The Reluctant Texter

Nielsen Mobile this week released a report saying the average U.S. cellular subscriber sent and received 357 text messages per month in the second quarter of this year–compared to making or getting 204 monthly phone calls. No surprise there. Mobile marketing experts have long said that SMS usage in North America would soon catch up with that of the rest of the world–in which texting trumps calling, due primarily to costs. Even in the United States, texting is becoming THE way to reach consumers in the manner they like best, as long as they have subscribed to receive such messages.

What gets me, though, is that some people still refuse to see the light. That is a fatal mistake for marketers. Some of the most common arguments I’ve heard–and reiterated on recent news blogs–are:

Text Is For Kids: Even members of the tech-savvy crowd insist that only teenagers and young adults are into SMS. Further, these myopic commenters lament texting, whether because it erodes the English language, is another example of instant gratification, or is a weapon of stealth in which evidence is quickly erased. The Truth:While the 13-to-17 crowd does send the most messages of any demographic, they aren’t the only ones using SMS. Remember, the Nielsen figure cited above is for an average of ALL mobile subscribers, which certainly includes adults of all ages.

Text Is Too Expensive: A reader of Wired’s blog, of all places, complained of SMS costs. Even though, since it’s surpassing voice in usage,  it’s clearly affordable for most cellular customers. Critics complain that per-message costs of $0.20; remember the Telus text scandal of a few months back. The Truth: Even phone minutes cost a lot if you’re using them a la carte instead of in bulk. Same with SMS. Most U.S. providers now offer “unlimited messages” for a set price that’s often lower than their thriftiest voice plan; they also offer packages as cheap as $5 for 200 texts (AT&T Mobile).

No One I Know Really Texts: Marketers sometimes say this when confronted with SMS opportunities for the very first time. The Truth:I once had a boss who, way back in March 2005, didn’t believe it when I said that CEOs and major enterprises were starting to use blogs for branding and marketing. He soon saw the light, as did the rest of the corporate world. In the case of texting, marketers shouldn’t just accept my argument–they should look at Nielsen and other figures for themselves.