business, consumer experience, mobile applications, technologies

The text message: dead, dying, or thriving?


Those with mobile ears to the ground consistently receive mixed messages about the health of SMS.  General traffic numbers still look ok, mobile operators clearly still make some money from it – though that’s been dented, the number of applications and functions it can help facilitate is still impressive.  Yet still the naysayers remain.

Issues are muddied by context, of course – primarily the difference between person-to-person (or peer-to-peer or P2P) messaging, and aggregator-to-peer (or A2P) messaging.  The latter is commonly used for automated and system-integrated messaging, whereas the former is you texting your friends.

Hanging in there

Basic text messaging is still integral to payments and banking technology on mobile devices.  A recent Forrester report of over 13,600 consumers confirmed that SMS alerts are still used by 14 per cent of European users.

A recent annual communications market produced by UK regulator Ofcom showed that more people send text messages than make phone calls over the course of a day.  Person to person messaging is considerably higher than it was in 2008 and is still rising, albeit at a slower rate.

Seen in isolation this seems commendable for the medium, but it disregards the phenomenal growth of other internet platforms, from any number of instant messaging apps: MSN, Whatsapp, Skype, to BlackBerry’s messenger, BBM, to that big blue beast, Facebook; they’ve all eaten away at the go-to familiarity of the text message.  But still it retains value.  Text messages are still well used for short, personal, usually one-to-one messages.

Industry view

“P2P is dead in the water,” claimed the managing director of Dynmark International, Paul Putman, when I visited Cheltenham last month.  Having joined Dynmark in the mid-2000s when it was an office of around half a dozen people founded by Australian technology dynamo Oscar Jenkins, I leapt at the chance of returning to see how the company had grown.

Jenkins began the Californian episode of Dynmark last summer and Putman, a former boss of security firm MessageLabs before its acquisition by Symantec, was hired to oversee the UK business.

Dynmark is now concentrating on the next phase and particularly its cloud-based messaging portal. “A2P messaging will continue to grow for the next 5 to 7 years,” explained Putman.  “It’s all about consumption”.  Gone seem the days when the purchase of a big bundle of text message credits elicited an office cheer.

Putman described how most messaging companies have a message processing platform, with key value often coming through added functionality, the rules which can be built into applications and widgets.  This is where Dynmark claims a core strength for operational, transactional and campaign solutions.  Convergence with email service providers has also helped to grow the multi-channel messaging approach.

A personal bugbear is the deeply tired marketing messages of mobile marketing agencies and technology providers.  Still frequently used shouty subject-lines like “Add SMS To Your Marketing Mix!” are now so far past their best before date they almost make me want to cry.

But their perpetual use (by UK and US companies) could be because cloud-based messaging solutions are trickier to translate and distill than text messaging.

It’s also worth recognising that mobile data remains a crowded marketplace and it doesn’t always pay to be too open.  Big hints were made to upcoming Dynmark news which will be even more disruptive than their “Free to SME” offer – an initiative it says “will reduce the cost of mobile messaging and marketing services for small and medium sized businesses by up to 80%.”

Messaging truncated

P2P messaging is splintering down, with fewer opportunities available than there once were, thanks to the development of IP solutions.  It will continue to play a key role and perform strongly in developing markets, but with businesses of all sizes now accepting smart technologies and embracing electronic methodologies, it seems there’s a more substantial A2P race to be run in the cloud.

The distance achieved by effectively eliminating downloadable software and concentrating on users’ actual data consumption creates a host of potential commercial models.  Conjuring a successful formula is unlikely to come quickly or easily, but its rewards will be attractive.

Further reading

Ofcom Annual Communications Market report
Mobile Entertainment report on mobile banking
Dynmark “free to SME” (pdf)


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