SMS is reborn as an acqui channel in the Smartphone age

In the early days of Deal4Loans, we used to get a lot of traffic and leads through SMS campaigns. Especially for products like Personal Loans (Simple pitch and high-urgency in a need based product)

SMS reborn in smartphone ageDuring those days, NDNC (National DO NOT CALL) list was not introduced and there were very few players who were sending bulk SMS for lead generation. Response rates were high.

Market quickly figured out that this was a cost effective and easy channel to scale up. A tsunami of SMS campaigns started to happen and finally the National government had to intervene with its NDNC initiative.

And while SMS acquisition campaigns have largely died out, it seems to be back again.  And with even more potential.

In a recent campaign we closely observed, a bank reached out to a select base of consumers through SMS and emails. The resulting traffic on the portal was significantly higher in case of SMS.


Apart from all the other factors (higher delivery rates, targeting time of intervention), now most recipients have a 3G or Wifi enabled smartphone, where CTAs are simple. This campaign had a short URL taking to the Landing Page after a crisp text talking about the offer.

Lesson learnt:

If you can withhold the temptation to abuse your mobile registered users, SMS can deliver amazing results even in marketing campaigns.

Change and how we react to it

Its an oft repeated statement that an optimist see opportunities where others see challenges. It can not be truer in a business scenario esp when something changes drastically in the overall environment.

Change - reactions

One such change has been the TRAI’s gag over SMS- the true bane of India’s mobile growth. We used to get 20 SMS daily about new housing projects and a similar number of messages for increasing height or losing weight. So apart from the customers who are genuinely happy, its very interesting to see how businesses are reacting to this change. Do remember that mobile (& SMS specifically) has been a very strong and efficient channel for many businesses because

  • It ensured delivery + view (unlike emails which might not be opened or hit SPAM)
  • It was real time, so alerts could be sent and verifications could be done while the customer was online
  • Cost effective, the cost per SMS from many a providers was as low as 3-4 paise

So once the SMS were put on hold, earlier this week interesting responses have been witnessed from players.  Here’s some of the interesting ones:

  1. Talk it out with the regulator – The JustDials of the world seem to have done this, coz by the evening there was an announcement with a new clause that allowed JustDial/Zatse and few others to send SMS to customers who call in for local search. Similar benefit has been extended to Google/Facebook etc kind of brands. This is interesting because all along, the draft that was circulated contained only a few pre-decided categories where transactional SMS  would be allowed.
  2. Read the fine print and find a way out – Apparently all this applies only as long as you use the pipes of Indian telecom operators to push text SMS to customsers. There are players now offering SMS’s delivered through international gateways (although at a much higher cost).
  3. What? When did this happen – Its very funny to talk to some call centers and hear their agents give the standard response that you will get a SMS from our side. Here it seems, no one within the company bothered to check/find how it affected their processes. I am sure their Ops guy in on an extended vacation.
  4. No Problem, we will innovate – well this is the segment that does proud to the word – “Jugaad”. There are players out there selling a “missed-call” solution in lieu of SMS verification. A very smart alternative indeed and the robustness of the current system is the only constraint.

While the change is very recent and many more innovative solutions would come up, one thing is certain- it has casted a death spell on very many business models (read that as VAS services, players selling mobile numbers, mobile marketing services).

Is someone at TRAI listening?

TRAIWe might be the world’s most watched and talked about telecom market but come Feb2011, there would be a lot more noise that this industry would make. and all of this because of TRAI’s latest guidelines on NDNC (National Do Not Call) list. While the motivation cannot be questioned (hell, most of us get more than 5-6 irritating SMS/calls everyday), but the solution surely is far from good.

In one single swipe, TRAI would hurt a big chunk of online/ecommerce players – lead generation portals typically need further qualification or undergo tele-sales , and that cannot happen now- atleast for the customers on the NDNC list. Never mind that the customer himself applied for the product/service you are selling – if you are not a bank, insurance co. education institute, airlines, Indian Railways or a government agency you cannot talk to a NDNC customer. Even these privileged few can talk to customers only about their account status and such alerts.

The way I read the notification, even banks would not be able to call customers who applied on their own for a personal loan/credit card if the applicant is on NDNC.TRAI guidelines just give two sets – Transactional communication and everything else. With the first being defined so narrowly that most businesses would fall under the latter category.

This could mean

  • That I will not get a SMS with contact details next time I call Just Dial.
  • If i buy a ticket from BookMyShow – i would not get the booking id on SMS. Will need to note it from email or something or do some other process.
  • If I apply online at ICICI for a credit card, they cannot call me to tell me what docs and what limit apply etc.
  • Most free SMS sites can only send SMS to non-NDNC customers.
  • All operator subscribed Astrology/Joke/Cricket alerts are a big NO. Go get that android today for cricket updates.
  • Applications which sent emails as SMS would be rendered useless unless the subscriber got himself out of NDNC.
  • Google reminders would not work on SMS, even those helpful services for medicine/health checkup reminders.

And to top it all, you would still get those irritating SMS, coz  those guys dont use the enterprise services. They would just shift from one pre-paid number to another . I just wish someone at TRAI was listening and understanding the impact this will have on the SME sector – many business models would lose their viability even when the customer need exists .

Update: This finally went live on 27th Sep 2011 and its very interesting how people/businesses are reacting to this change.