Texting: The Medium We Hate to Love
Text messaging also came out of nowhere. Never intended as an actual mode of communication among phone users, SMS caught on monstrously with European youth. Even so, most U.S. observers doubted American teens would embrace such an obviously kludgy interface. Surprise again, in an age of technology geared towards convenience and time-saving, about a third of mobile phone users employ one of the most tortuous and slow modes of communication yet devised. Go figure.
To be sure, there is a bit of a cult of texting among youth. I am waiting for some studies to emerge on this, but I think a lot of young people actually value the primitiveness of texting, and there is an ultra-private, clandestine allure as well. It is a high-tech equivalent of passing notes in school.
But not for the rest of us. According to new research from MRI, less than half of a test group of 613 adults were able to respond to short code promotions on their phone. While the study was done "in cooperation with" Zoove Corp., which is hoping for adoption of its more streamlined alternative to SMS short codes, the research is among the first I have seen to explore how consumers actually interact with mobile marketing.
For instance, the MRI study found the initiating media has some effect on SMS success rates. Responding to a Volvo print ad with a short code pitch garnered a 45.2 percent success rate, while a Royal Caribbean TV ad got 44.7 percent and a radio spot for Outback got 42.1 percent. The reasons for this small span are obvious; print requires no memory. In fact, MRI found that 70.3 percent of the group said they usually forget the short code or keyword for the promotion--or it flies by too quickly to catch.
And here's an interesting tidbit: going against all previous stereotypes about technology and gender, women across the board are better at this than men. By a couple of percentage points, women were more successful at responding to SMS pitches in print, radio and TV.
Still, the problem for mobile marketers is that they are relying on a mode of initial contact with a consumer that is more hated than loved. Fully 70 percent of respondents just find the process of responding to an SMS promotion too long on their phone, and about the same share also say they find the process a hassle or easy to forget. More than two-thirds say that they just aren't interested in promotions involving a short code.
The bar needs to be lowered. The current SMS approach is leaving a lot of consumers on the table. Obviously, the survey sponsor, Zoove, compared the SMS success rates to its own technology. Zoove's "StarStar Dialing" lets users respond to a pitch without entering into the text messaging function at all. They simply dial ** and a number (from two to 12 digits available) just as they would dial another phone. The Zoove system then can send back an SMS or MMS, a link to a WAP page or even just call back with a marketer's voice message. Using this method, MRI saw uniform success rates in the 80 percentile range across all the initiating media, although again print fared best. Zoove's technology has the big hurdle of getting carrier buy-in because this approach require toggling a setting on the network that intercepts the ** code.
Expect to hear more from vendors like Zoove and others that are using various direct dial formats to circumvent SMS. It makes sense, because the differences in response rates between SMS and direct dial appear to be substantial.
Tyson's Foods discovered how effective a straight dial-in can be at the U.S. Gymnastics conference it sponsored in March. Partnering with marketing firm LocaModa, Tyson let attendees dial direct to an IVR system and interact with a message from a star gymnast at the event. A real-time contest awarded a ringside seat on the spot to the winner, who was called back and talked down to the stage. Everyone else got a recorded call back the next day from the gymnast thanking them for participating. It was a cool in-event use of cell phones, and because it used direct dial it nabbed an astonishing 57 percent of the phone-carrying crowd. LocaModa opted for this over SMS because it estimates that even in a best-case scenario, an SMS promotion couldn't have gotten more than 30 percent of the crowd.
It's a no-brainer that dialing beats texting, but there are times when we get so enamored of a new technology that easier alternatives elude us.
Oh, and there is one more good reason to consider circumventing SMS--you'll get more women. When the MRI researchers tested the Zoove's direct dial approach, the gender gap actually widened even more in the ladies' favor. In fact, 80.1 percent of men successfully dialed a "**CSI" promotion, while 85.1 percent of women did, and the split was similarly wide across the promotional platforms. Take this one to the watercooler. Apparently women are noticeably better at dialing a phone than men.