Who’s Killing SMS Marketing?

The following is the first in a new weekly guest series by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of Tatango. Recently I’ve been having horrible nightmares. These nightmares aren’t …

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The following is the first in a new weekly guest series by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of Tatango.

Recently I’ve been having horrible nightmares. These nightmares aren’t the kind I had when I was a child though, these are much worse. These nightmares take me into the future and give me a glimpse of what the SMS industry has become

My nightmares always start with the consumer. I see consumer after consumer grow frustrated with the concept of “SMS marketing”. I watch as their phones beep every few minutes signaling the arrival of another unwanted SMS advertisement. Parents take their mobile phones into the stores requesting SMS be removed as a feature, while children become immune to the flood of SMS spam, just as in present day I’ve become immune to email SPAM. What hurts me the most is that I hear business owners joke to their cohorts that it’s now referred to as “SMS spamming”, not “SMS marketing”.

As pressure mounts from consumers, advocacy groups and lawsuits, the carriers go on a witch hunt to shut down SMS campaigns. The easiest solution is to shutdown short codes. Without regard to campaign, carriers start flipping switches, cutting off access to each short code in numerical order. First goes the short-code 50001, then 50002, and they don’t stop until they’ve shut them all down. At this point I frantically look around for the government to step in, a public interest group, anybody to help save my short code. No one is coming, like all the consumers, no-one wants to champion SMS marketing anymore, it’s a lost battle. It’s at this point I usually wake from my nightmare.

As I sit in bed trying to convince myself it was just a dream, I know that what I’ve seen in my nightmares isn’t too far from what could soon be the reality of our industry. What will cause the demise of SMS marketing as we know it? Simple. The continued practice of SMS providers allowing businesses the ability to import customer phone numbers into an SMS campaign, bypassing their need to receive the customers permission through an opt-in (i.e text PIZZA to 68398 to receive weekly pizza promotions).

This practice is not only a slap to the face of the Mobile Marketing Association’s best practices, it’s quickly eroding the benefits of SMS marketing, including high redemption rates and even higher open rates. These metrics have an inverse relationship to the rate of SMS SPAM, and by continuing to allow businesses to import customer phone numbers, SMS SPAM will most certainly rise, pushing down SMS redemptions and open rates. Don’t believe me? Look at what’s happened with email marketing. Did you know that email marketing on average has only a 20% open rate, nearly five times lower than SMS marketing? Why? The majority of marketing emails I receive, I never subscribed to in the first place.

So to answer the question, “who’s killing SMS marketing?”, it’s unfortunately the same people that are trying to promote it, the SMS providers. This piece is more of a call to action, than it is a blog post. Starting today, I’m calling for all SMS providers to band together and put a stop to this self-destructive practice. If we don’t act now, my nightmares will soon become our harsh reality.

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39 comments

  1.    Reply

    […] While these types of shady characters would be nearly impossible to catch or prosecute, there is a simple answer to stopping this madness. Instead of trying to cut off the source of the mobile phone numbers, we as an industry can stop the practice of allowing customers to import lists such as these. (If you haven’t seen the demonstration of how I was able to spam 1,000+ mobile phone numbers in under 60 seconds using a Tatango competitor, it’s well worth the read) If we don’t stop the practice of allowing customers to import mobile phone number databases like these into their SMS campaigns, this could easily be the death of the SMS marketing industry. […]

  2.    Reply

    […] argument that all SMS providers should stop the practice of allowing their clients the ability to import mobile phone numbers into an SMS campaign, bypassing the need for consent from the owner of the mobile phone number. As […]

  3.    Reply

    […] argument that all SMS providers should stop the practice of allowing their clients the ability to import mobile phone numbers into an SMS campaign, bypassing the need for consent from the owner of the mobile phone number. As […]

  4.    Reply

    […] argument that all SMS providers should stop the practice of allowing their clients the ability to import mobile phone numbers into an SMS campaign, bypassing the need for consent from the owner of the mobile phone number. As […]

  5.    Reply

    […] argument that all SMS providers should stop the practice of allowing their clients the ability to import mobile phone numbers into an SMS campaign, bypassing the need for consent from the owner of the mobile phone number. As […]

