Why the Mobile Industry Must Simplify Business Text Messaging

Created: Tuesday, July 11, 2023, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 10:00 am

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By James Williams, Director of Programs, Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF)

Here in the UK, it’s commonplace for people to receive SMS from businesses, the content fulfilling any number of use cases. It’s versatile, ubiquitous and something that people are comfortable with today. Very comfortable. And it drives urgency. Just think of how long it takes for somebody to receive an SMS and for them to pick up their phone in response to the flash or beep. Not long at all.

Simplify Business Text Messaging
Image: Scopio

I’ve spoken with a lot of research companies in the sector, and many agree that when consumers are asked how many A2P (Application-to-Person) SMS they receive from organizations each month, the figures the people quote are actually lower than the real number of messages they receive. This is down to so many not regarding messages from organizations such as dentists and hospitals as being business-to-consumer (B2C) type messages when they actually are.

Businesses are getting into the world of chat apps now too

WhatsApp launched in 2009 and it wasn’t until 2017 that they came up with a WhatsApp for Business application. With over 2 billion monthly active users globally, WhatsApp is a powerful channel, but it is important to state that globally there are many other such Apps (think Telegram, WeChat, Snapchat and many more) which means the market is fragmented. The only text messaging type channel out there today that has access to over 5 billion people globally and doesn’t require the message recipient to have access to the internet or own a smartphone, is SMS. Sure, SMS isn’t rich, lacks the cool factor etc., but it gets so many jobs done without fanfare and shouting about it from the rooftops.

See me coming and many people view me as a living SMS. Having been to numerous industry events over the years, I found myself on the receiving end of so many people saying SMS is dying on its feet. Remember when MMS came along? Picture messaging. That was meant to kick sand in SMS’ ‘face’ and bury it, but that never happened. Then RCS (Rich Communication Suite – now Services) appeared and the same thing was said about SMS. That it was toast and about to be consigned to history. Years later, RCS has only just breached the one billion accessible users level. Don’t mention the number of RCS monthly active users. You get the picture. SMS is powerful and here to stay. And I love it.

With so many messaging channels available to organizations today, it doesn’t take long for confusion to set in. It never takes long for industry experts to jump in saying that one channel is better than another for this, but not that etc. With conflicting judgements/views and without the assistance of somebody from the business messaging space to offer guidance, it can all devolve so quickly that little wonder so many will ignore all the hype and noise and just continue doing what they always have. Using email. Spending a truckload of cash on digital ads. Now that’s an area that really amazes me.

Digital advertising

Literally hundreds of billions of dollars a year are spent on digital ads but if you have a look into the conversion rate statistics for them, let’s just say they tend to be on the ‘sub-optimal’ side in general. SMS is far more effective. And then move up to richer messaging channels such as WhatsApp and RCS (or more accurately RCS Business Messaging, RBM) and the effectiveness increases yet further. So how come digital ads, in all their flavors combined, are doing a far better job than business text messaging in attracting (in particular) marketing spend? The answer is simple – simplicity.

No matter how small, any company can sign up very fast and oh so easily to send digital ads. The leading providers are quite literally household names but the same can most definitely not be said of the top business messaging companies. The likes of Twilio, Infobip, Sinch. All from the world of mobile messaging will know of those names but ask anybody on the streets of the USA, Croatia, or Sweden (the respective countries from where the three aforementioned companies hail) and unless they are from the cities or, in Infobip’s case, the town they were founded, nobody will have heard of them. Combined, just those three carry billions of messages each month for enterprises around the world yet the average person does not recognize them. So, knowing who to actually go to is an issue.

Where to go

Logic would dictate that the providers of mobile services (think mobile handsets, internet connectivity etc.) to billions of people and enterprises globally would be the first port of call for any business looking to communicate more effectively with their own clients. But try to do that. Pick a mobile operator. Practically any. Go to their website and search for business messaging solutions. You won’t find many offering a clear path to sign up and easily take advantage of the powers of business text messaging. There is even less on offer for smaller organizations – the interest is in doing business directly with larger entities. So why is that?

On the face of it, the answer is simple: mobile network operators the world over are primarily there to offer great service to their subscribers. To ensure the likes of you and I can make and receive mobile calls, send and receive SMS text messages to friends, colleagues and loved ones, receive mobile internet service and roam with partner operators abroad when on holiday or on business. They are not set up with an army of specialist salespeople well versed in dealing with marketing experts of enterprises. In fact, it’s not uncommon for enterprise messaging sales teams of even the largest operators with millions of subscribers to number way less than a dozen. It’s not their area of expertise or focus but operators have something most companies can only dream of – stellar brand presence and recognition. But look at their revenues.


The largest mobile network groups are doing well if 2% of their revenue comes from business text messaging in all its forms. Whilst it’s generally very high margin for operators, there just isn’t the focus to really ramp up this area themselves but they could and should be doing far more to grow this.

Ask practically anybody to name a mobile phone operator in their home country and even though I am not a betting man, I would bet money on 99% of the population living in cities between the ages of 10 and 80 being able to name at least one. The most powerful brand in Africa is MTN. Now even their brand name is simplicity exemplified – Mobile Telephone Network, MTN! They do exactly what the name says on the tin. So, brand strength is absolutely there in spades. The solution in my mind has to be partnerships.

Companies like Twilio, Infobip and Sinch have spent years developing and refining not just the messaging technology but the knowledge of how to truly interact with all types of enterprise stakeholders. The dedicated business text messaging companies (often alternatively called aggregators or CPaaS providers) have built up huge libraries of data about how best to communicate in the most effective manner at any given time with practically any person on the planet – well certainly anybody with a mobile phone! That is experience that cannot be gained overnight. No matter if you are an MTN or Vodafone or Orange or China Mobile of this world. The key therefore to unlocking the full potential of business messaging surely has to be partnerships?

If I were I able to wave a magic business text messaging wand, I’d make sure that every single mobile network operator on planet Earth had an amazing partnership with a company expert in the area of business messaging. No need to reinvent the wheel or waste any time. White label a great omnichannel solution offering from a business messaging player, leverage their sales expertise. That experience they’ve gained in front of people from every industrial sector you can think of, is the key to unlocking real value. And make sure that any business of any size can easily find information on the solutions operators offer – whether somebody goes to the website, hits them up on social media or sees them elsewhere.

James Williams
James Williams is Director of Programs at MEF (Mobile Ecosystem Forum) a global trade body established in 2000 and headquartered in the UK with members across the world. As the voice of the mobile ecosystem, it focuses on cross-industry best practices, anti-fraud and monetization. The Forum provides its members with global and cross-sector platforms for networking, collaboration and advancing industry solutions.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post or content are those of the authors or the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.

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