SMS still relevant 20 years on?

SMS is still the world’s favorite form of mobile communication, despite the increasing prevalence of smart phones enabling social networking in developed countries, according to Mindshare, the global media agency network.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the first SMS. But with instant messaging, social networks, mobile video calling and email all now common on many handsets, recent reports in the United States that SMS usage had dropped for the first time seemed to signal the decline of the mobile phone’s simplest form of written communication.

However, the numbers tell a different story. One billion people around the world are estimated to own a smartphone; six times that number have a ‘feature’ phone and research by Informa Telecoms and Media has found that global SMS traffic is expected to increase to 8.7 trillion messages in 2015 from 5 trillion messages in 2010, signaling a big opportunity for retailers and marketers alike.

Norm Johnston, Global Digital Leader Mindshare Worldwide, believes that there is plenty of life left in SMS.

“Here at Mindshare, we believe SMS is still highly relevant in emerging markets. Smartphone penetration levels remain low in much of Asia and Africa where feature phones are more commonly found, and even as it grows, SMS will still have a key role to play in phone usage,” he says.

“Used in the right way, it can be a great, cost-effective way to engage with people or get them to further engage with a brand. SMS can be used in rural areas where there are no 3G or 4G signals, creating the opportunities for feedback or simple advertisements. In fact, an entire shorthand language has been established and is an acceptable form of communication, even from brands, in certain countries,” he adds.

With the global economy still sluggish, brands continue to use SMS as a cost-effective form of reaching their target audiences. Even in mature advertising markets such as Europe, SMS still has life according to Mindshare.

A report by OECD, Trends Shaping Education, suggests that between 2000 and 2050, the number of people aged 65+ in Europe compared with the 15-64 year-olds are expected to more than double. As the average age of a European consumer rises, due to longer life spans and lower birth rates, brands will increasingly seek to engage these more affluent and older consumers in the channels that appeal to them. In mobile, that will include SMS.

“The continuing unease over the complexity of controlling your communications, particularly on social networks, means many, including the older generations, find SMS a reliable, straightforward means to communicate with others. You know exactly who it’s going to, and your message won’t trigger a persistent sequence of sponsored communications,” says Johnston.

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