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SMS outpaces other direct channels

July 7, 2014 • Opinion

Jacques Swanepoel, Cellfind

Jacques Swanepoel, MD, Cellfind. Image Source: Cellfind).

The relatively low penetration of smartphones in Africa, paired with high data costs, means that the humble SMS remains the best way for organisations to reach a mass market with targeted marketing messages, alerts, statements, and other information.

That’s according to Jacques Swanepoel, MD at Cellfind, who says that SMS is a powerful channel because it can be used to reach nearly anyone with a GSM handset – in Africa that is nearly every person, considering that there are more than 650 million cellphone users continent-wide.

“Even as smartphone penetration ramps up, it will be a long while before smartphones account for the majority of the devices in the market. Africa remains dominated by prepaid users, many of whom opt for low-priced feature phones,” Swanepoel says.

“The majority of connections are still basic 2G voice and SMS services, and simple 2.5G data services, rather than 3G or LTE connections. For that reason, text-based mobile marketing is still the mobile marketing method with the furthest reach in Africa.”

Swanepoel says that more than eight out of 10 people in Africa own a cellphone, and most people also carry their phones with them everywhere they go and seldom switch them off. What’s more, even people who don’t have a permanent or accessible street address have a cellphone number.

Even when someone moves home, they are likely to keep the same cellphone number. “Whether your customers are rich, poor or in between, you can reach them with a timely text message when you need to,” says Swanepoel. “SMS has the advantage of immediacy, with consumers usually receiving the message you send within seconds and often opening it as soon as they receive it. That makes it particularly useful for time-sensitive communications, such as payment reminders and special time-limited promotions.”

Swanepoel notes that response and engagement levels on SMS are high because the cellphone is such a personal and trusted device. Depending on the campaign, it is not unusual to get SMS response rates of up to 30% on offers and 60% on surveys. This compares to around 2.6% for direct mail, 0.5% for pamphlets and 8.5% for published media.

“An SMS is noticed, read and acted upon,” Swanepoel says. “It is simple for clients to respond with a quick reply; what’s more, many people who might delete email from marketers or throw mailers in the bin are highly likely to read text messages because they are accustomed to receiving important notifications as well as personal messages via SMS.”

By segmenting the SMS marketing database, marketers can personalise messages to clients’ needs and interest. As such, SMSes can be leveraged as effectively for one-to-one marketing as it can for bulk messaging.

And since it is bi-directional, allowing customers to respond immediately with a request for more information, means it’s good for focused, call-to-action marketing. Another benefit of SMS lies in its cost-effectiveness at a few cents a message, especially when compared to print, postage and telephone costs.

Though it offers a high return on investment, companies should follow best practices such as interacting only with people who are already customers or who have opted-in to receive SMS communications from them. They should make it easy for people to opt out, as well. This enhances an organisation’s brand and reputation, and will prevent it breaching South African anti-spam laws and regulations. “A bulk messaging provider registered with the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association can guide you around the best practices to follow,” Swanepoel says.

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