Thursday, June 10, 2010

TCS Text-Messaging (SMS) Patent - who is affected?

It seems strange to me that there is so little public discussion about the rather sweeping SMS patent enforcement campaign by Telecommunication Systems, Inc..

A little over a year ago, Telecommunications Systems (TCS) and their attorneys started sending out letters to SMS service providers and their clients across the country. TCS claimed that they were infringing on the “Smith” patents (US Patent #'s 6,891,811 and 7,355,990) that cover MO (mobile originated) SMS application-to-person (A2P) services.

I was curious so I downloaded both patents and spent a day going through them. The claim is that many SMS service providers are infringing on the patents because their services enable a person to send an SMS message to an application and receive a response. Pretty basic.

In a nutshell, the general scenario is:

  1. A cell phone subscriber sends an MO text message to a short code (its doesn't have to be a short code, but this is where TCS appears to be focusing)

  2. A "gateway" server receives the text message, inserts it into an HTTP request, and sends it to an application server over the internet

  3. The application server replies via HTTP with some piece of information

  4. The gateway server inserts the piece of information into a text message and sends it back to the cell phone

The key elements are that A) the mobile originated (MO) SMS must be inserted into an HTTP request, and B) the HTTP response must in turn be inserted into a mobile terminated (MT) SMS message and sent back to the cell phone, thus establishing a two-way communication.

There is some debate as to whether or not "prior art" exists bringing into question the validity of the patent. The most compelling case seems to be from, the open source SMS gateway provider. Kannel states “This technology has been Open-Source since at least 1999 and there is plenty of documentation to prove it publicly on”

Nevertheless, TCS does have a registered patent with USPTO and they can and will attempt to enforce it. All technology firms using SMS communications should review their services in light of these patents and determine if they are at risk of an infringement claim.

For more information on the patent, industry comments, etc., there is a great article on


Friday, May 14, 2010

The Debate: Are Shared Short Codes Safe?

A short code is a 5 or 6-digit number that is used for routing text-messages between cell phones and mobile services. (See our earlier post for a description of why you might use a short code in your marketing campaign). Wireless carriers route the messages through a connection aggregator to the application service provider (ASP) who is leasing the short code. Almost all wireless subscribers in the USA are able to access short code services.

A “dedicated” short code is dedicated to one company/brand for their text-messaging service. A “shared” short code is shared by multiple companies and runs multiple services.

Its nice to have your own dedicated short code, but it comes with a cost. The lease fee alone (paid to is $500 per month ($1,000 for a vanity code). You also need to contract an aggregator to provision your short code and an ASP to build and manage your application – the costs add up rather fast. Not to mention that it takes 2-3 months to provision a new short code.

Shared short code providers offer an inexpensive alternative. The shared codes are often used in conjunction with “self-provisioning” platforms that allow users to easily set-up and manage their own text-messaging services. Easy-peasy, so why would anyone want the hassle and expense of a dedicated short code?

There are a three reasons that I can think of-
1) No need for a keyword. If you do not want to use a keyword to route incoming messages you need a dedicated short code. For example, with text-to-screen services, its more user-friendly to ask the audience to simply text a comment, not text a “keyword” plus a comment to the short code.
2) You want to pick your own short code. Maybe for branding purposes (46835 'spells' INTEL) or you want a number that is easy to remember (like 20202).
3) You are worried about the other services running on the same short code.

Its #3 that causes people a lot of concern especially with the recent case where Clickatel's USA shared short code was disconnected by the wireless carriers when some "rogue" users ran non-compliant services (see story). It could also be that you just don't want your company or service associated with the $9.99 dating service running on the same short code.

But what if you don't have the budget to go the dedicated short code route? Shared short code services are a perfectly viable option. How can you protect yourself when using a shared short code service? Take a few precautions:
1) Try to stick with service providers who have been in business for several years.
2) Be wary of using any shared code that also uses self-provisioning services. It is virtually impossible to keep all services in 100% compliance when users are setting up their own services.
3) Ask the service provider about the other services that they are running on the same short code and have them outline the precautions they take to keep the system carrier compliant.

