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Lately there's been increased discussion about whether text messaging will become relevant in a B2B marketing environment. We've all seen the stats on Generation Y's use of text messaging and the medium's popularity throughout Europe and Asia. These trends have led experts to predict an inevitable rise in the relevance of text messaging for B2B marketers. I would, however, contend that the opposite may be true. Text messaging may never become a relevant B2B model.
Why Text Message?
First, let's look at why text messaging is popular. It's a simple, quick form of communication that is readily available on any device, and usually is very economical. It does a tremendous job of being both real-time (the recipient gets the message right away) and also asynchronous (the recipient doesn't have to respond right away). This functionality, combined with a generational and cultural desire for constant communication, has made text messaging a dominant communication mode for "digital natives" everywhere.
Does This Translate to B2B Marketing?
The question though, is whether there is a path leading this form of communication to B2B marketing. There isn't. Let's look at three main differences.
Devices: The average B2B executive does not use the same devices as a GenY'er. Often, professionals will use sophisticated devices, such as a BlackBerry, iPhone, or another early-release smartphone, like the Droid. These devices are enabled with many connectivity and messaging programs, including email and the Web, as well as often being full-featured application platforms in themselves. On this application platform, a variety of other communication hubs, like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare continue to emerge and involve.
Communication Style: The substance and style of communication varies greatly between the mobile-driven digital natives and B2B marketers. First, in the vast majority of cases, the recipient is interacting with an automated system developed by the marketing organization — not an actual person. Second, the content of the message is usually a one-way point-in-time interaction — like a contest entry — rather than the back-and-forth micro-conversation that users typically associate with the mobile form-factor.
Content Richness: B2B-style communications often rely on rich media to prompt a sophisticated buyer to act. When a business prospect is compelled to enter a short code, it is typically to receive an interesting and valuable piece of content, such as a whitepaper. It is very rare that an offer of sufficient value only requires a few hundred characters of text.
Each of these differences nullifies one of text messaging's key value propositions. It's reasonable to assume today's B2B prospect uses a sophisticated mobile device with capabilities beyond simple SMS messaging. Likewise, the point-in-time interaction with an automated system, combined with the richer content experience desired, further push us to leverage the richer capabilities of our audiences Blackberrys, iPhones and iPads.
Mobile Thinking Versus Mobile Devices
This is not to say that mobile marketing is not relevant for some marketers. It very much is. However, a separation needs to be made between "mobile thinking" and "mobile devices." Mobile marketing is about having a compelling offer that can be presented to a business person moment a particular moment and location — at a tradeshow, an event, or just passing by a billboard — and compel them to take an action. Though challenging, this vision is highly compelling in today's marketing world. However, nothing requires the marketing thinking in that mobile campaign to use specific device technology such as text messaging and short codes. In today's environment, there are much better ways to accomplish all the required goals with the modern devices we all carry.
But What about the Teenagers?
Each generation that enters the work force brings with them new ways of interacting, new norms, and new approaches. This generation will be no different. However, much of the change that impacts the business world is in a way of thinking, rather than a specific technology. MySpace demonstrated a new cultural norm in how we communicate and keep in touch with friends, but the underlying technology quickly lost ground to Facebook. A similar trend is to be expected with mobile. A cultural norm of always being connected, and interacting with the world through a mobile device is clearly part of the current generation, but the exact devices and technologies can be expected to change quickly.
Rather than associating mobile marketing with text messaging and short codes — its current incarnation — better to put effort into mobile thinking. In all likelihood, the best and most effective technology a person will use to respond to the offer will be a shortened URL, Facebook fan page, or a technology yet to be popularized.
About the Author
Steve Woods (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the cofounder and chief technology officer of Eloqua, a leading provider of marketing automation solutions delivered via software-as-a-service. Woods is also a prolific writer on topics related to demand generation and the current transitions within the marketing profession. His book, Digital Body Language, explores these topics, and he is a regular writer on his blog of the same name.
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