Subway, Other Brands Testing Feature-Rich RCS Texting

When rich communication services (RCS) replaces the ubiquitous but antiquated short message service (SMS), it will unlock the door to richer and more engaging experiences between marketers and consumers. In the meantime, companies like Citi, Subway and Overstock have been testing RCS with promising results, hoping that 2020 will see a broad rollout of the technology.

SMS dates to the early 1990s and quickly became the default means of messaging because it was native within cell phones, as opposed to apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, which offer richer experiences.

“With regard to marketers, the RCS-driven improvements would be the equivalent of chat bot-like functionality, where engagement between brand and consumer becomes dynamic with a rich feature set,” Albert Thompson, managing director of digital at the Walton Isaacson agency, tells Marketing Daily.



A case in point is the Subway restaurant chain, which amassed more than five million opt-in members for an SMS-based, weekly deals program between 2015 and 2018. Seeking a richer and more engaging experience, Subway began testing RCS in early 2018 in conjunction with customer personalization provider Mobivity and Google’s version of RCS, called rich business messaging (RBM), on Google’s Android platform.

Subway and Mobivity conducted A/B consumer testing, with one group receiving offers via SMS and the other RBM. While the offer wording was identical, the RCS version included brand and product images and buttons.

The conversion rate for RCS messaging was 140% higher than for SMS in one deal and 51% higher in the other, Adrienne McCallister, Google’s senior director of communications partnerships, wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review case study.

Entire menus can be embedded in RCS messages, along with the capability to locate nearby restaurants and place orders, as representatives of Mobivity and Subway demonstrated in a presentation at Mobile World Congress 2018.

Citi’s use of RCS enables select U.S. credit card and retail bank customers to quickly check their balance or see a short history of recent transactions. Those who buy products from Overstock can get purchase, shipping and delivery confirmation, as well as the option to rate a purchase after delivery or connect directly with customer service, according to McCallister.

“I tend to think of [RCS] as a richer email program that involves quick, digestible content that adds real value in a consumer’s day, be it through an offer or promo-based or lifestyle and motivational content,” says Dan Monarko, head of channel, strategy and analytics at the Smith Brothers Agency. “To be successful, brands are going to need to think of this as a whole other content silo, where the content needs to deliver true value to the consumer to not be considered unwanted noise.”

While RCS support is native within Android devices, it’s not yet clear whether Apple will jump on board or choose to focus solely on iMessage, which provides a similar experience to RCS.

“The promise of RCS could bring new, exciting features for brands to leverage in one-to-one communications with their customers,” says Kevin Skobac, managing director, strategy group, at the SS+K agency. “However, the unpredictable rollout, especially questions around adoption on iOS, won't make it a single solution.”

This week, Mobivity announced that Subway has begun to use the company’s new Omnichannel Offers and Promotions Management platform, which ties unique customer identities with redemptions across a variety of marketing channels.

“When the offers are relevant, this can boost traffic for the customers who respond to offers, so Mobivity has the right value proposition,” says Kate Hogenson, senior consultant, loyalty and CX, at customer loyalty specialist Kobie. “Subway is wisely pursuing both strategies of relevant offers and a loyalty program that is nicely integrated into their app.”

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