Once your service gains some traction, consider leasing a dedicated short code and shop around for the best deal for a connection. Don't just go to aggregators, ASPs can often provision your code on their existing network bind for a fraction of the cost (list of ASPs).

-Steve Nye

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Interactive Messaging in Times Square, New York

Ever wonder what "Interactive Messaging" is? Well, it can mean a lot of different things depending on the context. This post focuses on Interactive Messaging in the context of digital out-of-home or digital signage, using the work Unwired Appeal did for Sprint's latest advertising campaign as an example.

Why Did the Pedestrian Cross the Road?

In Times Square there are more pedestrians than cars, and although the city is taking measures to make life easier for walkers, it sometimes takes skill and dexterity just to cross the street.

Sprint capitalized on this trend by creating an interactive game on the Reuters Billboard in Times Square. The game was a two player throwback to Frogger. Participants used their mobile phone to control the character on the billboard as he tried to cross the crosswalk. Two players played at a time, and the first to cross to the other sidewalk won. The joystick was used to move the character left and right in order to avoid oncoming walkers.

After the game, participants were sent a text message thanking them as follows: "Thanks for taking on the streets of NYC with Sprint. The Now Network. To see more Now, go to"

Why Interactive Messaging?

In Sprint's case, making an advertisement interactive served several functions:

1) Deeper "impressions" for those who play the game. Those who stop and engage a game are far more likely to remember the "Now Network" slogan

2) Deeper impressions for those watching the ad: Having live participants in an advertisement ensures unique content each time the ad runs

3) A means to follow up: Sending a text message to game participants means more hits to the "Now Network website".

What were the results?

Thousands of visitors and tourists watched as Sprint showcased one of the more technologically advanced advertising campaigns in New York. Every slot purchased by Sprint was filled to max capacity by players. A total of 595 people signed up to play the game.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

King Lear Breaks Out His Mobile

A Text for Tickets Case Study

People's Light & Theatre wanted to reach out to a new demographic -- high school students-- for their production of Shakespeare's "King Lear". They had relationships with area schools and performed special dress rehearsals for several field-tripping schools.

The question People's Light & Theatre asked themselves ( we love it when clients ask the right questions) was "If we offer free tickets, what medium will high school kids gravitate towards in order to reserve and redeem tickets?"

The answer was as obvious to them as it was to Unwired Appeal: Text messaging!

So the directors asked the actors to break character at the end of each dress rehearsal and exhort the crowd:"If you want to come to the real performance? Take out your cell phone and text 'King Lear' to 47647 for free tickets to our next show!"

Out of the 4,200 students who attended the shows, 140 placed orders for a total of 451 tickets. Of those tickets, 263 were redeemed, for a whopping 58% conversion rate.

Those types of conversion numbers are not unheard of in the mobile marketing space, but they are an order of magnitude higher than what "old school" (direct mail, broadcast advertising) marketeers are used to. And they certainly prove a point for the efficacy of marketing through mobile for the youth demographic: If mobile phones can get high school kids to show up for Shakespeare, what can they get your target market to do?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Text Alerts – The Right Stuff

I was packing lunch for my son this morning when I received an unexpected text-message (not many people text me at 8am).

“Your auto policy is scheduled to be cancelled...”. It was from Progressive Direct, my insurance provider.

Hmmm...I thought I paid that. I went online and soon found that I had forgotten to pay the increased premium after adding a new vehicle to the policy. The policy would be canceled in 5 days if payment was not made. With a click of button I took care of it.

Progressive had sent email and letters to remind me, but with the ever increasing volume of both junk email and post, these communications fell through the cracks. But my text-message alert “safety net” saved the day.

I don't want to receive text-message alerts with news, weather, horoscopes, etc.*(see exception below). This information I get through other channels, and those channels are flooded with information every waking hour, so I do want text alerts when something important and time-sensitive requires action.

