Technology

How SMS has turned into a powerful business tool

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With 5G phones on the way, the speed at which an SMS link opens will be fast for your company and clients. FILE PHOTO | NMG

When Ruth Gachomo was in Kahuhia Girls’ High School, Murang’a County, 15 years ago, she noticed the challenges parents encountered when receiving report forms.

“Mostly it was through post offices and we would open school before they could receive them. I kept thinking of a solution that would make it easier for parents to receive report forms,” Ms Gachomo tells Digital Business.

Fascinated by the idea of faster communication, her business was hatched while in Kenyatta University in 2009, developing a system to ease the process of generating report forms and at the same time sending the results via SMS to any mobile phone.

“I registered my company, Celcom Africa in 2012, specialising in providing bulk SMS services to clients who need targeted messaging to their massive base of customers,” says the 33-year-old.

While humans send fewer text messages from one individual to the next, she says commercial messaging is on the rise.

“More corporations now use SMS as a trusted messaging channel. Transactional SMS are becoming trendy with the rise of online industry and e-commerce,” she notes.

Also, the rate at which targeted audience open an SMS is very high, with a 98 percent of SMS messages being read within the first three minutes of delivery.

This, she says, makes SMS the one marketing strategy that companies turn to as a means of connecting with customers.

According to statistics, texting is the single most used wireless technology on the planet, and the service is consumed in all sorts of capacities for building communities.

In Kenya, this service is used by media houses to break news, fitness ventures to remind subscribers of their regular gym sessions, health centres to warn of diseases, religious organisations to alert on next services, e-commerce to inform on new arrivals, agricultural apps to advise on farming and banking to update users on account changes.

Mr Timothy Oriedo, a Big Data scientist and founder of Predictive Analytics Lab says retail and aviation sectors can also reap big from the service.

“There are several of ways retailers can use bulk messaging to connect with their customers. But they must be careful to send timely messages, ensuring they do not bombard audiences with hundreds of invasive messages,” he says.

He adds that with instant messaging, you can confirm flight status unexpected delays and weather changes.

“Airlines can fill empty seats by targeting frequent flyers with cheaper tickets, and make more profits. But this data must be analysed in real time first to make such informed decisions.”

However, there are challenges in this business, ranging from over-dependence on telco networks, getting qualified data engineers and market volatility.

“Network operators sometimes have downtimes which in return affects my business. They have to keep upgrading their systems from time to time,” says Ms Gachomo.

“With ever increasing customers, there is need to invest in modern technology and scalable systems. Different seasons present different revenues and business needs, for instance, during festive seasons.”

She adds that you have to balance your finances to cater for low seasons.

For markets in remote areas where 70 percent of Kenyans live, SMS marketing is the most preferred way of reaching to customers because of the speed and efficiency.

SMS data can be used in your customer relationship management (CRM) software to inform on who to target, by observing their past buying patterns.

“Apps like WhatsApp or iMessaging are actually more restrained than SMS. An SMS can be consumed without Wi-Fi, uses less data and costs less to access information,” says Ms Gachomo, who is the marketing director of the company she founded, located at 14 Riverside, Westlands, Nairobi.

Technology brands such as Google, Facebook, Uber, Apple and Airbnb all have SMS marketing campaigns as part of their promotional strategies. It is expected that SMS traffic will reach 2.5 trillion by mid-2020.

While she has attracted clients in the education, banking, retail, health and transport sectors, Ms Gachomo admits that the success of any marketing campaign is, to a great extent, dependent on its return on investment (ROI).

“With SMS, the click-through rate is higher. The link leading your audience to another site where they might make a purchase, learn, and discover more about a product, service or offer will more likely be opened if done on SMS,” she says.

This provides you with direct insight into how many public on your records are engaging with your subject matter and are interested in learning more about your brand or your offer.

“This means that when your campaign is delivered your likelihood of earning business from that is actually very high.”

But to remain relevant in a business that is threatened by the disruption of Internet of Things (IoT) through cloud-based services, constant innovation is a must.

SMS, being a cross-carrier service that is pre-installed and works well in phones of all generations, will benefit from higher speeds.

“With 5G phones on the way, the speed at which an SMS link opens will be fast for your company and clients. This will mean that we are dawning into a new digital world that will be more fun and more profitable,” she anticipates.

Some of the most motivating updates from the next digital-generation comprises higher capacity, lower latency and greater connectivity, meaning the network will not only be faster, but able to transmit more information and data, faster and in more stable and secure connections.