SMS marketing: towards a one-to-one relationship?

While everyone's eyes are focused on newsletters, text messaging may well surprise you!

Earlier this year, I published a feature article on LinkedIn about social media trends (in French), including a list of emerging players to watch out for. Today, my intuition is proving to be correct.

A new generation of SMS marketing!

A reminder for those who joined this newsletter recently: I was referring to Community. The service was in restricted beta at the time, with a very enigmatic description. Many messages from stars on the web said, "Just text me it’s easier," with a mobile number.

What exactly was it about? A "new generation" of SMS marketing. But what else? You have probably already received advertising text messages, especially during private sales, to announce a promotion period, or a special discount. This type of service has the advantage of arriving natively to your phone — no app needed to access it — with opening rates defying any competition, around 97 percent. But it also has its share of drawbacks: a very standardized, very commercial approach, lack of personalization, a spammy intrusiveness.

Having sniffed this pain point, some players such as Community, Wavium and Subtext have reviewed their positioning, rethinking the logic of SMS marketing tools. If they are betting on a scalable offer for sending mass messages, they are innovating by developing a personalized approach with each member of their mailing list. Their trick: a system that receives each message without polluting the thread for everyone, allowing the host to respond directly to an individual. All this without algorithms or abandoning "social performance." You forget about likes, only the subscribers see the messages, and the broadcaster sees their replies. In short, this personalized communication encourages direct, healthy, safe and personal connections.

A well-oiled machine

I have tested several of these tools and I spoke with Mike Donoghue; the founder of the Subtext platform who was kind enough to answer my many questions, detailing the advantages of his service.

  • Subtext subscribers have no applications to download! The tool uses the standard SMS / MMS functionality to which everyone has access. While many obviously use Messenger, Telegram and WhatsApp, SMS / MMS remains the standard, the easiest way to reach a large number of prospects. This is especially true since, in an effort to curb "automated or mass messaging, or non-personal use" on the platform, WhatsApp hasn’t allowed publishers to send newsletters since December 7, 2019. And for creators who have groups, Whatsapp limits the broadcast to 500 members per group.

  • Another important advantage is data privacy and governance, no small matter these days! However, Subtext does not sell its users' information, does not rent it, does not monetize it in any way. The same cannot be said for WhatsApp. I won't list all the breaches at Facebook, the parent company, but I nevertheless invite you to read this rather edifying article: we learn that the data shared publicly through messaging, allowing dozens of external applications to scan subscribers' digital habits (daily uses, dialogues and exchanges, sleep time ...) thanks to the "online" signaling feature, in complete discretion and without anyone's consent. You will tell me that WhatsApp is committed, like many others, to encryption, yet the intrusive action of these external applications demonstrates how complex, if not impossible, it is to secure users' privacy. Edifying, I told you so.

  • According to Donoghue, large structures (media organizations, creators, etc.) cannot launch a group discussion with a large audience, which limits their field of action. At Subtext, some clients have more than 100,000 subscribers. From this perspective, it would be impossible for everyone to browse through the exchanges of the other 99,999; it would be a disaster. At Subtext, there are no trolls: the answers are only visible to the hosts. There is no point in being a troublemaker in a group discussion ... because it is no longer a group discussion!

  • Other strong points of the service: like Substack, Subtext gives hosts the ability to charge subscriptions. Fans can thus financially support their work. As for the hosts, they manage their campaigns via a robust analysis dashboard that provides some interesting statistics in passing: 92% opening rate - 20% engagement rate - 2% cancellation rate for paying subscribers - 1% cancellation rate for all subscribers.

Authentic communication?

And the host in all this? The one who spreads the message to his audience? If he has a base of 200,000 subscribers and they all respond, won't he be overwhelmed?  If he receives the same question 10 times, can he automate his answer while remaining in the one-to-one relationship? Mike Donoghue explained the parade to me: hosts don't have to respond to every message they receive, they just have to show that they have heard the solicitations. When you've received the same question 100 times in a row, all you have to do is create a shared message that basically says, "Wow, I get a lot of questions about X, let me answer them here."

From a technical point of view, the platform automatically classifies the answers in a dashboard for greater clarity and efficiency. You can, of course, answer a subscriber directly and face-to-face, but the "template" function allows you to save a response to be sent to several requests of the same type with a single click. Other tools facilitate the fluidity of exchanges.  Donoghue insists on this point: everything must be done so that the communication between the host and the subscribers is authentic, definitely not made by the AI / PNL.

It should be recognized that this type of service surfs on all the trends of the moment: community building, one-to-one relationships, personalization, the ability to have a particular connection with a creator, therefore a very strong emotional exchange — a point that should not be neglected in times of pandemic, when the social bond is threatened by lockdowns and distancing. If, for the moment, our inboxes are winning all the votes, text messaging seems to be well on the way to becoming a rival, all the more so as, currently less solicited, it offers a very open playground.

Trends and Retention

And the use cases in all this? This type of service seems almost naturally intended for artists and creators who would like to animate their communities. It could be of interest to politicians campaigning and brands wanting to regain their audiences. Another example: the media. The local news site Cleaveland explains that it has set up the Subtext tool as a paid service, mainly with sports editors.

For $3.99 a month, readers receive messages from their favorite columnists several times a day and can ask them questions that they answer in their podcasts. The service had already gained over 1,000 subscribers last year. With the COVID epidemic, it has become free: 117,000 readers have signed up! All of them received urgent, real-time updates on the coronavirus, and were able to ask questions directly to the journalists who wrote the articles in order to get precise answers. As you can imagine, these columns have been very favorably received by the readership ... building loyalty.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned Arist, the tool that revolutionizes learning by SMS, or Wavium, which offers SMS newsletters. Subtext confirms the trend: obviously, the new generation of SMS still holds some nice surprises in store for us.

Stay curious, always.


P.S. by way of a little terminological precision: some informed minds might object, and claim that SMS is dead, that it will soon be replaced by RCS, a new communication protocol that aims to replace the traditional text message with a much richer and more complete text and image message transfer system, similar to the iMessage system on the iPhone. I would reply that it does not change anything! Admittedly, RCS is not yet a universally accepted standard, if it is tomorrow, I will certainly update my article by simply titling it “RCS marketing: towards a one-to-one relationship?”