Instead of using text-messaging for mission critical alerts a lot of companies have resorted to the robo-callers. I get these calls sometimes, but they don't register in the same way. I'm not sure about you, but I only answer calls from unknown phone numbers when I'm in for a little grab-bag distraction. Sometimes these robots leave messages, sometimes they don't. It never seems really important.

For full disclosure, I originally signed up for text alerts from Progressive a few months ago when I wanted to test their system. Unwired Appeal provides the text-messaging infrastructure and database management for their service and I wanted to see how it worked.

This morning I found out.

-Steve Nye

*the one exception is surfing alerts - 365 days a year I want to know when there are triple overheads at Good Harbor Beach - now that's an actionable alert.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Text-Messaging Opt-in/Opt-out Regulations

Recent discussions about e-mail marketing best practices at HBR prompted a discussion here at Unwired Appeal about text-message alert best practices. It was a short discussion seeing as the world of text messaging is a bit more black and white than the world of e-mail. In e-mail, the CAN-SPAM act allows some latitude for ESPs to differentiate themselves by creating their own policies. Some ESPs are very strict, others not. In the text messaging world, service providers aren't given the choice. The regulations are clear. Neglect to follow the rules and you run the risk of having a your network connections severed overnight and possibly being hauled into court (read about several real cases).

Who regulates text message service providers, and why should our customer care? Text-messaging (SMS) service providers are strictly regulated by the wireless carriers. All services must be reviewed and approved by the carriers before launch. When running, the services are continually monitored and audited by each of the wireless carriers for compliance. Our customers care because they know that if they partner with an unscrupulous SMS service provider, they run the risk of having their alerts or marketing campaigns shut down mid-stream.

One of the most important aspects of compliance is following the opt-in/opt-out and database management standards of the carriers. These can be complex as they vary somewhat carrier. Fortunately, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) has been working with the carriers to create a uniform set of standards. The latest version can be found at MMA Best Practices.

Following is a overview of the current regulations for Text-Messaging “Alerts”. This only covers “standard rate” services. “Premium rate” services (additional monthly subscription fees charged) use a stricter set of regulations.

Single Opt-in versus Double Opt-in

Single opt-in is now allowed by all carriers when the opt-in is initiated by the end-user sending a text-message to the service (MO opt-in). For example, “Text JOIN to 47647 to sign-up up for JellyBean Alerts”.

You can also ask an end-user to subscribe by entering his/her cell phone number on a website (Web opt-in). But when you use this method, T-Mobile requires that you perform a double opt-in. The second opt-in is in the form of a text-message sent to the subscriber asking for a reply of “YES” to confirm the opt-in. A pin-code verification method is also acceptable.

WAP and IVR opt-in methods are also possible but they are outside the scope of this post (send me an email if you would like an overview of WAP/IVR).

Call-to-action (CTA) and Messaging Requirements (MMA id=CCS-EG-03)

Most audit violations from the carriers are relatively minor and revolve around the wording in the opt-in messaging flow.

Information required in the CTA: program sponsor, description of service, frequency of messaging, how to get help, how to opt-out, “message and data rates may apply”.

Information required in the “welcome message” (sent at opt-in): description of service, frequency of messaging, how to get help, how to opt-out, “message and data rates may apply” (the carriers like repetition).

Opt-out, subscription reminders, and database management

STOP: Subscribers must be able to text the word STOP from their cell phones and be removed from the opt-in list.

Reminders: Individual alerts to users or text MT must include opt-out information (STOP) if a monthly service reminder MT is not supplied separately (T-Mobile TMO-124).

Disconnect lists: Each carrier routinely distributes a list of cell phone numbers that have been disconnected (recycled, ported to another carrier, etc. ). These numbers must be immediately removed from all opt-in lists.

Record keeping: Opt-in and opt-out records should be retained from the time the subscriber opts-in until a minimum of six months after the subscriber has opted-out of the program (minimum opt-in archiving period is one calendar year). These records should be made available to the carrier upon request (CCS-107).

