgier) blog Derek effectively takes on the industry and calls for a revision of the guidelines governing text messaging best practices in the […]

  3.    Reply

    Great thread Derek.

    I just wanted to point out one example use case where paper based opt-in makes sense – patient walks into a doctors office and would like to sign up to receive health tips. Depending on the person's comfort level with texting (think little old lady), they may want to sign up to receive tips but not know how to text a keyword into a short to opt-in. In this specific case, I think it's totally reasonable for the office to collect the person's phone number, write it down and keep record of the paper opt-in for audit purposes. The person will receive a message asking to provide their consent (reply Y), and when/if they do so – they're in. This is a real example that a potential client has asked us about, and we think it's fine as long as records are kept, the person receives the request for confirmation in a timely manner (a few hours), and they provide their consent to receive further messages (and if they don't, end of story).

    This only becomes an issue when companies are not following the MMA best practices, carrier guidelines and practical common sense. If a company is opting someone into their program without receiving actual consent via text message, they're going to have angry customers and potential legal issues.

    1.    Reply

      Jeff, obviously there are always a few good reasons for anything, like the one you gave. The real question though… is it worth it for one old lady to be able to opt-in if we expose millions of others to SMS spam because we allow this practice to continue? Tough questions, but I think the old lady can survive without SMS alerts 🙂

      Also, if someone isn't capable of joining an SMS campaign via a mobile keyword, I don't think they should be part of an SMS campaign in the first place. If they can't join, that means they are also going to have troubles opting out in the future… It's just not worth the hastle.

  4.    Reply

    Interesting point Jared. You can't disagree though that if everyone followed the USCBP like the 10 commandments, our industry would see a significant drop in SMS spam. The problem I see is that where are these 10 commandments that we are all to follow?

    In regards to the STOP message in the footer, at least the way I understand the USCBP is that it's only required for recurring programs, see section 1.6-9. This could be part of the problem though, the guidelines are so complicated that even veterans like you and I have trouble interpreting them.

    1.    Reply

      Amen!

  5.    Reply

    Thank you all, this is an important and valuable exchange. With Kirsten on this thread it is one that I'm certain the MMA CBP committee can take under advisement. Please note, the MMA and the CTIA are jointly working together and looking into models that can help streamline the messaging process and to address the needs of the community so that we can improve the overall efficiency of the messaging (SMS, MMS) channel. We're also holding a number of other programs to frame this discussion; for example, messaging is a major talking point at the upcoming MMA CEO/CMO Summit: http://ceocmosummit.mmaglobal.com/. We'll also be discussing it at the MMA Forum in LA on Nov. 17.

    1.    Reply

      Great to hear Michael, glad I was able to shed some light on this issue for the MMA. Hopefully we will see a revision on the next version to better reflect what the industry needs right now.

  6.    Reply

    As usual, Derek, a thought-provoking commentary. The larger problem here, however, is the maze of compliance regulations that the MMA (and now CTIA) "recommends." My company (TextPower) requires all of its users to adhere strictly to non-spam/opt-in policies; we've fired customers for abuse. However, the varying compliance requirements from all of the different carriers, difficulties in getting short codes authorized and provisioned and constant auditing for trivial violations resulting in threats to disconnect the short code from a carrier makes it difficult to conduct business as a gateway/software provider/VAR.

    The bigger problem, in my estimation, is that the carriers should be viewing companies like yours and mine as partners rather than antagonistically. Even the Constitution allows innocence until proven guilty – carriers take the exact opposite approach and wouldn't be able to get away with it if they didn't have a monopoly position. One day a Google or other alternative carrier will facilitate these processes in a way that carriers can't imagine and a spam-free, productive SMS explosion will occur.

    1.    Reply

      Couldn't agree more Scott! There needs to be a universal set of rules that are black and white in this industry ASAP.

      Thanks for the comment.

  7.    Reply

    James, it may be legal, but I agree with Derek that it enables SPAM.

    My pet peeve is "Reply STOP to opt out" on a transaction, not subscription, MT.

    1.    Reply

      Exactly my point Jonathan, if they have to say "reply STOP to opt-out" it's already too late… hahaha

  8.    Reply

    Yet another heavily biased article in favour of Derek Johnsons's business model of "pure opt in via SMS"… all he is doing is pushing his agenda. There is nothing wrong with a small business collecting numbers via paper forms, and the first time they communicate with that number using SMS they provide a valid optout (reply STOP) path. This methd is very successful for small business owners, is perfectly legal.

    1.    Reply

      You are correct James, my own opinions will be expressed in these guest blog posts.

      In regards to this method being successful, I have to disagree… Look at Natasha's comment above, would you consider that a success for a small business owner? If the small business owner would have used a mobile opt-in, that would have never happened.

