A History of SMS Marketing

Jan 14, 2015 Edward Category 0 Comments

SMS marketing is the communication of information in the form of a text message to a large number of mobile phone numbers collected by the company. These texts can contain a variety of information about their products, services, offers, ideas or in some cases news affecting that particular company and its consumers. The aim of these are to primarily generate sales, but can also be used to convey personal information, arrangements or interest in a particular brand or product.

How It All Began

The principles of mobile SMS marketing, which is communicating information to large amounts of people all at once, can be traced back to the town criers of the middle Ages and the humble carrier pigeon. Technology has moved on rapidly since then. The early nineties saw the popularisation of the mobile phone, along with the invention of the internet, which coupled together, paved the way for the explosion of SMS marketing in the early 21st century. The first text message in the UK was sent in 1992 by Neil Papworth and as the decade wore on text services became the cornerstone of mobile phone devices and our daily lives. As handsets became more affordable in the late 1990s it meant that companies could now communicate with their market using SMS texts, rather than through traditional methods, such as the post.

Early SMS marketing

Around the turn of the Millennium, European and Asian companies started collecting mobile phone numbers from consumers who bought their products or used their services. They would send information via text message to their customers in the hope they would return their custom and take advantage of any offers available to them.

Originally this practice was controversial and criticised for the high amount of “spam” messages that were sent and received. However, unlike email, which is still largely unregulated, SMS marketing messages have had several restrictions placed on them. The 2003 “Privacy and Electronic Communications Act” ensured the customer have the right to opt in or out of the content. The act required customer data to be acquired during a sale, or while joining the company’s website, usually in the form of check-boxes stating whether they wanted to receive extra marketing content from the company. It was also made illegal to continue messaging customers who had chosen to opt out of marketing SMS. These regulations were further updated in 2011.

The SMS market has progressed rapidly much like the technology that carries it

SMS marketing has come a long way in a short space of time. From a simple text message the increasing technology contained within handsets has enabled a wealth of advertising content to be distributed by companies in order to communicate information to a large amount of people at the same time.

Although these new laws seemed to restrict companies, in many ways it has made SMS marketing a more efficient process.

They have made it easier for companies to generate more sales through SMS marketing because their content is being sent to people who actually want to receive them and are interested in their products. Companies are not wasting their time, or letting their PR suffer, on customers who do not want to receive their marketing texts.

Example of a QR code

The invention of the mobile short code in 2003 also helped to clean up the business of SMS marketing. UK short codes usually contain five digits, starting with 6 or 8. These are most noticeable on TV shows where the audience have to vote or donate to charity for example. Companies have to apply and go through a vetting process, to make sure they use the short code appropriately and pay a yearly subscription in order to use them. Messages sent from short codes can be opted out of by customers, simply by replying to the text message with the word, “STOP.”

As mobile phone technology has become more sophisticated, along with the development of the “smart phone,” the range of SMS content has changed too. Bluetooth technology allowed images to be sent more easily, with the ability to opt out if required.

Nowadays MMS messaging has become more commonplace, with audio/visual content now being used to advertise products and services to potential customers.

SMS marketing has come a long way in a short space of time. From a simple text message the increasing technology contained within handsets has enabled a wealth of advertising content to be distributed by companies in order to communicate information to a large amount of people at the same time.

Example of a QR code

QR codes enable the customer to engage with the company themselves by gaining access to their website by scanning a black and white image on an advert. Location based GPS technology has enabled a retail company for example track a customer, who has opted into their marketing campaign, and alert them about offers if they are near one of their stores.

SMS marketing has come a long way in a short space of time. From a simple text message the increasing technology contained within handsets has enabled a wealth of advertising content to be distributed by companies in order to communicate information to a large amount of people at the same time.



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About the Author

Jonathan Rudd profile picture

Jonathan Rudd

Jonathan's background is in journalism. He has worked amongst other for the York Press and the Leeds Guide. He is now a freelance journalist and copywriter taking on a wide range of projects for everybody from tradesmen to Internet startups assiting with their content marketing needs.


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