That's it in a nutshell. Keep in mind that these regulations are a work in progress and are modified on a regular basis. For the most current set visit

-Steve Nye

P.S. If you are receiving unsolicited messages on your cell phone - here are some tips.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"This is twilio"

Text the word TWILIO to 617-744-9926 and you will receive a simple reply - “This is twilio”. At first glance this is a basic SMS auto-reply service, but underneath it may signal a major shift in SMS service provision in the USA.

People have been talking about twilio's new SMS service over the past month, so I decided I should check it out. Last week we started up a UA account and secured a local twilio number. Out of curiosity we performed a carrier lookup on the number and found that it is registered to, a VoIP service provider and national CLEC. Next we used twilio's API to connect the number to our mobile application platform and now we have a full suite of interactive SMS services running over a standard 10-digit phone number (aka long-code).

So why is this important or interesting? Because it gives people the ability to deploy a commercial SMS application or service without having to secure a short code! As I cited in an earlier post on vanity short codes, a dedicated short code costs $500-$1,000 per month just for the lease fee. Add on top of that the aggregator and service provider fees and the costs quickly mount. Not to mention that it takes 8-10 weeks to provision a new short code across the carrier networks.

Before using twilio for SMS services though, people should also take into account a couple of disadvantages compared to short code based services. First, the cost of messaging is most likely higher than when using a short code service (twilio currently charges 3cents per incoming/outgoing text-message). Second, the throughput is throttled to 1 message per second, where on a short code the throughput usually starts at around 5 messages p/s and goes up from there.

Shared short codes provide another alternative, but pricing for keyword routing is not exactly inexpensive, and there is always a possibility that the carriers will shut down a shared short code if one of the services is not in compliance (see recent case with Clickatel)

Will the carriers also try to disconnect twilio's SMS services? I am not an expert on the telecommunications regulations involved here, but I think it might land the carriers in hot water with the FCC if they tried.

-Steve Nye

Monday, March 29, 2010

Show Me the Data!

In the marketing world, good data is not easy to come by. Many marketers operate according to their guts. Those who are visually creative, or just plain gifted, can often get away with that. For the rest of us, the scramble for data is a never ending quest. We work with mobile and we see the positive effects that mobile marketing has on for our clients-- and we know our existing clients are happy because they are always coming back for more campaigns. But how do we convince those who have not yet dipped their toes in the ocean of mobile marketing that mobile produces results? Quantifying which ideas are working, and how much better they are than the last campaign, is often difficult. Last week I shared some macro-data about SMS usage among the general population. This week I’ll provide some thoughts and data on mobile marketing campaigns that have been chronicled in the past year or so.

First up is the Pizza Hut campaign which ran in Pittsburgh in April 2009. More than 12,000 texted in after a television spot prompted viewers to use text for a chance to win free pizza for a year. Here we see the importance of a traditional advertising call-to-action –mobile marketing is one part of the marketing mix. In this case the interactive portion is blended with the traditional marketing format (broadcast television) with great results. (For a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that we want to maintain our stellar record of carrier compliance, Unwired Appeal does not offer "Forward" campaigns to our clients.)

Next is the brick and mortar campaign run by “Faith” in the UK in February of 2010. The perhaps risky thing about this campaign is that double opt-in was NOT used – all of the messages that were sent out were sent using an opted-in mobile database. Though we don’t find out whether any customers complained about the service, we do find the a promising short-term metric: Revenues during the promotion period. Apparently revenues were up 47% during the Friends and Family promotion.

The last case study was for a car dealership in Jacksonville, FL. In this case, double opt-in *was* used. We find data gold in the double-opt in acceptance rates: Just under 10% of the text message recipients opted to continue receive additional alerts. Those 10% were the equivalent of lead gold for the dealer’s salespeople – here is the ultimate target demographic: People who asked, twice, to receive more information about new cars, and people who willingly gave their phone numbers in order to be contacted for more info.

The devil is often in the details in any marketing campaign, and mobile marketing is no exception. In these case studies, so generously provided by Mobile Marketer, we get a rare glimpse into tactics that the mobile marketers are using. Sharing data like this makes the industry, as a whole, stronger.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Vanity Short Codes - watch your CTA

As a follow up to last week’s introduction to common short codes (CSCs), this week we’re taking a look at vanity short codes.

