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)