      In my opinion there is no good argument for why a business should use a paper form over a mobile opt-in, or at least I'm not seeing it from your argument.

  9.    Reply

    […] Association shares my passion, and that’s why I’ve written an open letter to them in Mobile Marketing Watch. With this letter I hope to bring a revision to the U.S. Consumer Best Practices document and […]

  10.    Reply

    Hi All, thanks for writing the MMA. In the case of the paper-based consent for them best way to handle this is to have instructions (the call-to-action) on the paper that asks the mobile subscriber to send in a text message as in the example above text PIZZA to the common short code (i.e. the five to six digit number). Be sure that you clearly stat the Std Rate MSG&Data Rates May Apply (i.e. be clear that they'll be charged for the messages). Also, clearly explain what they're opt-in for and the frequency of messages you plan on sending them (e.g. one a week, couple times a month). It is a good idea to have multiple keywords approved with your programs so that you're using a different keyword, e.g. Pizza, across your media (flyer, TV, billboard, etc.). You can use the keyword to track how many people are opting into your program from the different media you use to promote it. On Aug. 3 in Chicago we'll be holding a mobile marketing fundamentals course, http://august3mmachicago.eventbrite.com/. Please visit the MMA (www.mmaglobal.com) to keep an eye out for other events. You can always email us as well at mma@mmaglobal.com if you have any other questions or input.

    BTW, we're working on bring the Consumer Best Practices online to make it easier to search and use. Keep an eye our for the announcement.

    Michael Becker
    North American Managing Director
    Mobile Marketing Association

    1.    Reply

      Michael, am I hearing you correctly? When the MMA says "paper-based consent form" they aren't talking about a customer writing down their phone number on some sort of paper form and giving consent? Instead it's referencing the fact that a mobile opt-in like "Text PIZZA to 68398" can be displayed on paper?

      This seems like a stretch, but if true, this is awesome news!!!

      1.    Reply

        I think it isn't that well defined. The question of paper-based opt-in is definitely an open one, as carriers have indicted that it is acceptable, as long as posession of the handset being opted-in is verified. The CBP leaves open the method by which that happens. You argue that it is impossible. I would agree that it's difficult and burdonsome, but not impossible. As part of the CBP committee, I'm constantly striving to make these guidelines simpler and less restrictive, but as you can see, it isn't a simple task. I think that we are better off forbiding paper based opt-in, as businesses inexperienced in the nuance of CBP requirements may get themselves in trouble. That said, I believe there are a number of programs where paper based opt in is successfully done. One example is a dental office, where the paper form is completed, and a test message is sent to the phone, which needs to be presented to the intake assistant to finalize opt-in.

        Feel free to shoot me any and all suggestions for specific changes to the standard rate section of the CBP. We've got a team of people working hard to make these guidelines as clear as possible and input is always welcome!

        1.    Reply

          Thanks for the comment Kirsten, greatly appreciated!

          Yea, I think it could be defined better in the CBP. It sounds like even members of the MMA are confused as to what exactly this phrase means and the scope of its reach.

          Did you hear we received a cease & desist letter from a national franchise after we pointed out on our blog that they weren't sending MT's after a customer used a paper-consent form? We told them this was in clear violation of the CBP, but their attorneys served us the papers anyways.

          It sounds like this phrase needs to go, ending the confusion from both people in the mobile industry and businesses/organizations that are trying to do the right thing, but have a hard time understanding what that is.

          So when can we expect a revision? 🙂

          1.   

            We're looking for a September revision, but since it requires approval from carrier legal, that's always subject to change! The CBP is normally updated twice a year – one "major" and one "minor" update.

          2.   

            Great to hear!

  11.    Reply

    Wouldn't it be possible to collect numbers on paper or the web and then provide an opt-in message confirming the user has possession of the handset?

    For example, I sign up at Joe's Pizza with their paper form. Later, I get a text that says "Reply Y to join Joe' Pizza Text Club!". Replying Y both gives consent and shows I have the handset. Wouldn't that work within the current rules, assuming I didn't receive any marketing text messages before having completed the opt in?

    1.    Reply

      Great thought David. It's pretty clear though that in the document it states under section 1.5-1 that content providers must obtain opt-in approval from subscribers before sending them any SMS messages. The problem is that 12% of people still pay up to 20 cents per message, one unsolicited text message for those people is too many.

      1.    Reply

        Derek, what if they provide the opt-in message via FSMS, and subsequent messages via standard platform?

        1.    Reply

          Now that's a new one for me… What does FSMS stand for?

  12.    Reply

    Thanks Natasha for contributing to the rise in SMS SPAM 🙂 At least you are illustrating my point though that paper-consent based forms need to be banished. Hopefully the MMA takes note and agrees.