When you lease a short code (either directly from the CSCA or through Unwired Appeal), you are asked whether you would like to choose a vanity short code number (kind of like a vanity license plate) or receive a random number. The CSCA charges $1,000 per month for a vanity short code lease and $500 per month for random short code lease. (Unwired Appeal charges the same rates).

The two main reasons to spend the extra money for a vanity short code are:

1) You need a specific number series (generally easy to remember like 212121, 90909, etc.), or

2) You need a phoneword – the alphanumeric equivalent of a specific number (e.g. 466453 spells 'GOOGLE' on the telephone keypad).

We often provide services for agencies that need specific phonewords for branding purposes. The short code number needs to be the alphanumeric equivalent of the campaign sponsor or needs to “spell” something associated with the campaign. For example, 46835 spells 'INTEL' on the cellphone keypad or 69348 spells 'MYFIT'.

While it is a great idea to use vanity short codes for branding purposes, people often make a mistake in their implementation. It is very tempting to kick-off a campaign with a call-to-action (CTA) that states something like “Text your weight loss goals to MYFIT!”. The problem with this is that people don't always understand that they need to send their message to 69348. Instead people try to send messages to the alpha translation, and this won't work. Phones like the iPhone compound the problem by defaulting to letters instead of numbers in the “To:” field when a user is drafting a new text-message.

When creating any call-to-action, make sure you list the actual short code number. Its fine to make the alpha translation part of the overall branding experience, just make sure that it is clear to your audience that they need to use the actual number when texting. Failure to do so could leave your campaign grounded.

Check out cool phonewords at CSCA.

Next up...the big debate on shared vs. dedicated short codes.

- Steve Nye

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mobility Marketing 101: What is a Short Code?

Let's say you are an advertising agency that has typically worked with clients in the offline, brick and mortar and fixed-line web world. You have great relationships at the Yellow Pages, you know how to get an ad on the side of a bus, you can do a web banner buy, and you've worked PR with newspapers for years.

One day, one of your clients asks you how to incorporate mobile phones in your advertising mix. In a panic, you Google "mobile phone marketing" and come up with a slew of options: Mobile web banners, mobile content delivery, mobile interactive, and short codes. Where to begin? In my opinion the quickest, easiest way to get started in mobile marketing is with what's called a "Short Code".

If you are a mobile phone owner, a short code is the 5 digit number which you enter in the "To" field when you send a text message as part of a marketing event or promotion.

How do you find out that the short code exists, and why would you send a text to a short code? Mobile phone owners (otherwise known as wireless subscribers) send messages to short codes for many differences reasons; to request information about a product through a URL, to sign up for alerts, to vote in a poll, or to receive some sort of content such as a ringtone or a coupon.

Companies, brands, non-profits, and other organizations let consumers know about the existence of the short code through what's called a "Call to Action". A call to action might be at the point of sale "Text 52121 for more information about our upcoming 75% event" or flashed on a TV screen "Text 'Chevon' to 52121 to vote for Chevon!"

So where does a text that is sent to a short code go? And what does Unwired Appeal have to do with any of this? Unwired Appeal is what the industry lovingly refers to as an "Application Service Provider". Application Service Providers lease the short codes from the carriers (T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, AWS et al), set up software to receive and process the text that is sent to us via the short code, and send some sort of relevant response or content back to the subscriber who sent the message. A picture of this process looks like this:

It's a fairly simple, yet effective, technology. That's probably why of the 2.6B USD spent on mobile marketing in 2009, over 2.3B was spent on text messaging. (JP Morgan)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Behind the Curtain - who is running things?

I was reading Keith Kelsen's new book “Unleashing the Power of Digital Signage” and smiled when I found his discussion around a couple of interactive campaigns serviced by Unwired Appeal. I told this to a friend who in turn asked why UA wasn't mentioned as a service provider. I had to explain that UA operates somewhat like the Wizard in the "Wizard of Oz". Hidden away behind the curtain, pushing buttons and pulling levers, creating amazing sound and light shows for the audience.