  6.    Reply

    […] point and an uncomfortable truth: SMS spam is a nuisance and what Derek has called (via his blog over at Mobile Marketing Watch) a potential business killer. In another (edgier) blog Derek effectively takes on the industry and […]

  7.    Reply

    […] future and give me a glimpse of what the SMS industry has become. ” Derek Johnson posted On Mobile Marketing Watch and he continues to say: “So to answer the question, “who’s killing SMS marketing?”, […]

  8.    Reply

    […] Derek Johnson from Tatango wrote a guest post at Mobile Marketing Watch titled “Who’s Killing SMS Marketing?. […]

  9.    Reply

    […] 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. […]

  10.    Reply

    […] 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. […]

  11.    Reply

    I don't share your thoughts. We have seen a lot of success using Dktext.com. Its not as much about grabbing new customers as it is getting the existing customers notified that you have a sale or something they "need"

    1.    Reply

      You're completely missing the point, you don't have permission even from your existing customers to text message them. AKA SPAM.

  12.    Reply

    […] comments echo the sentiments of Derek Johnson, founder & CEO of Tatango, who recently, in a guest commentary on MMW, expressed similar concerns about the spam-SMS […]

  13.    Reply

    In the US, many mobile operators are already acting on this through 7726 (SPAM). At least AT&T has it up and running. I just sent the spam messages to 7726 (free). They seemed to take my concern seriously and started a quick text discussion on the number I received the spam from and thanking me for helping them. It was really helpful. Has the DMA looked into supporting/endorsing this approach?

  14.    Reply

    […] comments echo the sentiments of Derek Johnson, founder & CEO of Tatango, who recently, in a guest commentary on MMW, expressed similar concerns about the spam-SMS […]

  15.    Reply

    […] comments echo the sentiments of Derek Johnson, founder & CEO of Tatango, who recently, in a guest commentary on MMW, expressed similar concerns about the spam-SMS […]

  16.    Reply

    […] by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of Tatango. Recently I've been having horrible nightmares. sms marketing – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Foursquare Marketing and tagged Killing, Marketing, Mobile, Watch, […]

  17.    Reply

    SMS is not an industry; it is not even a technology. It is simply a protocol by which messages can be sent to mobile phones. It is a side-effect of how the cellular network was designed, and it is quickly becoming unnecessary. As smartphones take over the market, the consumer demand for SMS will approach zero. In essence, SMS is a way for carriers to charge exorbitant fees for something they get for free. As the market becomes saturated with smart phones, consumers will transition to more robust, more flexible, and cheaper methods of sending messages. The idea that consumers are becoming immune to SMS campaigns pales in comparison to the sunset of SMS as a protocol. It's time to face the music: SMS marketing as a niche is about to become a curious piece of history.

    1.    Reply

      Benson, your argument is barely comprehensible. If what you are saying is true, as smart phone adoption has grown over the last few years, SMS usage would have declined during this period. It hasn't though, so I'm not sure what you are basing your argument on.

      Come back and comment when you have a stronger argument and then I will seriously debate you.

  18.    Reply

    […] by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of Tatango. Recently I've been having horrible nightmares. sms marketing – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Mobile Marketing and tagged Killing, marketing, Mobile, Watch, […]

  19.    Reply

    […] by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of Tatango. Recently I've been having horrible nightmares. sms marketing – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged Killing, Marketing, Mobile, Watch, […]

  20.    Reply

    Thanks everyone for your comments on my first guest post, greatly appreciated.

  21.    Reply

    I agree that irresponsible mobile marketers will be the cause of the demise of SMS marketing at least in consumer mind share. A complete shutdown of this industry isn't the solution. Stricter rules and standards should be applied.

  22.    Reply

    […] by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of Tatango. Recently I've been having horrible nightmares. mobile marketing – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Mobile Marketing and tagged Killing, Marketing, Mobile, Watch, […]

  23.    Reply

    […] by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of Tatango. Recently I've been having horrible nightmares. mobile marketing – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Sms Marketing and tagged Killing, Marketing, Mobile, Watch, […]

  24.    Reply

    […] by Revolution Messaging Derek Johnson, founder and CEO of Tatango, wrote yesterday in an op-ed on Mobile Marketing Watch that he has been having nightmares of where the SMS industry is […]

  25.    Reply

    Derek,
    You know when I read that headline that hit my Inbox, I said holy crap, my nightmare is happening. When I first got into this, the whole time I was thinking, "When are the idiots going to ruin this"? You took the words right out of MY nightmare. MMA has to start getting tough on this, but it's still the wild west out here in mobile land, csv files, land line scrubbers. You are absolutely right, the providers have it but we can stop it.
    But what are the chances of that happening?

