SMS success – Toronto fast-food chain sends burger lovers a message

“An SMS campaign” may not be the first idea that suggests itself to an up-and-coming marketing consultant all to eager to prove his mettle.

Chalk that up to inexperience.

SMS stereotypes

For while it may not have as the same sex appeal as launching a new iPhone app for business, SMS is still a wonderfully effective tool to put your product or brand flush in front of people’s faces, say experts in mobile marketing.
And don’t write it off as lacking pizzazz either, urges Michael Carter, president and CEO of MyThum Interactive a mobile media agency in Toronto.

SEE VIDEO: Successfully selling with SMS


Carter spoke at Mobile Media World 09 in Toronto recently. Presenters and panellists at this event included global industry experts, C-level business executives and well-known thought leaders in the mobile marketplace.

“There’s plenty of hot stuff you can do with SMS,” he says. “After all, it’s not so much about the technology. It’s about knowing how use it to create compelling offerings for your brands and your partners.”


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And that’s a skill Kashif Hassan honed through a long trial-and-error process.

Chairman and CEO of ooober Inc., a provider of mobile marketplace software and services, Hassan has been involved with this industry for around two decades.

The ooober CEO, who also presented at Mobile Media World, recalled how he launched his Woodbridge, Ont.-based firm four years ago as an online market for rich media offerings, such as cellphone ringtones and wallpaper.

This online market – dubbed – is still one of the firm’s popular offerings.

The model is straightforward: Aspiring musicians convert their music into ringtones for mobile phones and upload them to the site.

The artists sell their work, make profits and ooober gets a percentage of each sale — everyone’s happy.

Nothing unusual about that revenue sharing model.

However, the uniqueness of the offering, Hassan said, is in the marketing and promo tools ooober provides artists to sell their music around the world.

They’re tools specific to mobile – and include mobile multimedia storefronts, widgets … and (surprise, surprise) text messaging campaigns.

OnSMS, get set, go …

Arguably the most effective tool, from a marketing standpoint, is OnSMS, launched by ooober a few years ago.

The whole idea was to make launching a new campaign incredibly simple for users – as simple as filling out a form – and also extremely affordable.

“So today you can go online, enter your login and password and in minutes create a bunch of different campaigns,” the ooober CEO said.

He said wherever ooober does business – in Canada, the U.S. or the Middle East – the campaigns people create are basically the same.

“Eighty per cent of them were either ‘text to win’ or some kind of polling event, maybe a coupon.”

Apart from the one-off request for something a little more complex, everyone really wants the same thing, Hassan said. “They need a simple way to take advantage of SMS for marketing.”

And the key word here is simplicity, the Hassan said. “They say: please take care of this operator stuff for me, take care of the price points; help me with some best practices; help me understand what a response message should be, how I should structure it.”

To meet this need effectively, he said, ooober began harvesting best practices from the various countries where it operated.

“We brought in things like opt in lists, which are more stringent in North America, keywords (a short code to define your campaign), and many other elements.”  

ooober started to weave these elements into its services. The idea, said Hassan, was to make it very easy for users to go out, launch campaigns and get to market very quickly. “You fill in a form, review it, hit Send, and bam … you’re live.”

Not surprisingly, a big chunk of ooober’s customers for SMS-based marketing are small and mid-sized firms.

“Many of those who call us are in the long tail – they are innovative brands who are keen to do mobile, but have held back because of the cost.”

But when these firms do take the plunge, he said, they’re amazed at what they can accomplish with a simple, no frills SMS campaign.

Fast food for thought

Hassan cited the example Hero Certified Burgers — and the phenomenal success of its Hero Goes Mobile campaign, that exemplifies smart marketing via SMS.

The burger chain has 18 stores spread across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and has recently expanded to new locations, including Milton, Ont.

“They wanted something very simple,” Hassan recalled. “So they went out, built a campaign, signed on about 5,000 Hero Burger patrons, and sent them coupons on their mobile phones.”

Targeted patrons, he said, would walk into a store, show their mobile phones and get discounts.

“[Hero Burger] extended that program by getting e-mail addresses from visitors, and then slowly began building a customer database. Now there are tools in place for them to actively go in and communicate with their customers.”

The text-message campaign is now also publicized on the Hero Certified Burgers Web site. “Text ‘HERO’ to 51051 and receive a special offer” – the message runs.

Faith, Hope … and SMS

The ooober CEO cited another example of a very different but equally successful SMS campaign featuring Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah.

Hassan sits on the board of Children of Hope, a charity that works with orphaned kids. 

“We had an event, a gala, earlier in the year at which Ilyasah was the featured speaker. She came in and talked about growing up as an orphan.”

Following that the simple SMS campaign that ooober did for the event kicked in.

Audience members were asked to text ‘HOPE’ TO 51051.

Those who did had a chance to win an autographed picture of Ilyasah.

He said the level of engagement was very high of the 400 or so people at the gala around 170 actually sent in text messages.

“As board members we picked five winners, and dialled the numbers of winners. And we saw a sea of people in the audience pick up their cell phones and wait for the call. One by one they came up, got the prize and met Ilyasah.”

The bottomline, said Hassan, is no business that wants to seriously promote its brands, products or message can afford to ignore SMS.

And with the technology being so pervasive – according to one estimate 45.3 million text messages are sent and received in Canada every day – chances are firms of every size can benefit from it, he said. 

Rules of engagement

MyThum’s Michael Carter cited the example of Coca-Cola, which “does an average of 33 SMS interactions” with its consumers in a single month.

“They use text-messaging to engage their patrons in a pretty impressive dialogue – ensuring their brand is top of mind and influencing certain consumer behaviour they want to see.”

Since its launch the beverage behemoth’s My Coke Rewards program has sought to take advantage of as many consumer touch points as possible, including mobile — and with runaway success.

The company’s database of SMS opt-ins is growing at a rate of 5 – 10 per cent a month.

But Coke isn’t the only big brand to benefit from the explosive power of mobile marketing.

For around 18 percent of top companies, mobile marketing now accounts for more than 15 percent of their overall marketing budget, according to the Boston-based consulting firm Aberdeen Group, a subsidiary of Harte-Hanks.

In as many as 71 percent of these firms,  mobile marketing activities are integrated with their other marketing tactics and media buys either somewhat or extensively, according to Aberdeen’s recently released 2009 Mobile Marketing Report.

And it’s not just big brands that can integrate SMS with their overall strategy, Carter notes. “There’s also a simple and easy way for smaller brands in the long tail to take advantage of this phenomenal tool.” 

For those managing the marketing or sales campaign, SMS also provides tremendous control, he said.

“Once you’ve built the database of your mobile SMS subscribers, you don’t have to wait for the consumer to load a mobile browser, or to activate that application on their device, or click on an icon on their smartphone. You have the ability to push that communication at your discretion.”

For instance, he said, imagine there’s a Leaf’s game and you want folk to know there’s a chance to win two tickets. You can broadcast a message immediately to everyone on your database.

“When someone’s phone buzzes they’re going to look at it. And the reaction is immediate. You’re going to be able to control when that communication starts and the flow of it – which is very important.”

And that, he noted, is a whole different ball game from having to wait for the consumer to decide whether they want to log into a mobile Web or check an update on an update or BlackBerry app.  

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