The campaigns that Kelsen talks about are Verizon Wireless's “Droid Does Times Square” campaign and the BBC's “Develop a Point of View” SMS voting billboard. The truth is that there are often a number of agencies and service providers behind the scenes making these campaigns come to life. It got me thinking though, maybe I would go back to these campaigns and outline who put them together.

“Droid Does Times Square”
(YouTube video)
Running on the huge Reuters/Nasdaq signs in Times Square, this month-long campaign allowed Times Square visitors and internet viewers to control the signs with just their voice (promoting VZW's launch of the Droid and its voice-rec capabilities). Dial a toll-free number and in minutes you are telling the signs what to search for in the Times Square area with the results displayed on a 50' Google map. Pretty impressive. Oddly, there were only a few companies involved in this one:

  • Verizon Wireless: the brand
  • TimesSquare2 : Reuters/Nasdaq signs and creative
  • R/GA: digital sign technology
  • Unwired Appeal: front-end call-processing, SMS messaging
  • Akamai: live video streaming of Times Square

BBC “Develop a Point of View” SMS voting billboard
Check out Dan's post
for a full description of this one and how Glenn Beck helped get the word out. To the best of my recollection here are the companies that put this together:

  • BBC: the brand

  • BBDO: the agency
  • AtomicProps: sign installation, creative, project management, etc. - these guys really pulled the physical pieces together
  • Van Wagner: billboard real-estate, installation, and maintenance
  • Electric Display: digital counters installed in the billboard to tally vote counts
  • Unwired Appeal: SMS voting service, carrier connections, etc

Next....Intel's “Share Your Vision” campaign where there were more agencies and service providers than you could shake a stick at.

-Steve Nye

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Importance of Carrier Compliance

Last week Clickatell sent an urgent notification to their clients in the USA:

We are experiencing significant connectivity problems resulting in non-delivery of messages to U.S. destinations. We do not currently have an ETA for resolution. We will issue a more formal statement soon.”

It didn't take long for them to realize that the wireless carriers had decided to disconnect virtually all of their USA short codes, blocking all incoming and outgoing SMS traffic. Carriers routinely audit short codes to ensure that the services are carrier compliant, and a short code can potentially be disconnected if a compliance issue is not resolved in a timely fashion, but this is the first time that I have seen a leading SMS gateway provider have all of their USA short codes disconnected at once.

I have worked with Clickatell for several years and it is a top-notch company. They have a long history in the worldwide SMS business and have built one of best international SMS gateway services in the world. It is unfortunate that the individual wireless carriers would take such immediate and draconian actions, I can only assume that the infraction must have been pretty serious.

Typically a carrier will first issue an “audit violation” when they find an SMS service to be non-compliant. The application provider or short code lessee is then given a period of time to bring the service into compliance. In only a few extreme cases have I heard of immediate disconnections, and never an across the board disconnection of multiple short codes.

Clickatell states the problem arose from the abuse of the platform by “a handful of rogue customers making use of shared shortcodes”. Herein lies the risk of using shared short code services. When there are a large number clients running services on one short code without sufficient safeguards in place it is only a matter of time before something falls out of compliance and the carriers take notice.

Back in 2004 Unwired Appeal deployed a US-based shared short code service with attached self-provisioning platform. Clients could go online and set-up their own SMS alerts, voting events, text-to-win sweeps, and trivia games in just minutes. Back then there was little regulation as the carriers were still working on their standards and the Mobile Marketing Association had yet to open their USA office. But the environment rapidly became much more strict with new carrier requirements coming out every week. It was quickly apparent that it would be impossible to allow customers to deploy their own SMS service and keep them all compliant. So UA pulled the self-provisioning service from the market.

But there are quite a few providers out there offering fairly unrestricted use of shared short codes, often with attached self-provisioning services. Its hard to see how they can keep everything within compliance, but its pretty clear how serious the consequences can be when they don't.

