Mobile messaging: Key takeaways from the Mobile Ecosystem Forum

With SMS now over 20 years old, mobile messaging is undergoing immense changes and in the era of fluid communications the habits of consumers are providing interesting insights into our preferences and behaviours.

The Mobile Messaging Report 2016, carried out by Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), looked into consumer and enterprise trends and revealed some great insight into the current state of mobile messaging which I am keen to discuss in this article.

The obvious emergence of over-the-top (OTT) apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber and Snapchat is overtaking SMS in person to person messaging. The MEF study shows that 56 per cent of people regularly use Facebook Messenger, 50 per cent of people regularly use WhatsApp and 42 per cent use SMS.

The data no doubt reflects a remarkable change in the way people choose to communicate on their phones since SMS has been the key communications channel since the mid-1990s. It remained this way until the start of this decade when new IP based apps took over, using the data network rather than the cellular network to move messages. In Europe and the U.S. the most successful has been WhatsApp. Launched in 2009 the application passed the one billion user milestone in February 2016. Meanwhile, Facebook Messenger has made speedy progress. It launched in August 2011 and recently passed 800 million users.

The popularity of these apps no doubt stems from cost or functionality, or both. End users appreciate features such as the ability to create closed groups, image content and see when someone has read a message. Of course, despite all the hype around OTT messaging, it is worth stressing that SMS remains just as popular, with nearly half of all people surveyed still using it regularly.

Businesses are also increasingly turning to messaging and, for enterprise and business models, the preference is SMS, thanks to its versatility, reliability and usability. We are all so reliant on our phones these days, that it might not surprise you to know that 91 per cent of all adults have a phone within arms’ reach 24/7. But did you know that 98 per cent of text messages are read, while only 20 per cent of emails are read and 29 per cent of Twitter posts are read. These stats alone demonstrate the power of SMS marketing.

Going back to the MEF report, 76 per cent of consumers have received communications from businesses such as banks, healthcare and retailers via SMS and 65 per cent actually report having engaged with companies themselves via chat apps. The MEF study has revealed widespread adoption of A2P messaging across many industries, with financial services being the most active. The UK is the most enthusiastic adopter of A2P messaging for health with 33 per cent of us having corresponded this way. Interestingly the report also showed that mobile-first countries such as Nigeria, China and India are embracing SMS, this is due to people in these countries skipping the PC phase, they never embraced email in the same way as their Western counterparts.

The findings from the MEF report offer a wealth of insights into what the future might look like for mobile messaging. The increase of mobile and smartphone penetration, combined with more affordable and faster mobile data access, along with the boom in the recent app economy, has given rise to OTT messaging apps. These apps are so easy to use that they have eclipsed SMS as the primary medium for P2P communications across all demographics and geographies.

SMS still has relevance in terms of global usage. Application to Person Messaging (or Enterprise to Consumer) SMS still remains the most trusted channel for communications by consumers. Also SMS remains the only ubiquitous global messaging platform, and the only one with a unique and globally recognised addressing system, making it still the preferred channel for enterprises.

The study has shown both OTT Messaging Apps and SMS are still relevant to consumers, but for different uses and based upon consumer needs. SMS offers the advantage of being device agnostic; OTT messaging apps require closed user groups that rely on users having the same application installed to communicate with each other. Furthermore, they rely entirely on the user having access to a smartphone capable of running the application, along with a data connection that is provided by network operators. SMS on the other hand can be delivered in areas where there is little or no data signal and can be used far beyond just simple P2P messaging.

Individuals, organisations and M2M applications are all able to deliver SMS messages to anyone on any network, in any country, and at any time. To my mind, this really shows the diversity, strength and opportunities that SMS can still provide.

Gillian Hughes, VP Marketing, Veoo

Image Credit: Nito / Shutterstock