The history of SMS marketing
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 Millennium. The first text message in the UK was sent in 1992 by engineer, Neil Papworth to Vodafone 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 also communicate with their market using SMS texts, rather than through traditional methods, such as the post. Originally in the UK text messages could only be sent to people who were on the same network as them, but crucially this impediment was lifted in 1999, meaning that anybody could text anybody regardless of which network they were using. This made it far easier for companies to communicate with their customers. Around the turn of the Millennium, major 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. Customers were often plagued with unwanted texts from companies they had no interest in, or had even heard of. This created a problem which had to be solved.
Unlike email, which is still largely unregulated, SMS marketing messages have had several restrictions placed on them, as we shall see later. Although these new laws seemed to restrict companies at the time, in many ways it has made SMS marketing a more efficient process. They have also helped to restore consumer confidence in SMS marketing messages and this can only be of benefit to business. The new rules helped to shed the dirty image of SMS marketing and have made it the effective and efficient solution that it is today. 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. As handsets have become more sophisticated and able to handle larger amounts of data, the messages have also become more detailed, often embracing picture and video technology in the form of MMS messages. This has the added of advantage of allowing the sender to be more creative in what they send. Social media has also allowed users to share content with each other, further spreading the word amongst their peer groups and generating further business for you.
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 but in a much more considered and approachable way.