    1.    Reply

      The problem with the MMA is there merely are there to offer guidelines, I don't see them taking the role of an enforcer anytime soon.

      To be honest, too many people in the SMS marketing industry are shortsighted, therefore I don't have much faith.

  26.    Reply

    Derek, I don't share your nightmare. SMS marketing and email marketing have one very important difference. You can send emails for free, SMS costs money. For that reason no one company or individual can continue to indiscriminately spam for any length of time. Unless of course they can get SMS free of charge. Sure, spammers will come and go, but so long as the companies sending have to pay per message then you'll never see spamming anything like we do on email. Hope this helps you sleep better.

    1.    Reply

      Gary, I have to disagree with your argument. Have you ever gone to your mailbox (the physical one outside your house) and seen the amount of shit you get daily that you didn't opt-in for? The last time I checked businesses had to pay to send things through the physical mail. Yes, charging will eliminate some of the spammers, but not all.

      Also, for most businesses using email marketing with service like iContact, Constant Contact, etc. they have to pay for the service, it's not free.

      I'm guessing you're on the other side of this argument as the front page of your website says "upload and manage contacts". I understand where you're coming from though with a short-term business perspective, the more phone numbers you upload, the more money you make when you charge per text.

  27.    Reply

    Thanks for the insightful post, Derek. The good news is carriers have a vested interest in keeping SMS healthy while also being able to play gatekeeper and toll collector in the process. This is less so in email.

    Like anything, there will be bad apples. But we're optimistic the evil doers will move onto easier prey, such as the ones in social media.

    1.    Reply

      Great points. Looking forward to seeing the launch of your new website. Send me over a beta code when you have one.

  28.    Reply

    That is a scary picture that you paint Derek!

    SMS can be one of the best type of campaigns for many service based businesses and the thought of the infrastructure getting shut down by the carriers is scary indeed!

    The good news is that if all of the major providers follow an ethics model we’ll probably never see that day.

    Thanks for reminding me why I do what I do!

    1.    Reply

      Good to hear Derek. The reality is that SMS Marketing is not about push/ broadcasting text or opting in to receive updates. This is the mentality that prevails in the US, consumers in reality to do wish to receive text on a regular basis. Businesses and providers need to start to educate and police aggressively double opt in rules but more than that start to educate businesses that they need to think of SMS as empowering the internet in the public environment, similar to Google search. Simply giving the consumer the choice to receive information. Text to Action, advocate this and the future is great, advocate push and text marketing is like you say going to be tarnished with the same brush that has tarnished email marketing.

    2.    Reply

      Thanks for the comment. The problem though is the majority of major players right now don't follow the same ethics model.

  29.    Reply

    […] Who’s Killing SMS Marketing? – Mobile Marketing Watch […]

  30.    Reply

    […] sure to check out my first post entitled, Who’s Killing SMS Marketing? Also, I would greatly appreciate any feedback as this is my first post. […]

  31.    Reply

    Gary, the flaw I see in your system is when someone enters their mobile phone number incorrectly when they want to receive medication reminders. Is your system smart enough to know what they meant or are you now sending unsolicited SMS messages to the wrong phone number? In the states one unsolicited text message can trigger a class action lawsuit, which I can see happening through your system.

    If patients had to opt-in through a keyword on their own mobile phone, the above would never happen.

  32.    Reply

    So are you saying if I send a text to a wrong number it can trigger a class action lawsuit because that person did not opt-in to receive a message from me? Currently, there is no law for non-marketing material. Take a look at Kaiser Permanente. They did this for appointment reminders based on info from their legal counsel. I agree an opt-in is best but your argument above does not make sense based on my first sentence. Additionally, my doctor calls me for appt reminders which I never opted in for and it costs me minutes which costs me money.