Most businesses big enough to warrant a B2C messaging strategy understand what their customers want in terms of the communications they receive — it's the where that has proven more difficult.
With over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Viber capturing customer attention, organizations have found that the messaging arena has become fragmented, leaving them with a plethora of options and, often, few trailblazing strategies to follow.
Ignoring OTT in a B2C messaging strategy is no longer an option. With services such as WhatsApp carrying billions of subscribers on their own (and boasting three times as much daily traffic as person-to-person, or P2P, messaging in the process, according to Inform), it's clear which direction the market is headed.
Instead of being limited by the tools at their disposal, organizations may find themselves in an option overload. How do they harness the power of OTT channels and absorb the risks? Where does SMS messaging fit in? And how do organizations find an optimal mix of the two?
Let's dive into some of the fundamental questions brands need to ask themselves as they navigate this new landscape. Armed with the right business approach and messaging tools, businesses can view this new world as an exciting opportunity to forge impactful messaging strategies and create engaging messaging experiences for customers.
SMS Is Still Essential for Effective B2C Messaging
Organizations using SMS for critical application-to-person (A2P) communications may find themselves reconsidering their value and ongoing use, but make no mistake about it: SMS still has its rightful place in business processes.
Of course, cost is always a factor, and companies may see a particular benefit in the savings OTT platforms appear to offer — another factor any business would be remiss to ignore. Instead of considering the two in terms of one versus the other, however, it's advisable to think of the change as a new combination instead of a replacement.
A thorough assessment of every messaging channel's value to the business is the key to a successful strategy, and that assessment comes down to three (or four) variables that intertwine both SMS and newer OTT alternatives:
- Engagement or read rates.
- Regional adoption (for larger businesses).
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Define Goals for Customer Interactions First
Any successful strategy begins with clearly defined goals, and a customer messaging strategy is no different. Rather than beginning the evaluation of a channel by focusing on its attributes — such as the cost of SMS, for instance — brands should focus on what they're trying to achieve in their customer interactions.
No matter what a business's size or focus, remember that different channels fall into different permutations of these variables. For example, WhatsApp's ability to deliver rich content with pictures and other customized media may naturally be engaging on top of the platform's inherent deliverability. This capability may invoke several expenses that SMS lacks by comparison, however, making SMS a more economical approach at scale.
Likewise, different success factors must be applied to different channels. For critical alerts and time-sensitive messages, deliverability may be the most important factor, whereas a rich messaging experience with high engagement may be the priority for customer service. Think about what you expect when you hear an SMS alert versus another, internet-based app pinging. What does the "right" message on the screen look like in your mind?
Then there's the first-mover advantage, a very real phenomenon with the ability to impact the way business at large takes to a platform. In the United Arab Emirates, a prominent bank promised to offer customized financial interactions via WhatsApp in 2018, according to the MENA Herald. This decision in some ways foreshadowed a mass move to video-based and other hands-off transactions in finance, giving institutions a rough set of parameters to follow as industry changes forced a move.
Choosing the messaging channel that best meets the business objective is crucial. But how do brands reconcile internal strategy with their customers' real-world responses to the chosen messaging channel?
With informed experimentation, data analysis, and continual iteration.
Brands Can Chart Their Own Course for Messaging
Public case studies on the larger phenomenon of OTT and SMS usage in B2C messaging strategies are rare. Thus, organizations wishing to invest in the format must consider the need to deploy strategies based on intuition and current data, then use the approach to gather more information on customer messaging preferences.
At this point, the strategy can be validated or otherwise optimized. A messaging solution that allows for experimentation with customized messaging to determine which channels customers prefer and which ones offer the best ROI could be invaluable.
If the solution also provided insights into the status of their messages — everything from delivery status and time stamps to costs and errors — brands could leverage data to inform their messaging strategies. Based on their findings, they could prioritize delivery to the most engaging channels first and then failover to others only when the initial messages weren't read.
Businesses can develop this type of solution themselves, but it would be a significant investment. When contending with multiple messaging channels across both the traditional phone network and IP, building the logic to control how messages are sent to the user can get complex fast, and the required logic isn't core to most businesses' value propositions.
By using tools designed for the task from the start, impactful messaging strategies and innovative customer messaging experiences are within reach — an approach that makes the best of both worlds instead of shoehorning one in favor of the other.