Guest Post: Twitter’s Offline Cousin

by Daniel Timothy Wood
Connecting with someone under 30 these days can often require a text message–that odd, 160 character, acronym laden, Japanese schoolgirl phenomenon that you thought bypassed North America in the 90s. It actually only bypassed your generation…if you’re over 35.
Today text messaging is more than kids passing digital notes in class. The medium has evolved into a sophisticated conduit to send and receive targeted messages and with the introduction of Twitter, one can now send one-to-many messages to a global network of online friends. The imposed character limit tends to promote succinct communication with a focused purpose. And that focus is gold in a world where attention is at a deficit.
With 83% of U.S. teens owning mobile phones the SMS channel is not only ubiquitous, it is the preferred contact method for one of the most sought after demographics. A recent report by the Nielson Co., found that the average teen sends 2,272 text messages a month (compared to 203 calls). When I learned that a recent study had found a majority of current college students opened email accounts primarily just to join social networks…the challenging reality of email marketing sunk in. Many young people view an email as formal communication–the equivalent of a hand-written letter for older generations. This trend has some colleges looking at even abandoning student email accounts entirely as they become redundant to the dominant network/s. Teens have enthusiastically adopted SMS technology as their social life-line on-the-go and increasingly value it over other technologies and channels.
Pairing SMS text services with online applications is the answer for many businesses today that wish for a deeper connection with clients and prospects. Like email marketing, text marketing is an opt-in permission-based channel that is priced by the number of outgoing messages a program sends out. Campaigns can be targeted and as measurable as banner buys. A recent BMW campaign received over a 30% conversion rate after culling their customer lists for phone numbers and sending a simple SMS message with a photo of what their car would look like with snow tires. Customers could directly call their dealer, ask to be called back, or download an app to peruse other options…and they did.
Adding value to the engagement is sure to go much further then an obtrusive ring-tone advertisement. I see the utility of SMS as an on-demand, micro-information service with endless potential for simultaneously building brand experiences and delighting consumers. Imagine being in the midst of refinancing your home and having your bank text you when the rate is where you want it. Or pinging your favorite lunch spot to get today’s specials and placing your to-go order via SMS. Personally, I would like to work with the Humane Society on a pro-bono rescue program to broadcast the photo of a dog in-need, each day to families that are entertaining adopting a new member.
Text messaging trends continue to grow world-wide despite email saturation (or in-spite of it some might argue). I believe that all channels of communication are worth considering when approaching an advertising challenge and have a few ideas on how SMS efforts can supplement existing campaigns. If you would like to hear more – just text ‘PMSI’ to 95495.
Daniel Timothy Wood is Digital Strategy Director at PMSI in Portland. Wood has a background as an art director–not something a lot of strategists bring to the table. He’s also the man who pointed me to Ciao Vito, so his taste is impeccable. Follow @dtwood for his latest ruminations.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. While I do agree that text messaging is an often-overlooked channel, I disagree that a stat like “the average teen sends 2,272 text messages a month” justifies the need. Teens also send thousands of IMs back and forth each month, but a campaign that tires to jump into that stream would struggle because teens aren’t using that channel for anything but personal conversations. Same goes for text messages. There’s a way to do it right, and the BMW example proved that, but companies need to be sure they understand the way people really use text messages first before they try to jump in and get their message out through this new and semi-untested channel.

  2. Cory,
    Thanks for the comment. The factoid about average SMS quantities was to illustrate the amount of time spent within the channel.
    I completely agree that you need to adjust the message and approach to the medium. Just as a brand cannot jump into a Twitter conversation without adding value to the conversation, a brand cannot spam existing/potential customers out of the blue. These programs should be opt-in and provide utility as a rule. This can be as simple as voting for an American Idol or sending a song request to a radio station… both are being done in large numbers and extend past ‘personal conversations.’
    A logical first-step for marketers testing the SMS channel can be adding a text component as an additional response mechanism to an out-of-home/outdoor campaign or by possibly sponsoring a sweepstakes to begin building a legitimate list for future marketing efforts.
    While the channel is still maturing, many of the best practices from email marketing (CAN-SPAM) are being adopted to keep it as relevant and permission-based as possible.

  3. My monthly text messaging average is 1,200. Really puts things into perspective!
    The apple berry crisp @ Ciao Vito is phenomenal, btw. 🙂

  4. Not sure if the text messaging channel is really where marketers should be right now. Those one to one conversations don’t really allow for much.
    Twitter, and services like it, are what marketers should be looking at. Practice having real conversations, gain trust and sell without selling. Honest, authenticity and transparency are the most important here.

  5. Tyler,
    I absolutely agree that SMS is not the ideal channel for conversation marketing… Twitter is the logical platform for this.
    When marketers are looking for alternative direct response vehicles, SMS makes more sense.