Consumers no longer want to spend time looking for an answer; they want information from businesses immediately, with no fuss.
In 2015, we witnessed a shift in consumer behaviour from ‘social networking’ to ‘social messaging’. There are now more people talking privately via messaging applications than there are using the public social media features.
This change means businesses are increasingly seeing the need to adopt a more conversational, always-on, approach to communication. Consumers are expecting companies to solve their problems quickly and efficiently while understanding their personal situation.
In the 2016 Mobile Messaging Report, 50.6 per cent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: ‘A business should respond to me 24 hours a day, seven days a week’. There seems to be a disparity in medium, channel and frequency of communication between consumer-consumer compared with consumer-business conversation. Interestingly, Facebook also released data showing that 67 per cent of consumers expect to message businesses more frequently over the next two years.
To fuel this demand and fill the communication gap, a wave of new technology has hit the shelves.
Mobile messaging delivery channels like SMS and messaging applications (such as Facebook Messenger, Telegram and WeChat) are enabling businesses to offer the experience their customers are now expecting. Rather than being powered by humans, most companies elect to use chatbots and artificial intelligence to communicate with consumers over these channels 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
There is a range of technology available to enable businesses of all size (and pocket depth) to communicate with their consumers. At the moment, large brands and international companies lead the way in mobile messaging innovation, but we are starting to see small businesses take advantage of auto-responders and messaging campaigns delivered straight to a user’s mobile telephone.
Although still rapidly evolving, there are a number of best practices with mobile messaging that we can learn from the early adopters. For businesses looking to adopt mobile messaging into their marketing mix, these five insights will help start the journey on the right foot.
1. Always opt-in and enable opt-out
Unlike SMS, messaging applications are always opt-in. Businesses cannot go on Facebook, find a bunch of people they want to talk to and start sending them messages via Facebook Messenger.
Like most other forms of digital marketing, to participate in mobile messaging businesses have to encourage users to connect with them.
Once a user has opted-in, they should be given clear instructions on how to opt-out. This process can be as simple as a short sentence telling them to send a specific keyword, visit a website page or call a number. The key is to make it as easy as possible. After all, it is better to have a database of engaged, active users rather than a list of people who do not want to receive messages.
Sidenote: if a business is only interested in SMS, the ICO does have slightly more relaxed regulations.
2. Short and sweet
Gaining access to the consumer’s mobile phone is the holy grail of marketing communication. A phone is precious, used only for communicating with friends, family, and loved ones. If a business reaches this nirvana, they better make sure they respect it and honour their side of the deal.
Mobile messaging is not email marketing. The goal is not to send a finely crafted, rich media and CTA filled piece of writing. Mobile messaging is short, sweet, timely and to the point. The clue is in the title: mobile. The user is reading the words on a small screen while sat on the bus, watching TV or running between meetings. A business should get to the point, satisfy demand and above all, make sure they are sending what was asked for.
If a company does try to send War and Peace, SMS will automatically truncate messages to 160 characters (or 140/70 if special/Unicode), Facebook Messenger and other messaging applications are typically limited to around 640 characters.
3. Start small
Technology is changing fast. Artificial intelligence can power customer service, answer questions, speak in multiple languages and connect to tens of thousands of APIs to pull in external data. Businesses should not let this put them off. Instead, they should start small and understand what their consumers need, then work hard to satisfy demand.
Sure, a mobile messaging solution can deliver weather forecasts, send rich media content hot from a blog and converse in a near-human level of interaction. However, the initial goal should be to focus on one or two key goals and provide the most seamless and effortless solution a consumer has ever used.
Once a business has a basic mobile messaging campaign live, it can then start implementing new features and benefits.
4. Have a personality
Communicating with a user via their mobile telephone is a personal experience. A business needs to think differently about it and talk as if they were a real person.
Iconography, design, colour and UX is replaced with language, tone, friendliness and conversational interface. Users want a business to be approachable and personable, which is often achieved with brand-sensitive copy, emojis, pictures and GIFs.
The goal is for every user to feel as though they are the only person being talked to. The business knows who they are, what previous interactions they have had and exactly what they need at that moment in time. Mobile messaging allows a company to talk to an individual on a personal level, at scale.
5. Talk back
Traditionally, business-to-consumer conversations have been one-way. Spending lots of resources to profile, segment and understand audiences to then craft marketing communication and media to attract a click, visit or call. Up until now, audiences have been on receive, mobile messaging enables them to switch to send.
Businesses have the opportunity to open a dialogue, to chat, to converse and understand. Instead of working hard to identify if someone wants to buy something and timing the delivery of an offer to buy it, a business can just say: ‘Hi, how can I help?’.
Conversational commerce is the buzzword. It is the ability for a company to reach consumers via mobile messaging and have a conversation. Its goal is to help them through the buyer journey, to answer their questions and point them in the right direction, and, of course, to increase sales or improve customer service.
Surveys suggest consumers are ready for businesses to talk to them via messaging applications. By using mobile messaging, businesses are able to differentiate themselves from the competition and delight their customers. There is a need for on-demand, one-to-one rich communication and the conditions are ripe for small businesses to begin exploring mobile messaging today.
Dean Withey is CEO and co-founder of ubisend.