• April 9, 2008
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Mobile Messaging Keeps Moving Up

According to a recent study by technology market research firm ABI Research, revenue earned from mobile messaging is expected to reach $212 billion by 2013. "Messaging," as defined in this report, says Dan Shey, a principal analyst at ABI Research, includes voicemail, instant messaging, SMS, MMS, email, and a lesser known term, unified messaging--where an email provider has the ability, or provides the ability, to collect IM and SMS information through the same user interface. The growth of mobile messaging is inevitable as the barriers that once existed are gradually being broken down.

There are two key factors currently driving the mobile movement:

  • Improved functionality;
  • Awareness from the demand side, where people are choosing to use mobile messaging for its convenience and cost-effectiveness; and
  • Supply-side operators really understanding the technology and pushing the messaging functionality forward.
Because of these mechanisms, the prevalence of mobile marketing appears to be inevitable. Shey explains that mobile messaging is entering into a third stage of growth:
  • Phase 1 was focused around functionality an operators providing pricing that's was agreeable with the customers;
  • Phase 2 is defined by improved input functionality (e.g. touch screens, T9 input). Here, Shey sees voice to text technology playing a key role in making input as easy as possible; and
  • Phase 3 will change how messaging is monetized as mobile operators find innovative ways of incorporating advertising into the technology to create very targeted and useful messages to the end user.
Mobile marketing solutions provider Affle, for example, has created an SMS messaging function where half the screen is for messaging and the other half is for the scrolling of content. While browsing, customers can view categories of content that appeals to them, click on content, which will then link them to the Web site, where they can potentially make a purchase. The advertisements, Shey explains, appear after the customer selects the content.

Retailer Amazon.com announced last week that it has enabled a mobile shopping function, where customers can enter a product name, description, or its UPC or ISBN number to the shortcode 262966, which is "Amazon" on the keypad, in order to make an instant purchase, according to a report by the Associated Press. According to Heather Huntoon, public relations manager at Amazon, the TextBuyIt solution is in response to the vast amount of customers who are highly text-savvy, and prefer text messaging as a channel of communication. "Our goal is to provide our customers with a frictionless buying experience," Huntoon says, adding that they should be able to access products "no matter where they are or how they want to buy."

While the technology is relatively new, Amazon.com's launch of TextBuyIt doesn't come as a complete surprise. "It's another sign that a major marketer sees an opportunity to use mobile as a purchasing mode," says Neil Strother, an analyst at JupiterResearch. With the introduction of tools like the Kindle, Amazon.com is no stranger to innovation. As a large player in the retail space, Strother sees this as an opportunity for mobile to garner a lot more serious attention. Experts say that it's too soon to tell whether or not this type of technology is going to really take off, or if it will weaken the existence of brick-and-mortar stores.

Just how long it will take mobile messaging and the sophisticated applications that go along with it to fully come to the forefront, experts can't say with complete confidence. In 2009 and 2010, Shey sees mobile operators using mobile messaging much more extensively. This period will prove to be a significant learning experience: testing out what are the viable technologies, delivery mechanisms, presentation mechanisms, and understanding what customers like and don't like.

What is certain, however, is mobile's continued presence in the industry. Shey says that if you were to ask him a few years ago what would hinder the growth of mobile messaging, it would have been infrastructure. Now, he says, those barriers aren't there anymore. Email has already become ubiquitous and at this point, text messages can be sent to practically anyone, anywhere. "[Mobile] Messaging...definitely serves a customer need for asynchronous communication. There's really nothing that's going to slow it down."

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