- Steve Nye

Postnote: Things a looking up a bit as I had a note yesterday that Clickatell has managed to reconnect their clients' dedicated short codes to all major carriers except Sprint/Nextel. It seems that their shared codes remain on the sideline for the time being though.

(you can read the Clickatell FAQ here

Friday, February 26, 2010

Mobile Marketing Tech for the Little Guys and Gals

I wrote last week that in 2010 we no longer have to worry about selling agencies on the value of mobile interactivity. What I didn’t think about, though, was that smaller agencies still need to work hard to convince their clients that mobile marketing is a good place to spend ad dollars. Especially if and when their clients are smaller customers who are immersed in their own retail shop and have neither the time nor the inclination to follow emerging media trends.

So, for the agencies working hard to sell to small and medium sized businesses, here are some facts to sprinkle into the next sales pitch:

  • While overall Ad spending was down 15% in 2009, mobile marketing spending grew 62% to 2.6 billion USD (AdAge, JPMorgan 2009)
  • Of that 2.6b USD spent on mobile marketing, 2.3b was spent on text messaging (JPMorgan)
  • From June 2005 to June 2009, monthly SMS’s sent jumped from 7.5b to 135billion. Annualized, that’s 1.36 trillion messages per year. (CTIA 2009)
  • On average, Americans send and receive twice as many text messages as phone calls per month (Nielson Mobile)
  • American teens (ages 13 – 17) sent and received an average of 1742 text messages per month in Q2 2008. (Nielson Mobile)
  • Text message usage among people in their 40s jumped from 56% to 64% (Vlingo 2009)
  • The number of mobile data users who recalled seeing advertising jumped 38%, from 42 million to 58 million, between Q2 and Q4 2007 (Nielson Mobile).
  • 51% of mobile data subscribers who saw an ad responded to it by sending a text-message, clicking on it, or calling a specific number. (Nielson Mobile).
What kinds of mobile marketing works for small retailers? Mobile coupons, mobile quizzes, text alert opt-ins, mobile polling. Give us a call or an e-mail to discuss how we can help your clients mobilize their marketing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

On Marketing Through Digital Signs

We’ve been in the mobile marketing game here at Unwired Appeal since 2003. Way back then, mobile marketing usually meant text alerts, or if we had a really daring client, a text trivia game. The challenges were 1) interoperability between carriers, and 2) educating agencies regarding what text messaging was and how it could help engage an audience.

Today the carriers have figured out how to play nice with each other (usually), and we no longer have to educate agencies regarding the value of mobile marketing. Marketeers and agencies know that mobile was one of the only areas of marketing growth in 2009. As such we do plenty of business with text trivia, text polls, text-to-win, etc. But another medium seems to be getting more and more attention from our customers: mobile interaction with digital screens. I wrote a bit about one of our first digital screen integrations in last week’s post about the BBC screen. So text-to-screen, or Digital Out of Home (DOOH) integration seems to be a growth market, and one in which we are devoting more and more time and resources. Beyond the obvious revenue implications, however, the integration of mobile marketing with large, outdoor, digital screens is interesting to me for a couple of reasons.

Up until a couple of years ago, I thought the main reason mobile marketing was effective was it allowed marketers to target customers individually. Whether your customer read “Maxim” or “Better Homes and Gardens”, if you were good you knew where your target demographic was and when they wanted/needed to be contacted. The whole “reach your customers where and when they want to be reached, rather than shouting indiscriminately from the rooftop” approach works. We’ve seen it tracked and we see how the coupon redemption rates are better for mobile coupons than they are for print coupons. And yet, ironically, or maybe precisely *because* it was so easy to personalize messages for individual demographics, there was something impersonal about the mobile marketing medium. When you get *too* good at targetting, you message never crosses the chasm between cliques or demographics. A Better Homes and Garden add, for example, might be seen by a 20 something male in a doctor’s office, or by an onlooker on a crowded train. But rarely, if ever, does someone other than me or maybe my closest friend see a text message that is sent to my mobile phone. If we think about marketing to consumers as unique sets of individual customers, we also somehow lose the sense of the melting pot as marketing becomes more and more individualized. Is there common ground between the Maxim readers and the “Better Homes and Gardens” readers? Marketers don'tt care – or don’t need to care, because they could tailor their messages to appeal to both groups, separately. As this type of marketing becomes more and more effective, perhaps society loses common ground. At the risk of stretching my analogy a bit to far, maybe the effectiveness of Obama’s campaign (AdAge's "Marketer of the Year") actually contributed to the rise of the Tea Party movement. Obama’s campaign became so effective at targeting their “fans” that they never had to or never tried to appeal to the far right. The right thus was in a vacuum and was further radicalized. In a commercial, ROI sense, synergies between potential customers and fans are lost.

