James Arnold, Chief Digital Officer, Rooster Strategic Solutions

When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton famously replied “Because that’s where the money is.” This seems like an obvious answer, especially to those of us who choose media based on where our customers are. But if it’s that obvious, why don’t more companies use mobile messaging?

Mobile: Where the customer is. Smart phones are both ubiquitous and essential. More than 90 percent of Americans have one; 72 percent say they’d rather give up coffee or chocolate than be without their phones. More important, consumers are 35 times more likely to check text messages than e-mail and 85 percent respond to texts within an hour of receiving one. Texting is not only more popular than phone calls, it’s used more frequently than social media, web browsing, or virtually any app.

These customers are not only willing to engage with companies via texts, nearly 70 percent say it’s their preferred method of communication to confirm service appointments, offer feedback on services, receive coupons, or learn about new products. Some companies have figured this out. According to one survey I found, 53 percent of American companies are currently using mobile messaging to reach out to customers, leads, and prospects; more than 30 percent intend to begin or increase messaging within the next 12 months. Of specific interest, agricultural companies are more likely to use messaging than other industries, although when it comes to product marketing and promotion, we’re a laggard, with only 19 percent of ag companies presently engaged.

Why are we afraid of mobile? Many believe that text messages are too invasive. They worry about “bothering” their customers. Early texting strategies bombarded customers with multiple and unwanted texts every day – something that many of us experienced and none of us want to replicate. Moreover, mobile numbers are hard to get. And there are myriad and frightening laws surrounding their use. Plus, it can be expensive, with more than 20 percent of the total costs handed over to the carriers, such as ATT, Verizon, and the like. But at the end of day, it’s not the cost or the laws or the inaccessibility of phone numbers that deters us – it’s the fear of offending a customer that gets in our way. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s a good way to start. If you haven’t executed mobile much – or at all – start slow. Gain some experience by working with people who already have the relationships established, such as vendors or publishers. Use their expertise and learn from them while you start building your own database of customers and leads. But don’t collect cell numbers if you’re not going to use them. This is a very common mistake and most companies who make it have no idea how damaging it can be; you’re basically telling your customers, prospects, and greatest fans – people who trusted you enough to give you their cell phone number – that you’ve chosen not to interact with them.

Don’t make them download an app. Most consumers don’t want to. Studies show that those who do choose to download a company’s app are 60 percent likely to delete it within a month.

Provide something valuable. Offer promotions or sales – you can make them more-targeted, and more-timely than by using e-mail or other media. Many companies have had success using mobile messaging for customer service, but don’t set this up unless you’re staffed appropriately. Provide tips and advice. Ask for feedback – not the “how am I doing?” variety, which can be annoying, but instead use mobile messaging to see how a customer liked or used one of your products or services. Consumers enjoy giving you their opinions!

Farm Journal and others have provided news, markets and weather through mobile messaging with reasonable success. It proves that sometimes the value isn’t in the uniqueness of the content, but in the mobile delivery.

Here’s another real-world example. Farm Progress started a free daily text message platform awhile back called FarmProgressNOW. It’s not a news service – there are any number of services that can regurgitate links to news articles. Instead, they offer expert analysis from some of the most-respected names in agriculture who explain what the news means and how it will impact farmers and agribusinesses. Check it out by texting FARM to 20505. The metrics from this service were very good, but when they added a panel option, the numbers went through the roof, delivering 30- to 50-percent or greater responses to their single-question weekly poll. Why? Because it’s engaging. It’s targeted. It’s relevant. And because people want to share their opinions.

Images, graphics, and video are required. Although many still call it text messaging, you’re not limited to text. In fact, since the most basic flip phone available can handle small multimedia files, it’s foolish not to include them. Some newer phones are equipped with Rich Communication Services (RCS) protocol, the next step up from basic text messaging. In addition to handling larger files and higher-res images, RCS will let companies take advantage of read receipts, typing indicators, group chat, video calling, and other features beyond the 160-character text message.

Watch the law. Before you launch a mobile strategy, make sure you’re familiar – and compliant – with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Getting opt-in consent from your list is mandatory, as is providing consumers the option to revoke consent. Understand that laws in Canada are different and stricter than in the U.S.

By now I hope you agree that mobile messaging should be part of your overall marketing strategy. In fact, it should be one of if not the most important part in your communication plan. The ability to finely target, cut through the clutter, and drive action is almost unparalleled. And, most important, it’s where your customers are.

If you have any questions on how to kick off a mobile strategy or take yours to the next level, I’d love to have a conversation.