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 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.