December 13, 2019
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Palmtop Plaza

For marketers, it's a far easier way of reaching out than via the Net—and zoom in on the target group to boot

Palmtop Plaza
illustration by Anshul Sharma
Palmtop Plaza
Beep! Beep! One message received! "Here is an exciting offer! SMS us for details!"

You are likely to receive hundreds of such messages on your mobile in the near future. Probably more than marriage proposals, sweet nothings or risque banter. For, the age of SMS romance is giving way to a wholly different era—Indian marketers are now aggressively seeking ways to talk shop with their customers through SMS. Product launches, promotions, contests, polls, even auctions. It's all happening on SMS. Agrees Rajiv Hiranandani, VP (sales and marketing), Mobile2Win: "From retail, FMCG to liquor companies, everyone is using it as a marketing tool."

Mobile2Win, a marketing solutions company targeting India after setting shop in China, sees a huge opportunity in SMS. Just a few months into the business, they've helped 20 corporate clients go mobile and are working out strategies for another 70 to 80 brands. Take Pepe Jeans, for instance. About two weeks ago, it ran a campaign to launch its store, one of the country's largest jean shops, in the capital. It invited customers, about a lakh mobile users, to a contest where winners, announced every week, just had to exchange their M(mobile)-coupons for free T-shirts. (M-coupons are nothing but the SMS one receives from the company.)

A couple of months ago, Foster's devised a novel way to advertise a grand prix event it was airing live in select Mumbai locations—it ran radio ads inviting enthusiasts seeking passes to the venue to send an SMS to a given number and flash the reply to be let in. Foster's received about 3,000 SMSes for this promotion!

SMS marketing is here in India. While Pepe jeans did not piggyback on any other medium and directly pushed its message via the SMS, Foster's first used radio to make an announcement and then waited for customers to react. Dubbed the pull method, the latter strategy is becoming more popular than the former. The reason: SMS is an intrusive medium and users hate unsolicited messages. So, it may be better to lure the willing via other public media (print, TV or radio campaigns) and ask them to "click here!" if they are eager to receive further promotions.

The early adapters of SMS were the media companies. Says Raj Singh, business director of ActiveMedia Technology, another UK-based mobile marketing solutions firm: "News channels were the initial clients. Aaj Tak, NDTV Sahara used the SMS effectively as a response channel. They used it to conduct polls and contests." ActiveMedia has been in the Indian market since January 2002 and has seen the market grow. In the meantime, mobile subscriptions have grown almost five times in the last 18 months to sort of reach a critical mass. Today, there are about 22 million users and nearly 7 million SMSes are sent out in a day; of these, only 4,00,000 messages are promotional or marketing in nature. In short, the number is poised to zoom.

But what are the virtues of SMS advertising? While it helps you pinpoint the target group, it also allows the advertiser to choose the exact timing of the campaign. Sam Balsara, chief of media buying house Madison India, for example, receives an SMS invitation every Friday afternoon from Mumbai night club Fire and Ice. "This is as brilliant as it can get; no other medium can give you such precision," says Balsara.

Precision apart, it also helps you to be innovative. Lufthansa conducted a live auction via the SMS on September 25 with the help of Mobile2Win—it built a databank through an earlier auction conducted on the net and sent e-mails and direct mailers to invite people to participate in the auction. More than 5,000 participated in the event where 17 tickets to various destinations were up for grabs. During the day-long auction, divided into 12 different sessions, 15 tickets got sold, with return tickets to Chicago going for as little as Rs 24,000.Following the success of this experiment, Lufthansa is now toying with the idea of launching an SMS-check-in facility for passengers.

Marketers are finding the SMS a far more convenient way of reaching out to a large number of the earmarked group in comparison to the Internet. They can now catch who they want and when they want. A mobile phone is invariably answered by the user himself, he or she carries it on the person and seldom ignores the beep of a message. Add to this the fact that it is a cost-effective medium. For instance, a one-month national campaign on an average would cost the advertiser a mere Rs 2 lakh.

Explains Tushar Shah, assistant VP (marketing), Sony's MAX channel, "SMS is a good tool to interact seamlessly with the customers. You get a captive audience." MAX dabbled in SMS during the last cricket World Cup with their contest Predikta. Thanks to its success, it is almost exclusively using SMS to interact with viewers. All promos on this channel ask viewers to send in whatever it is—movie choices, answers or queries—on an SMS number. Sony is also planning to come up with an application whereby its viewers can even access the channel's menu card via SMS. In fact, the SMS has almost replaced competition postcards as far as television channels are concerned. "Only 10 per cent of our viewers send in postcards. SMS is far more convenient. All the information comes directly into our system. We now know which city it's coming from and who is sending it. It is therefore easy to analyse data," feels Shah.

Though still in the "test run" stage with most marketers, all those who have flirted with the SMS plan to stick with it. Says Pradeep Gidwani, managing director, Foster's India: "So far our SMS strategy has been in the experimental stage, though it has certainly added a new dimension and excitement to our on-premise promotional activities. We are actively looking to use this medium to build brand in the future."

Despite the excitement and the enthusiasm, media planners warn that SMS can at best only be a supportive medium, a reminder medium. "Very often the medium is the message. Where you advertise is as important as the ad itself. And SMS is too passive a medium," says a media planner. Others complain that it's an intrusive medium. Since SMS marketing is in a nascent stage, the databank of "willing mobile numbers" is not huge enough and many spam or unsolicited messages are being sent out.

Warns Balsara: "We are lucky that the virtues of SMS advertising have not yet been fully discovered by all marketers in the country. Otherwise we would get fed up of the constant beep on our phones." And then he adds: "I did not ask Fire and Ice to send me its promotional messages, so you see spam is happening."

Today, there are only a couple of mobile marketing firms in the market and service providers who are signing up directly with marketers are being a bit careful. Hutch, for example, has a service called Hutch Alive, launched a month or two back. It enables promotions or ads to be displayed on its subscribers' mobile screens. But if the subscriber does not wish to see these images, he/she can switch it off without switching off the phone. (Last month Kinetic ran a product promotion on HutchAlive.)

Still, most companies are either using SMS or thinking of switching over to it soon. For, SMS marketing does promise to be a happening marketing tool of the future.
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