Text marketing will only work if rogue marketers are weeded out

There has never been a technological device that matches the mobile phone in the affections of us Brits. As a result we are very protective of what communication we receive on our devices, which means the receipt of a text from an unknown company is likely to push us over the proverbial edge.

Russell Parsons

Direct marketing using text messages is in the spotlight and not for positive reasons. Last week, the ICO announced it was to fine two companies a total of £250,000 for illegal marketing practices.

The news prompted thousands to take to comment boards across national newspaper sites to suggest that the two companies were merely the tip of a Titanic threatening sized iceberg.

It seems that spam texts are the scourge of the nation. Quite a feat considering the relative infancy of mobile marketing.

Other forms of direct marketing are no stranger to the public’s ire. However, direct or “junk” mail can be opted out from by registering with the Mail Preference Service, as can telemarketing through the Telephone Preference Service. Neither are a fail safe but both the channels and the opt-out services are at a stage of maturity that they stop more unwanted communication than they miss.

There are none of the same safeguards for spam texts. There are hundreds of shadowy operators sending millions of automatically generated texts to random recipients, each one wandering how the hell the sender got hold of their number.

Unless the ICO takes a firm hold of the situation through persistent fining and cease and desist orders for the guilty there is a danger that legitimate use of SMS could be killed because of the apoplexy caused by rogue practices.

John Lewis’ head of marketing, CRM and customer insight Chris Bates recently told Marketing Week how well text messaging has worked for them. As a follow-up reminder for a time sensitive messages such as communication about a clearance sale or competitor promotion, it works perfectly.

A rationale easy to understand when given by a brand that wouldn’t dream of communicating in such a way with consumers unless they felt there was a decent chance they would be warm to the message.

The problem, unless the powers that be get a handle on it, is that the avalanche of rogue texters is in danger of flattening perfectly legitimate use of the channel.

The mobile is such a personal item that any brand encroaching into consumers’ space needs to make sure they have a reason to be there. If those that do not continue to outweigh those that do, then SMS cannot survive as a legitimate marketing tool.

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