Introduction

With multiple technologies to chose from in the Mobile applications space, it’s hard to clearly determine what tool is best for the job. One particular technology that’s growing to meet the needs of enterprise users worldwide is SMS / MMS. With the growing popularity worldwide of text messaging, many companies have begun to look at the possibilities of the use of plain & multimedia text messages for both internal and external communication purposes, as well as alternatives to mobile applications to either provide a method to interact with end users in a device-agnostic fashion or gather / provide information such as promotions, or account information. This paper helps explore some of the pro’s and con’s of this medium as well as some potential use cases for where SMS / MMS has proven to be useful

Introduction to SMS / MMS

SMS (or short message system) was developed in the mid-1980s as a method to exchange short 160 character messages between different GSM handsets worldwide. The technology used was based on a diagnostic method cell tower operators used to communicate tower status between operators and the towers themselves, but was later repurposed for commerical use, with the first text message occuring in 1992, on Vodafone’s GSM network in the United Kingdom. The message was “Merry Christmas”.

In 2008, 4.1 trillion SMS text messages were sent, making a SMS a massive global industry worth several billion dollars. It’s grown in a number of different directions, including the ability to contact emergency services via text message in some countries, such as the United Kingdom and some parts of the US. With it’s popularity, it’s also grown to include multimedia through the development of MMS. MMS was originally designed as a captive technology that would allow carriers to charge end users every time a photo was taken. However, in 2004, most carriers admitted that it wasn’t making them a tremendous amount of money. China eventually led the revolution, in part due to the fact that there weren’t many high powered computers owned, but MMS-capable phones spread rapidly. Since then, MMS has exploded, leading to 1.3 billion active users and 50 billion MMS messages being sent as of 2008.

Since then, SMS / MMS has been used in every way possible to help communicate and interact with individuals. Though messaging technology has been hugely popular, with growing numbers every day, there are certainly draw backs to the technology as well due to it’s limitations around the type of interactivity a company can get, as well as mixed responses due to the overwhelming amount of messages exchanged by individuals, along with a good number of people that continue to not want to communicate via SMS or MMS.

The Pro’s & Con’s of SMS / MMS

This is a list of Pro’s & Con’s we gathered from our own experience with companies around the topic of SMS / MMS , as well as incorporating information we’ve gathered from enterprise cus-tomers, developers, and industry experts.

PRO) SMS / MMS is device agnostic
Utilizing a simpler IDE without requiring an extensive background in a particular pro-gramming language, clients can build applications with minimal training in much less time than a native application

CON) Texting can be considered intrusive
Though texting is a very popular medium, it’s also a very personal and always present medium that some people find intrusive. Given the level of personalization that goes into texting, having a trusted relationship between you and the customer is important before going down that path, and giving clear direction to opt in & out.

PRO) It’s affordable to set up SMS / MMS campaigns
Due to the relatively simple nature of both SMS & MMS technologies, setting up campaigns are reltatively easy and affordable vs other more costly solutions, such as a MEAP solution, to provide device-agnostic mobile communications to end users. Not only that, but all carriers have very mature practices in helping companies set up campaigns

CON) Messaging campaigns traditionally have mixed results
Based on conversations Slalom has had with companies around the topic of SMS / MMS solutions, there have been very mixed results in terms of the cost / benefit, and total feedback gained from campaigns. This was largely due to the highly qualitative results (ex: boosts level of informed consumer) that companies aimed for, but had a hard time measuring after the fact.

PRO) Development is relatively simple, given limitations of medium
Due to relatively simplicity of texting, the bulk of the work is in gathering end points (i.e. customer phone numbers) and structuring the message for distribution. Given cost considerations for MMS, most companies Slalom has experience with have opted to focus on SMS, making it even simpler to launch the campaign.

CON) Interaction is limited due to limitations of medium
Though the medium is relatively simple to develop and launch, this also means it’s difficult to exchange a great deal of information over SMS / MMS, meaning the interaction you have with your end users will also be limited. This is not only due to the text limit size of an SMS message, or data limitation of an MMS message, but also the need to keep messages to as small a size as possible to not confuse or mislead the end user. To get around this, most heavy texting is done in abbreviations such as “BRB” (be right back) or “LOL” (laughing out loud) but for corporate campaigns, this is never recommended due to large numbers of end users that may not be familiar with certain abbreviations.

PRO) Both MMS & SMS are mature technologies, with many vendors to chose from

Though SMS & MMS have been established technologies for a relatively short period of time, their growth and origins have made both technologies mature, and reliable means to exchange information to end users. So much so that When voice and data aren’t operating on a device, due to coverage issues, text messages will continue to work most times.

Conclusion

Though text messaging certainly has both it’s ups and downs, there’s no denying that messaging is a very popular way to exchange information in a device-agnostic worldwide way. Companies have certainly had mixed success, but the first step is understanding how your business problem, as it relates to utilizing mobile devices, needs to be solved through better understanding the logistics and outcomes of both successful and unsuccessful SMS/MMS campaigns for previous companies.

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