As a marketing and customer engagement channel, the unrivalled ubiquity, reliability and engagement rates of SMS is hard to beat. But in recent years the text medium has offered little in the way of innovation to excite marketers looking for richer consumer engagement.

It looked at one point as though MMS might provide a creative upgrade, but technical complexities, fragmentation and cost saw MMS fail to deliver and fall by the wayside.

However, clear demand still exists amongst brands and businesses for enhanced messaging services. According to a recent Ovum study, 37% of businesses admitted that they would send more SMS messages if they had access to new features such as custom branding, the delivery of enriched content and read receipts.

Thankfully, at the ripe old age of 25, the humble text-message is finally set to receive the richer, more interactive makeover that marketers have craved.

What is RCS?

Often billed as SMS 2.0, Google’s Rich Communications Service, or RCS as its more commonly known, essentially brings much of the functionally associated with messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Apple iMessage and WhatsApp to SMS.

Set to be rolled out to businesses later this year, RCS enables brands to engage with consumers using colour, images, video and audio. What’s more, RCS also offers a chatbot-like, real-time interaction as well as the ability to automate messages, making customer engagement more responsive, regardless of the hour.

For example, a message from your airline reminding you to check in for a flight can now take advantage of rich media and interactivity to provide a full check-in experience, complete with a boarding pass, visual flight updates, and terminal maps on demand, all directly within the messaging experience.

With RCS, marketers can also see when and how a person has engaged with their message, providing a trove of data through which to better understand customer behaviour and help optimise their communications.

Message delivery and ‘read’ information allows you to understand customer behavior, which alongside powerful reporting tools, will further enhance your future campaigns.

How do consumers access RCS?

RCS is delivered through a new, native Android messaging app called Android Messages and the service is only available through mobile network operators who have already integrated RCS such as Vodafone, Orange and Sprint.

It’s important to also understand, however, that while RCS handset penetration remains relatively low, brands and enterprises will need to use a combination of RCS Business Messaging and SMS to reach their entire customer base.

However, with more operators coming on stream each month and major brands such as Subway, Virgin Trains and Sky already testing and developing RCS campaigns ready for launch, it’s likely that RCS will gain significant traction fairly quickly.

In addition, Google has already signed up a raft of handset manufacturers including Sony, Nokia and Motorola, that will soon begin shipping handsets with Android Messages already installed.

As for integration with Apple’s iMessage? Well, while nothing has been confirmed, it may be in Apple’s long-term interest to integrate RCS, so watch this space.

Could RCS spell the death of SMS or apps?

The death knell for SMS has been ringing louder and louder in recent years, especially with consumer use of SMS falling off a cliff since the emergence of OTT messaging platforms like WhatsApp.

But like a phoenix from the flames, SMS use is once again on the rise with business use of Application to Person (A2P) messaging skyrocketing, with Ovum predicting that by 2019, businesses will be sending 1.28 trillion messages a year.

So, will RCS put the final nail in text message’s coffin? I don’t think so. Sure, marketing budgets will in time shift from SMS to RCS, but where consumers don’t have Android Messages or a decent data connection at the point when an urgent message is delivered, SMS will still provide that vital failover. So as the total messaging pie grows, so too will the use of SMS.

If anything, as RCS grows in prominence it could well do so at the expense of app marketing budgets. This is because RCS behaves like a branded app in every way, except that it can be delivered to the consumer at a fraction of the cost and complexity.

Another thing in RCS’s favour over apps is the fact that messaging creates a direct and instantaneous engagement with consumers, whereas, with apps, consumers need to overcome the friction of downloading the app and then remembering to use it.

Either way, when RCS messaging launches later this year it’s going to provide brands and businesses with an exciting new way of engaging with customers and may well provide the gold standard in messaging for the next 25 years. 

 

By Rob Malcolm, vice president at CLX Communications


GDPR Summit Series is a global series of GDPR events which will help marketers to prepare to meet the requirements of the GDPR ahead of May 2018 and beyond. Further information and conference details are available at http://www.gdprsummit.london/


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