Texting Rules!

Virtually all companies want to increase communication with their customers. But few are taking full advantage of text messaging, even though its use is rapidly increasing, especially among younger generations. Part of the reason may be a lack of familiarity with the texting process. At a recent conference for IT managers, half of

the 500 attendees admitted that they were unable to send a text message. Even fewer are familiar with common texting shorthand. Virtually none could expand the text message "Imnerho phs pebcak sit" into its real meaning. ("In my never ever remotely humble opinion, pointy-haired stupidvisor problem exists between chair and keyboard. Stay in touch.") Fortunately, corporations with novice-level understanding can get help from specialized firms such as 3Cinteractive, HipCricket and iLoop Mobile.

Pioneering efforts to use texting in business vary widely. ESPN and Disney encourage viewers to participate in various programs and broadcasts via texting. PNC Bank's "Virtual Wallet" allows text-based banking. When a major fiber-optic cable was recently cut in the San Francisco area, AT&T used Twitter to keep customers informed. Attendees at concerts and sporting events can text to win free food or event souvenirs.

Part of texting's appeal is that it's significantly less expensive than reaching customers through newspapers, radio, TV, e-mail or direct mail. It has other significant advantages over standard marketing/advertising approaches as well. Here are some of them:

Less spam. Spammers send more than 100 billion e-mails per day to approximately 1.3 billion e-mail users worldwide. In contrast, text messages are sent via carriers that are determined to keep spam from invading and overwhelming their networks. Carriers monitor message traffic closely and shut down detected spammers. Companies that use text messages are strictly limited to permission-based access.

Rapid market penetration. According to market research firm SNL Keagan, in 2007 84% of the U.S. population had cell phones. In a recent CeBIT keynote address, Intel Chairman Craig Barrett stated that at the end of last year, there were more than 3 billion cell phone subscribers worldwide. The number of cell phone users in China now exceeds the total population of the U.S. Worldwide, there are now 2.3 times more cell phone subscribers than e-mail users.

Compelling demographics. Text messaging is the preferred communication mode for young adults, a group heavily targeted by marketers. And children are already text-fluent. In my daughter's middle school, 97% of the students have cell phones, and roughly half can text without looking at the keys. According to a study by German technology advocate Bitkom, people age 14 to 29 would rather give up their relationship partner than their cell phone -- by a 2-to-1 margin!

Trust. Opt-in policies ensure that most text messages come from people or organizations known to the phone's owner. As a result, 95% of text messages are opened and read. (A marketing dream come true!) And the immediacy of texting makes it feel more personal than other forms of electronic communication. Real-time chat among multiple people is common.

Location-aware computing. Cell phone portability and features encourage people to take their phones almost everywhere. Phones automatically track positioning coordinates, allowing people to receive text messages targeted to their specific location. Using GPS/GIS capabilities, a store can send time-sensitive coupons to customers in the store's vicinity. Similarly, amusement parks can send messages to visitors who are close to rides with short lines.

Text messaging offers new opportunities to engage customers. If texting is not already part of your marketing or customer service plans, consult with your marketing and advertising departments and expand your enterprise architecture to harness this incredible power. Organizations can leverage text messaging to expand customer communications, increase sales and improve customer satisfaction.

GTG C U!

Bart Perkins is managing partner at Louisville, Ky.-based Leverage Partners Inc., which helps organizations invest well in IT. Contact him at BartPerkins@LeveragePartners.com.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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