For b2b companies navigating the digital terrain, there are an ever-growing number of marketing vehicles being introduced to allow them to reach online buyers.
In addition to staples such as online advertising and search engine optimization, marketers are now cultivating new customers and prospects through social networks and developing new apps for smartphones, the iPad and other mobile devices.
Email marketing, meanwhile, continues to be the workhorse of online communications. But the sheer number of different options and distribution centers online can also mean that marketing messages—and the ability to track those messages—get lost in the digital fray.
“A conversation might start in one channel and continue into multiple others,” said Dave Lewis, CMO of Message Systems, which provides digital message management services. “[Marketers must] anticipate technology needs to handle the next generation of communications.”
Message Systems is betting that its new product, released in July, will help alleviate the congestion marketers increasingly face when they deploy their messages online—often via different ISPs, vendors or telecoms—and improve their ability to measure integrated marketing campaigns.
The product, Mobile Momentum, enables marketers to communicate via several channels by sending and receiving SMS messages and converting those to and from email. One key feature: Marketers can send email or SMS messages that are delivered via a client's stated channel of choice.
“If you have a business-critical email out and that message bounces—and you have that person's phone number and permission to use it—you might have a rule in place that says transform the message to SMS so it ensures the continuity of communication,” Lewis said.
Message Systems wants to get in on the still-nascent market for mobile measurement and is looking to sell the product to email service providers, marketing service companies and brand marketers that are hungry to augment their traditional product offerings with more sophisticated SMS-messaging capabilities.
Spending on b2b mobile marketing is expected to increase from $26 million in 2009 to $106 million in 2014, according to a Forrester Research report released earlier this summer. It's not a huge amount compared to Forrester's estimate of $4.8 billion in overall b2b interactive marketing spending in 2014, but it does represent a quadrupling in mobile marketing activity over the next five years.
Mobile Momentum's ability to convert SMS messages into email messages, or vice versa, “sounds interesting, especially if the solution is able to display those [messages] into metrics in which marketers can quickly look at it to better inform their decisions,” said Brett Leary, VP- director of mobile marketing for interactive ad agency Digitas, whose clients include Aflac Inc. and Whirpool Corp.
“The way that works now is a bit disjointed and somewhat tedious, as we'll work with best-in-class players in each of these channels and then have teams of people analyze the information to compare the performance of the different channels,” he added. “It sounds like Message Systems is trying to address this situation.”
Lewis said a major appeal of Mobile Momentum is its ability to send SMS and email as part of an integrated campaign. “If we're talking about trying to deliver holistic communications to customers, these siloed approaches are becoming much more pronounced as you see a proliferation of digital channels,” he said. “So the way people traditionally have dealt with that is to tack another point solution to the mix and add one for SMS. ... We're trying to build a single platform that can be driven off customer preferences.”
According to Lewis, because Mobile Momentum is opt-in, it can assist with the transactional messages that b2b marketers tend to deliver near the bottom of the sales funnel, when mobile communications tend to kick in.
“You have established value [in other channels], and the person is willing to give up his mobile number because you have something of value and [the customer] want to see it right away,” he said, adding that the service also caters to upsell and cross-sell opportunities. “By delivering the message in the channel that the customer wants, they're going to think more highly of your brand, buy more product and produce a higher ROI over time.”
Greg Trani, mobile strategist for Horizon Media, said platforms integrating Web communications should be able to help marketers enhance their online data.
“Companies can harness all of their energies online based on users raising their hands and showing interest in the message,” Trani said. “The user has said, "I want to be a fan,' or "I want to be informed.' Marketers have a lot more options in how they can communicate directly with their consumer. The platform will allow marketers to send the appropriate message based on the consumer's communication preference in one convenient place.”