Into this fragmented market, enter mobile integration with the digital screen. When campaigns like the Intel “You on Tomorrow” (Unwired Appeal provided the SMS service)
appear in Times Square, they suddenly engage customers across demographic boundaries. In the "You on Tomorrow" campaign, we asked pedestrians viewing screens to text the answer to the question: "What do you want the future to bring". The only common demographic in Intel’s case was that the person interacting with the screen happened to be in Times Square or Berlin. If a 20 something Gen Y'er saw a suit looking up at a screen with a phone is his hand, he/she might be tempted to look up as well. Suddenly people in different target groups are interacting with the same sign. For the Intel campaign we received text messages from the USA and Germany. When we integrated with the Intel's microsites on the web, we received web messages from dozens of different countries, moderated them, and displayed them within minutes. The digital screen, in this case, acted as a unifier.

In a world of individualized messages for individual audiences, creating something that brought a cross section of communications of people together felt good.

In the end, our clients, and our client’s customers, seem happier for it as well.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Engaging Customers With the Help of Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck stirs controversy, and controversy engages an audience, so we weren’t complaining when Glenn Beck complained to his national radio audience about one of the digital signs we enabled in Times Square way back in 2007.

We’d been approached by an agency to help with the interactive portion of a series of billboard ads announcing BBC’s arrival in America. The pictures in the ads were striking – clear, sharp depictions of controversial world events. The interactive part was simple, but effective. Unwired Appeal enabled mobile voting so that people viewing the signs could weigh in on what they thought of the picture. For instance, a picture of Chinese soldiers flying the Chinese national flag asked viewers to vote whether the soldiers were “Friend or Foe” A simplification, to be sure, but sometimes an issue has to be boiled down to a single word or image in order to hook an audience.

The participations rates were fantastic. Each picture prompted thousands of votes, and the fact that pedestrians were stopped on the street, cellphones out, prompted even more people to look up at what was happening. Between the number of people in Times Square every day, the number of votes we gathered, the overflow of number of people looking at the people voting, we estimated that over a million impressions were made. Our agency customer was happy, and the BBC seemed to be happy as well.

But when Glenn Beck decided to weigh in on his then nationally syndicated radio show (this was before he joined Fox), the voting shot through the ceiling.

"I walk by this thing everyday and its driving me nuts", commented Beck during his show. He was referring to the first in the series that showed immigrants being stopped at the border. The question was simply “CITIZENS” or “CRIMINALS” and Glenn was upset that the “left” side of the billboard was beating the “right” side.

In a hilarious broadcast, Beck sent his executive producer Stu to report "live" from in front of the sign while he instructed his listeners how to vote from their cell phones (you can listen to the broadcast at Glenn Beck's broadcast). Suddenly, thousands of votes were pouring in.

BBC and our agency called in a panic – we didn’t yet know that Beck was talking about the sign, and the assumption was that someone had created an automated voting program that was "stuffing the ballot box". We quickly monitored the most recent log of calls and saw that they were coming in from all over the country. It seemed that the populace had suddenly become interested in the BBC’s marketing campaign.

The BBC sign wasn’t the first time we did an interactive Text-to-Screen application for a client in Times Square, but to date it is one of the most successful. The lessons, for us, were two fold:
  1. Your campaign doesn’t have to be complicated from a technical point of view in order to be engaging
  2. Getting noticed by a nationally syndicated radio host helps.